At a time of heightened anxieties and security alerts following this week’s siege in Sydney’s CBD, it’s worth considering the role sustained by arts centres across western Sydney managed by local governments. They make an enormous contribution to the social harmony of local communities. They stimulate conversation and exposure to other ideas, experiences and cultures and their absorption into the minutiae of everyday interactions.
It’s a process that has been growing since the 1970s. “When Professor Andrew Jakubowicz addressed Creative Cultures’ Parramatta forum in 1994, he said art forms are now recognised as being produced in a cultural context that may endow them with different meanings. ‘The process of taking control is, I think, fundamental to the process of community cultural development.'” This is quoted on page 159 of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published last year, which tells the story of this growth. Click on the About and Book pages of my blog, which continues the story. Western Sydney is indeed a frontier society and passionate individuals are working creatively and generously through the experience on a daily basis.
One of the most outstanding examples of this process was the emergence this year of the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra, top, under the leadership of western Sydney musician Richard Petkovic. After more than a decade of development, which saw him launch the now annual Sydney Sacred Music Festival in 2011, the orchestra’s first performance delivered three sides of love and death. The work explored the universal themes of unconditional love and rites of passage through the stories and sacred music practices of culturally and linguistically diverse artists who make up the orchestra. The work was created through a collaborative process that transcended culture and faith. Arts centres across the region, from Campbelltown to the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury to Olympic Park hosted festival events, along with many others across Sydney and suburbs.
Urban Theatre Projects, which works from Bankstown Arts Centre, has been working for 18 months on Bankstown Live, an event for the 2015 Sydney Festival next month. Nine new works have been created by a team of professional artists developed in conversation with local people. Among them is Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo’s Bankstown Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House, the Bankstown Dancing Project (click for the Sydney Morning Herald report) and the world premiere of The Tribe, drawn from Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s book of the same name. Through the eyes of a young child, book and play reveal the life of a small Muslim sect which fled to Australia just before the civil war in Lebanon. Joanne Saad has worked with four Bankstown families to create a photographic project Family Portraits, see above, where audiences are invited to sit alongside the family on the couch, get to know each other and make a new family portrait.
Most arts centres are in areas of rapid population growth and increasing cultural diversity. Change can be disorienting and discomforting for established communities and newcomers. It’s not unusual that newcomers have fled from conflict in their native lands and may arrive traumatised and confused. Like the other centres, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC), managed by Liverpool Council, conducts a program very responsive to its local community. Performances and exhibitions offer insights into other cultures, their ways of thinking, seeing and believing. They offer topics to explore that generate discussion and information exchanges and can have a transformative effect on the attitudes of those participating.
In launching their 2015 performance program, CPAC director Kiersten Fishburn highlighted the collaborative project Origin-Transit-Destination to be presented in March. Described as a “journey to remember in the company of extraordinary asylum-seekers from the war zones of the Middle East”, it will begin in Auburn and culminate at Casula. Kiersten describes it as a remarkable production that offers a vivid experience of what it’s like to be an asylum seeker, who eventually finds safe haven in Australia. Still with a post-conflict theme, but with an exuberant atmosphere is one of Kiersten’s favourites for the year. Cosmic Cambodia, above, is at the forefront of cultural revival in Cambodia. The Cambodian Space Project sound mashes tradition with rock’n’roll, rare groove, soul, and trippy visual spectacle with reimagined Khmer classics and will be at CPAC in May.
Click here for the full 2015 performance program, which includes some highly entertaining children’s shows and some special tribute productions for Liverpool’s commemoration of the Gallipoli landing of World War 1.
Arts funding from state and federal governments contributes to many of these programs, but local government carries the lion’s share of financial responsibility. As we have all witnessed this week, social harmony is a precious commodity and western Sydney has been making a major contribution.