Doreen Warburton’s theatre legacy is everywhere

A note placed on the seats at the official opening night, July 19, of The Incredible Here and Now, Riverside Theatres, Parramatta gave the news –

Doreen Warburton, 1930 -2017, Founder and Artistic Director Q Theatre

Doreen Warburton and Q Theatre played pioneering roles in the development of professional theatre in Western Sydney

National Theatre of Parramatta dedicates the remaining performances of The Incredible Here and Now in her memory

How often have you attended a funeral where family and friends burst into applause? Tears and laughter, yes, but applause – not just once, but many times? Such was the occasion of Doreen Warburton’s farewell and celebration of her life last week. Doreen died aged 87, July 19, 2017. See the SMH obituary – Evelyn Doreen Warburton OBE, Doreen Gabriel. Actors, family and friends described her as larger than life, charismatic, impassioned, blunt, hugely generous, mother to so many of them, a brilliant artist, administrator and director. She was driven by a fierce sense of social justice and a determination that anyone could be inspired and transformed by their experience of theatre. Doreen grew up in wartime England and trained with the radical Joan Littlewood Theatre. The photo, above, was posted by The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre. – the present day home of the Q. Remembering a life well lived.

During a period of four years in the mid-1970s, Doreen pioneered a program of bringing theatre workshops and productions by the Sydney based Q Theatre into western Sydney suburbs. Their focus was young people – exposing them to performance opportunities and providing them with theatre skills, while simultaneously building future audiences for the theatre they planned to establish in the region. It was Penrith Council that eventually offered the use of the old Railway Institute and it was there that the Q Theatre made their home. Above, Doreen, right, opens the Q Theatre in Penrith in 1977, accompanied by the Mayor of Penrith, Eileen Cammack.

At the funeral, David Hoey described his excitement while a student at Colyton and then Rooty Hill high schools, when he discovered the chance to participate in those first Q Theatre workshops. He participated in some of Q’s subsequent productions and had a “brain explosion” when given the chance to work with the team producing the local rock musical St Marys Kid and another home grown musical story Zilch. Hawkesbury costume designer Leone Sharpe provoked laughter when she described her alarm and apprehension as a 20 year old, when her efforts to restore a hair piece for Doreen went wrong. Right, Doreen as Lady Bracknell in a costume later made by Leone.

Hania Radvan is CEO of Penrith Performing and Visual Arts Ltd (PP&VA) which incorporates the Penrith Regional Gallery, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith Conservatorium of Music and the Q Theatre. Although she never actually met Doreen, she described her influence as everywhere – in their workshop and performance programs, especially for children and young people.

In an interview earlier this year, producer – Q programs, Nick Atkins said, “The Q is the Joan’s, theatre-making arm. My job, and the role of The Q, which sits inside the building, is to produce and develop professional local theatre. We make theatre for and from the heart of Penrith. We respond to what the local community wants to see, whilst also ensuring the voice of this community is pushed out into the world. We get to export stories as well as import them. Like others, he was a local high school student at Emu Plains, who was inspired by his exposure to Q Theatre, and went on to study a practice based theatre course at University of NSW.

In March this year he produced Black Birds, a new work by Emele Ugavule and Ayeesha Ash, exploring what it means to be a woman of colour in 2017 in Australia, it’s their personal stories. “The traditional way of theatre is very white, very Western, and very European, which clashes with their experience of the world,” he said.

“We have an artist in residence program. We offer four two-week residencies in our studio. So it’s two weeks space and $2,000 in financial support, and well as drama and technical support from the centre. We also have Propel, which is a play writing program, for 16 to 25-year-old emerging playwrights, in partnership with Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) and WestWords. Originate is also for 16’s to 25-year-olds. But it’s more for performance majors and actors. It’s an ensemble project. Eight artists are brought together over three months and create their own work.

Q’s partnerships and influence are everywhere. From August 10 to 12 The Joan wants you to forget your troubles, come on get happy. How to make a happy meal is a new devised performance created as part of The Q’s Originate project and involving two recent WSU music graduates.

“This year we have a new project called Highway 234, which is another residency program, it’s in collaboration with PYT in Fairfield and PACT in Erskineville. The objective is to see how can we not just empower performers here, but link them in with other centres – because as an artist, it’s great to have your home, but you need to start linking in with other networks.”

