Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney is the title of my book, which has spawned this blog. The book was inspired by 40 years of recording the creativity, enterprise and generosity of passionate individuals. These artists and advocates have generated critical change by creating opportunities for others in arts and cultural expression across the region. They have won the support of their local councils, which have then supported the development of local arts centres and programs. The most obvious, though subtle, change among the thousands who have experienced these programs is their growth in confidence, dignity, critical thinking and creative expression. Their numbers are growing all the time.
The recent Deloitte report discussed in an earlier post on this blog, highlighted the extreme arts funding imbalance, proportionate to population, which state and federal governments continue to maintain. The recent federal cuts to Australia Council funding are likely to impact particularly hard in western Sydney. We don’t have any of the flagship companies to be funded by Senator Brandis’s arts ministry. The full title of the Deloitte report is Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Arts Economy – a key to Sydney’s success (my underline). It looks like Sydney is cutting off its nose to spite its face.
Now further fears have been realised with the decision by the NSW government to convert the Old King’s School at Parramatta into a primary school, instead of the long advocated arts and cultural precinct. Any enterprising business or government would willingly pay to have the commitment, resourcefulness and skills that continue to produce so much in the region with so little encouragement.
One brilliant example of these attributes is Wagana Aboriginal Dancers, which has been quietly developing in the Blue Mountains under Jo Clancy’s direction for almost 10 years. ‘Wagana’ in Jo’s Wiradjuri language means ‘dance’. Following a recent residency at Bankstown Arts Centre Jo, left, introduces her five young company members and her assistant Becky Chatfield to local elders and guests. The five girls aged from 11 to 13, with Jo and Becky, are off Denmark at on June 30, where they have been invited to participate in Dance and the Child International. The work they created and were performing at Bankstown is Sum of My Ancestors. It was inspired in part by questions from the audience when older company members performed at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Scotland last year.
Audiences asked why they were light skinned, what did their dance stories mean, how did they know them. Wagana dancers found keener interest in their culture abroad than they find at home. Many of the girls have been learning their ancestral stories from early childhood and through participation in Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. Their soundtrack begins with their voices retelling the stories as they portray them in movement. Sum of My Ancestors is just what it says and Jo has encouraged the girls to feel confident in answering question about themselves and their dance in public. Left above, the dancers perform the story of how the waratah flower became red
While the company is grateful for a grant from Arts NSW, the major fundraising for the tour has been done by the company, families and friends. They have raised thousands of dollars from street stalls, trivia nights, raffles, online campaigns, morning teas and events conducted by other community organisations. Their spirit is strong and morale is high. Jo is acutely aware that a company ranging in age from preschooler to adult doesn’t correspond to government funding guidelines. More importantly, however, she knows it is the natural and traditional way for children to absorb their culture and to grow up confident and at ease with their identity.
Another outstanding example of commitment, resourcefulness and enterprise is the recent feature film Riz, given its world premiere at Sydney Film Festival. Developed under the auspice of CuriousWorks and writer-directors Guido Gonzales and S. Shakthidharan the characters of Riz and his friends were based on the real life experiences of Guido. At the age of 18, in 1981, just as Giudo was leaving his Cabramatta high school, he and his friends were confronted with a divisive situation of hope, ambition, expectation, disappointment, social class and cultural difference which tore the group apart.
Guido has always felt regret and imagined there could have been a different outcome. Riz was his opportunity and the culturally diverse cast delivered a nuanced story of authenticity and conviction. Making their first feature film followed CuriousWorks‘ unique model of community collaboration, pairing industry professionals with a cast and crew largely comprised of young people from Sydney’s west. Shakthi and his long-time CuriousWorks collaborator Aimee Falzon created an original soundtrack for the film. In the photo, above, they perform before the screening of Riz at Casula Powerhouse, on Sunday, June 7, as part of the film festival.
To be selected for the Sydney Film Festival was a tremendous achievement for a film shot in Cabramatta and Casula over nine days and at a cost of only $85,000. Garry Maddox wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Festival director Nashen Moodley says Riz depicts a multicultural Sydney he has not seen before on screen. ‘The film looks at the city and class divisions and a character who’s trying to exist in two worlds,’ he says. ‘They did a really good job and there’s a lot of talent there.”
In the photo above, cast and crew answer questions from their large and enthusiastic audience at Casula Powerhouse. They were still dazed with the excitement of their world premiere at a booked out screening at Dendy Opera Quays, the night before, and the Q&A that followed. The film was then to be shown at Dendy Newtown on Monday. Shakti says, “It’s a story about how different parts of Sydney have to find a way to reconcile and get on together.” Imagine the mutual benefit when that finally happens!
Footnote: By the time you read this, I will be in the Andes and then New York. Not sure yet, whether I’ll post again from there, but back July 8.