Campbelltown Arts Centre aims at local engagement and participation

The List Install Documentation, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Megan MonteThe opening night party for The List, Campbelltown Arts Centre‘s latest exhibition, was fairly jumping with energy. Milling among the hundreds present were lots of young people taking part in performances or coming to see the results of their own part in the multidisciplinary  project addressing youth culture in Campbelltown. Their enthusiasm alone seemed an important indicator of success. Under the directorship of Michael Dagostino, the centre aims to engage with new audiences, especially local audiences. A high proportion of Campbelltown’s population is aged under 26.

Installation photos supplied by Campbelltown Arts Centre are included in this post.

The exhibition was the culmination of 12 newly commissioned works developed by artists working with different groups of young people. Among them were Abdul and Abdul-Rahman Abdullah who worked with a group of teenage boys of Pacific Islander background from Eagle Vale High School – see photo above. Working together revealed a shared experience of frustration about cultural and economic marginalisation, vilification and a broad sense of displacement.

The List Install Documentation, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Megan MonteMarvin Gaye Chetwynd worked with students from Campbelltown Performing Arts High School on a highly theatrical performance and video – YOLO – combining narratives from two texts they were studying.The local legend of Fisher’s Ghost is the central focus of Uji Handoko Eko Saputro (a.k.a Hahan’s) work with young people. The result is a large scale graphic mural – above, exploring multiple uses of image and story.

Zanny Begg worked with Aboriginal teenage boys in the Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre to create a collaborative video reflecting on their current circumstances, dreams and possibilities. Kate Blackmore worked with 14 and 15 year old girls at the Claymore Mission Australia community centre. The results of their conversations led to their collaboration on a video recording their thoughts and ideas, and reflections on their everyday environment.

1-Shaun GladwellIn her notes about the project, Kate described its focus on “the significance of the moment – how it can hold the power  to change young lives”. Perhaps that summarises the philosophy guiding the projects – not proceeding to a preconceived outcome, but jointly investigating present experience and considering meanings, options and opportunities. Artist Shaun Gladwell adapted the “hearts and minds” strategy he had observed in the Afghanistan conflict to create a theatrical intervention among young riders at Campbelltown Skate Park – see left. Performers dressed in camouflage fashion approached local skaters offering to swap new wheels for old.

Megan Monte is curator of contemporary art at the centre and responsible for managing The List. She says, “A commonality across the projects is the exploration of utopia, identity, culture, technology, dreams and aspirations.” Combining social engagement and contemporary arts practice, The List aims to address the issues young people face today, while empowering them to engage in a creative hub encouraging participation and involvement.

The List Install Documentation, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Megan MonteWhat is community and how do you measure vibrancy in community engagement? These are questions director of Campbelltown Arts Centre Michael Dagostino says they grapple with all the time. The centre aims “to engage, inspire and respond to the issues of the region’s communities through the production of contemporary, multidisciplinary cultural programs”. Great care is taken in the selection of artists to work on projects. Through informal conversations, the centre tries to assess the sincerity of an artist’s proposal – why would you want to work with the centre and why would the centre want to work with you?

Above is the first of five billboards, part of The List, seen west of the rail line between Minto and Ingleburn. Using another approach, artist Tom Polo has distilled an essence from young people’s conversations overheard on the train. ALL I KNOW – IS THAT – WE – JUST KEEP – DOUBTING OURSELVES.

Prescribed outcomes are deeply unsatisfactory. Strong community relevance and artistic excellence are both important, engagement needs to be honest and ethical and the process authentic and humanistic in character. While the project has clear goals, the process needs to be flexible in response to the needs and ideas that emerge.

The List continues to Sunday, October 12. If you can make it to Campbelltown on Saturday, October 4 or 11, you could experience the culmination of another Campbelltown Arts Centre project Temporary Democracies, within the framework of the Airds Bradbury public housing renewal project. Click here and here for more information.

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