Q Programs are a true extension of Doreen’s philosophy, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. Western Sydney still struggles with the same inequitable funding distribution as it did in the 1970s. Nick says, “One per cent of federal funding is being used to try and open up a platform for 10% of Australia’s population to have either some experience in culture, or express their culture. That’s why the programs we run are so vital.”

Independent actor/director Aanisa Vylet, right, last week completed one of the new Southlands Breakthrough Artist Residencies at the Q by sharing a 15 minute excerpt from her new show The Woman and is deeply grateful for the opportunity. “In commemoration of Doreen Warburton, I will continue to create theatre that ‘…opens doors and windows to people’,” she says.

 

 

(Photo Credit, the fab Julie Koh)

Roslyn Oades – Abbotsford Convent

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Democracy repeatedly sabotaged in heritage, arts and cultural planning

Sabotage – to destroy, damage or disrupt, especially by secret means.

Parramatta Council has published a cultural discussion paper and is inviting community responses by April 7. Culture and Our City – a cultural discussion paper for Parramatta’s CBD is seeking feedback and ideas to contribute to a new cultural plan. I urge you to read it and respond. The plan is intended to guide arts and cultural directions, over the next five years and beyond. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found myself reacting with anger and frustration. Yes, I had been a willing participant in a focus group for the discussion paper, but my frustration was not with the research or the principles articulated in the draft.

Bear with me, this requires some explanation.

The research was commissioned by the new City of Parramatta Council, which is administered by an appointee of the NSW Government. There will be no democratically elected council until September, by which time the state government will have run the show since May 2016. No government would allow the release of a document in its name without its approval and authorisation and it shows in this one. The parameters of the research are restricted to Parramatta’s CBD and do not include the rest of Parramatta’s local government area, including the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. For almost 70 years, the Parramatta community has been tantalised with promises of cultural opportunity and then betrayed more often than not in their implementation.

According to the 1948 County of Cumberland Scheme released by the NSW Government, Parramatta was to be the most important centre after Sydney. The only drawback at the time was the lack of adequate cultural facilities in Parramatta. I was an active part of a push that led to the opening of Riverside Theatres in Parramatta in 1988, above (Sydney Festival 17 photo), but still there was no gallery. Then the state government, under Labor Premier Bob Carr, invited artists and community members to discussion groups in the late 1990s about the future of the Cumberland Hospital site, now described as the North Parramatta or Fleet Street Heritage Precinct. Opportunities were sketched for future artists studios, music and dance rehearsal spaces, heritage and community facilities – and on the outskirts – medium density residential development – not unlike current proposals by North Parramatta Residents Action Group.

Nothing more was heard until Parramatta Council released its Arts Facilities & Cultural Places Framework (2005) – Parramatta: Identity, Contemporary Culture & Prosperity. “The Parramatta Arts Facilities & Cultural Places Framework 2005,” it said, “will assist Council in establishing a clear direction for the planning, the provision and resourcing of a broad range of arts infrastructure & cultural places for the City over the next ten years. The vitality of Parramatta comes down to establishing cultural assets with a point of difference, that are unique, reflect the community and complement rather than replicate the rest of Sydney’s cultural resources. The City must also build its cultural identity and creative industries to attract, retain, validate, and acknowledge the role of artists in our community, as well as to generate new wealth and prosperity for Parramatta.”

Then Lord Mayor of Parramatta, David Borger, was the political champion of this framework, and officiated at the opening of Parramatta Artists Studios – the foundation component of the framework, where production has continued to flourish. The framework stated there would be three sites for the placement of facilities –

Cluster 1 Venue—Civic Place (the administrative heart of the CBD)

Cluster 2 Venue—Old Kings School (on the bank of Parramatta River and across the road from Riverside Theatres)

