“The western suburbs still get a raw deal and the locals are blamed for the consequences.” This quotation from a local resident’s letter appeared on the cover of Diane Powell’s 1993 book Out West – Perceptions of Sydney’s western suburbs, Allen & Unwin. Little has apparently changed for in February 2014, NSW Minister Pru Goward’s suggested that “the solution to perceived problems of welfare dependency involved the threat to deprive people of their homes”, as reported by Virginia Baxter.
The careless injustice of such a suggestion stirred Virginia to write a recent story A community fights back, in the February/March 2014 issue of real time the free print and online publication described as a critical guide to the art of now.
“Bidwill was the location for FUNPARK, one of Sydney Festival’s projects in western Sydney. Creative director Karen Therese, herself a sometime local, brought together a team of city and western Sydney artists with indigenous and other elders to celebrate what is, contrary to reports, a vibrant local community,” she writes. Virginia describes some of the events created and performed by local people with the support of experienced artists – The Mt Druitt Press Conference presented by a group of “confident, socially engaged and talented” young people, Bunny Hoopster and her team of Hoopaholics, young Aboriginal dancers and choristers and the raucus “rock opera” Girls Light Up, mocking the grossly media sensationalised Bidwill “riot” of 1981.
Running in parallel were the Harley Davidson Wild Trike rides, a large tent in the centre of the car park, where Darug elders discussed the history of the area and their concerns about education opportunities for younger members, Cuppa Tea with Therese, a local Housing NSW resident who has been deeply involved in her community for many years, and the Occult of Bidwill tour, where local Uniting Church Minister John Dacey highlighted some of the “‘hidden’ instances of misguided bureaucracy”, which have led to a steady deterioration in facilities and services available.
Virginia ends her story by saying, “Understandably, many locals see the government as the architects of dysfunction when it comes to some of the recurring issues in this area. Projects like FUNPARK go some way to restoring the community’s faith in itself, giving it the strength to fight the easy stereotyping to imagine all manner of possibilities.”
In the same issue of real time, stories by Keith Gallasch discuss the vision and creative development work of Campbelltown Arts Centre and Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. At Campbelltown, director Michael Dagostino is seeing his long term investment in artists and their development of new work beginning to bear fruit. Campbelltown Arts Centre deals with dance, performance, live art and music, bringing artists together in collaborations, which are as much about exploring the differences in their art forms, as about their similarities.
A primary goal with each of these is to draw many more young people into the centre through engagement with their issues, their politics, and “what’s happening at the moment, to get them to ‘own’ Campbelltown Arts Centre”. Among the many recent projects aimed at connecting the centre with local communities was last year’s second phase of Temporary Democracies – “a live art event set in empty homes in a suburban street undergoing renewal and population change”. It was so successful in breaking down barriers and winning support from the local Men’s Shed, that the men are participating in another project this year – in partnership with the MCA and C3West. They are assisting in building a sculpture inspired by the retrieval of cars from the George’s River.
At Riverside Theatres, director Robert Love discusses his plans for the future with Keith Gallasch. Since Robert’s appointment in 2000, Riverside has become a flourishing centre with multiple audiences for mainstream and emerging theatre, contemporary dance, physical theatre, film – both local and international, disability arts, and a wide range of music. He, too, is investing in artists for the long term development of productions, but is frustrated that high costs prevent him from doing more. . . “‘but this year we’re 100% producing Alana Valentine’s Parramatta Girls, which premiered at Belvoir in 2007′, but never played in the city of the story’s origins.”
Robert aims to have a resident performing arts company based at Riverside and servicing Parramatta, western Sydney and regional NSW. There are plans to rebuild the theatres, to add one or two storeys and to create a real community hub.
He shares the disgust of many others in the region at the inadequacy of the state government’s $3 million funding to the arts in western Sydney. The region is home to two million people – almost half of Sydney’s total population and yet the funding is estimated to be only 1% of the total allocated to Sydney central. James Packer’s $30 million to western Sydney over 10 years should be matched by a state government increase to $6 million annually, he argues. And then resurrect the University of Western Sydney’s performing arts courses “and you start up a healthy arts ecosystem.”
Follow this blog by clicking on the follow button and entering your email address.