Cluster 3 Venue—North Parramatta Mixed Use Site (i.e. North Parramatta Heritage Precinct)
Twelve years later, not one of these facilities has been achieved. The first was not so much a matter of the state government as a fierce struggle between council, landholders and developers. Civic Place, now known as Parramatta Square, left (artist’s impression), is finally under construction, but there is no mention of a major gallery or exhibition space. This is primarily the council’s responsibility.
Determined advocacy by artists, the Western Sydney Arts Lobby and proposals for adaptations of the Old King’s School buildings, continued right up to the March state election in 2011. Then a week before the election, Labor Premier Kristina Keneally announced $24.6 million for the refurbishment and transformation of the heritage buildings into galleries and spaces for arts groups – intended for regional and not just local use, see photo below. The government was defeated and after six months the new Liberal/National Party Government failed to allocate funding and claimed it was an unfunded election promise. In 2015, the government announced the precinct would become a primary school, which is now under construction.
In the meantime, the state government announced the decision to subdivide and sell much of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct for high rise development.  It claims the sale of one of Australia’s most important historic sites is the only way it can finance preservation of its heritage. A framework masterplan was to be developed by the government agency UrbanGrowth NSW. Local residents were appalled. Many of them lived close by in a Parramatta Council heritage listed zone and by 2013 were banding together in protest. One of them explains their distress, with relevant links:
“There are over 10 conservation areas in Parramatta district and these all have residents. The contradictions between what’s supported and allowed for property developers and for those who are resident in the conservation areas affects more people than just those adjacent to the high density/high rise planned in what’s called the ‘Parramatta North Urban Transformation’. List of conservation areas link. Link to straightforward map of North Parramatta Conservation Area (there are 2 parts of this one area). This map is worth a close look.  The current North Parramatta Heritage area between  O’Connell and Villiers St is very close to 90,000 sq metres in size.

“Regulations governing what can be done by property owners are in the Parramatta Local Environmental Plan 2011   (Current version for 23 September 2016 to date Part 5 Clause 5.10) Parramatta LEP requires owners to organise and pay for all archaeological surveys prior to submitting DAs for approval and construction of a simple garage or shed on their land as it is in a conservation area where it is anticipated features/items of archaeological significance can be found in the land.  Surveys have not been done of the entire conservation area so it falls to each individual to do instance-by-instance. (We can’t even dig a vegetable bed.)

“The inequity and hypocrisy around the different circumstances of those in conservation areas compared to property developers who plan to profit from high rise development in recent rezoning/planning is stark.”

In June 2014, then NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a cultural ambassador for western Sydney, Liz Ann Macgregor, left, the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA). For many years, under her leadership, the MCA has worked closely with a “terrific network of galleries, organisations and artists in Western Sydney doing innovative and highly engaging work.” She was keen to bring their work to closer government attention. She was also keen to bring the services of Sydney museums and galleries to the west. In February 2015, Mike Baird announced the sale of the Powerhouse Museum at Darling Harbour and its relocation to Parramatta. To many it was seen merely as a land grab for developers and resistance by Save the Powerhouse supporters was fierce.

Nonetheless, the Powerhouse move was seen by others as symbolic of the state government’s commitment to western Sydney and enthusiastically embraced by David Borger, now the Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber, and other civic leaders and, more cautiously, by the Western Sydney Arts Lobby. Anything, after all, was better than nothing. Later that year a Deloitte report, commissioned by Sydney Business Chamber – Western Sydney, and three western Sydney councils – Parramatta, Penrith and Liverpool, Building Western Sydney’s Cultural Economy – A Key to Sydney’s Success, recommended relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney.

Since then, there has been much debate about what funds the sale of the Darling Harbour site, left, would actually generate, the cost of relocation and whether Parramatta Council should simply donate the announced new site, it already owns, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The current fiasco over the state government’s authorisation of demolition of the city’s main swimming pool to make way for the expansion of a sports stadium is a guide to what may come. Parramatta Council acquiesced without protest, before the administrator was appointed last year. No financial compensation has been made for the loss of the popular pool and no state funds committed to the building of a new one. A new aquatic centre is said to be two to five years away. Sabotage of community interests now seems standard practice.

A year ago, exchange visits between Save the Powerhouse Museum and NPRAG members led to mutual support for each other’s positions and SPM supporting a proposal for a museum unique to Parramatta and the region. The visitors were gobsmacked by the volume and evidence of Australia’s colonial history in the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct and the site’s treasury of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship.

Last October, Liz-Ann McGregor was the guest speaker at a Western Sydney University event – the launch of a Bachelor of Creative Industries. The new degree combines majoring in a chosen field within the creative industries, with minors in business management and law. Liz Ann spoke in the presence of WSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover, who was also the newly appointed president of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Trust. The trust will play a pivotal role in the Powerhouse’s relocation to Parramatta (see artist’s impression). She spoke of the current dispiriting atmosphere that surrounds financial support for the arts at state and federal levels and internationally and the likelihood of little change in the foreseeable future. She spoke of her own frustration when arguing with ministers for better support for western Sydney and meeting with a wall of resistance.
In this climate, a long term project like MCA’s C3West offers a model of alternative approaches that have been bringing artists, businesses and community together for more than a decade. A course like the new Bachelor of Creative Industries can equip artists with the financial and marketing skills to enter into these relationships. It takes a long time for artists and business to learn to talk each other’s language, she said. It’s a slow process, but artists can often articulate issues and offer possible solutions.
Under Suzette Meade’s leadership North Parramatta Residents Action Group has been listening to community and working with other organisations to develop an economically viable alternative proposal for the Fleet Street Precinct. They want genuine community consultation. Their supporters and collaborators number in the thousands, but neither state government nor Parramatta Council are really listening.
Is it any wonder she wrote to Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore last week appealing for her help? In a neat summary Elizabeth Farrelly wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald

“This week, when North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group begged Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore to “adopt the community of Parramatta, as we are left without a democratically elected council” there certainly was envy. It was the envy of people deliberately disenfranchised at a moment of great change, people gazing wistfully at a place where local government is strong, free and fair. It was an “I’ll have what she’s having” moment.This envy is entirely justified.

“Parramatta is reeling from a governelopment boom: 3000 apartments on its irreplaceable heritage precinct (Cumberland Hospital, 1818 Female Factory); the $2 billion ultra-ugly Parramatta Square project behind the old town hall; the proposed new Powerhouse, or whatever fragment of it finally drifts up-river; the demolition of the Pirtek Stadium and pool for a bigger, more lucrative stadium (no pool); plus masses of private development like Meriton’s 54-storey Altitude, the city’s tallest tower, on the old David Jones site. Barely a squeak of affordable housing anywhere, and the people held voiceless, all the while, by a government-appointed city administrator.”

It makes better sense to create a cultural hub celebrating indigenous and migration history (NPRAG’s Artist’s impression in their Alternative Vision, above)

I’m off for three weeks to New Zealand. Family members there tell me local governments are guided by democratically elected advisory committees and it is one of the world’s most democratic countries. Now there’s an idea!

River is an uplifting gift offering healing and hope

“All these rivers we must cross. Together we will get to the other side. . . . We’ll be forced to grow.” This is the theme of River, a haunting new video by the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra. It is an inspiring sound and visual experience of the Australia we are becoming, all woven together by the movement and grace of Gambirra Illume, Yolngu performer and cultural educator from Australia’s north east Arnhem Land. River is a song of sadness and despair uplifted by the hope and optimism that emerges from sharing the journey towards resolution. Look at the warmth and laughter of the participants as they near the end of their street performance.  Watch the video River. It is now available from all digital retailers.

In January this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that at least half of Australia’s special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees would be settled in Fairfield in western Sydney, within 12 months. In the previous year, Fairfield City Council had already welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries. It was the continuation of a pattern of accepting migrants and refugees displaced by war and economic upheaval, which had grown since World War I. This concentration of cultural diversity gave Fairfield a special relevance as the setting for River, Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra‘s first single released last month. The photo below records the warmth and excitement that surrounded the orchestra following their inaugural concert at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, in November 2014, when they performed the remarkable three stages of love and death. The words and music of River are developed from an extract of this work. Please take the time to click on all the links and listen to the music recorded.

It would be true to say that years of preparation have gone into the launch of River. Some of the first threads were drawn together long before Richard Petkovic created the Cultural Arts Collective in 2007 with Maria Mitar. Even so, they say it took three years of working with fellow musicians to create, record and release River. Through Cultural Arts Collective they showcase the future of Australian music by combining Australia’s many cultures into music that “touches the spirit”. It is a generous vision that has driven Richard for a very long time – unearthing the musical talents and mastery that have remained unrecognised outside the bounds of individual cultural communities and gathering them into making music that draws on tradition to create inspirational contemporary work – anything from driving rock rhythms to hypnotic spiritual chants.

Through Cultural Arts Collective, Richard launched the first Sydney Sacred Music Festival in 2011 after working with migrant and refugee communities in western Sydney for more than 10 years. After operating on a shoestring, it is now an established non-profit organisation, with a measure of government and private financial support. The program extends right across metropolitan Sydney, linking together a whole range of music organisations.

Death and personal loss were the immediate inspiration behind the creation of River. It offers a message of hope for those struggling with grief and profound loss. Eleven musicians performed in the streets of Fairfield, where they were filmed with the willing support of locals. They were world renowned Uyghur bard Shohrat Tursun – vocals, dutar (two string lute), Yaw Derkyi – African percussion and vocals, Richard Petkovic – guitar and vocals, Maria Mitar and Gambirra Illume – vocals, Nicholas Ng – urhu (Chinese two stringed fiddle),  Bukhu Ganburged – Mongolian horse fiddle, Salar Hs – violin, Rudi Upright Valdez – double bass, Victor Valdes – Mexican harp, and Ngoc-Tuan Hoang – guitar.

Many of these artists have been playing together for several years now and it shows in their ease of improvisation and collaboration and their quiet mutual respect. Cultural Arts Collective produces and composes music, and creates ensembles to support artists previously hidden from the mainstream. Already firmly established is the Shohrat Tursun Trio, comprising Shohrat himself, in right of photo, Yaw Derkyi, centre, and Richard Petkovic. CAC manages artists, produces festivals and events and distributes new music.

Richard’s perseverance in changing the focus of Australian music making and performance has led to contracts with Musica Viva to re-imagine their regional touring program and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority to work with several community festivals to improve their artistic direction. They are great steps forward on a deeply enriching path.

Community advocacy confronts the challenges of heritage conservation

A dedicated communprag-first-rally-0215nity activist needs the characteristics of a fine actor – the sensitivity of a butterfly and the hide of a rhinoceros. Oh, and the wisdom of Solomon and the stamina of a marathon runner. It has been a headlong rush for the management committee and membership to learn and respond since the founding of North Parramatta Residents Action Group two years ago. (Locals assemble for the first rally above.) Some have no prior experience of community organisations. Passion for their cause is deep and emotions run high. More than a year ago, a general meeting of members affirmed the right of the management committee to take action on their behalf, without first consulting the membership. Action is often required quickly in response to government decisions.

Ratstudio-gl-ugnsw-overviewher than simply object to state government proposals to sell off most of one of the nation’s most important heritage sites for the development of nearly 3000 new apartments, left, North Parramatta Residents Action Group has been committed to developing an alternative vision, below left. Surveys of local residents and members since the group’s studio-gl-nprag-concept-overviewfounding two years ago, a symposium in 2015, which attracted a wide range of planning expertise and community experience all produced ideas and opinions, which have helped shape their vision.

NPRAG was spurred into life when UrbanGrowth NSW claimed in 2014 that extensive NPRAG rally crowdcommunity consultation had shaped their draft masterplan for the sale and development of what is now the Cumberland Hospital site. Most local residents had never heard of the proposals and those who had, at the protest rally left, were bitterly opposed to the high rise apartment blocks comprising the bulk of the plan. Within weeks, a constitution had been drawn up and membership established. They were determined to protect and enhance the historic buildings and sites of the Parramatta local government area, especially those of national and World Heritage significance; oppose the over-development of Cumberland Hospital and Parramatta Park precincts; and support retention and public ownership of existing active and passive recreation sites, including Parramatta pool. The pool and the stadium occupy designated Parramatta Park land.

Council amalgamations forced by the former Baird Government from mid 2016, don’t allow for local government elections until September this year, so the usual democratic channels are not available to citizens. The result has been frustration and fears of a deliberate state government campaign to exclude community protest and participation.

nprag-pool-protest-1216Under the dynamic leadership of president Suzette Meade, the committee has raised thousands of dollars towards their cause. Most recently they commissioned architects Studio GL to draw artists impressions of the developments proposed by UGNSW from plans available on the government website. Studio GL then created a second set of artists impressions of NPRAG’s alternative proposals for the same sites – a cultural/arts precinct free of any residential development. The drawings were displayed at a December protest, above, about the demolition of Parramatta pool to accommodate the stadium’s expansion, and then at Australia Day celebrations in Parramatta Park. Some of those drawings illustrate this post.

The Australia Day stall was a joint effort of NPRAG and Parramatta Female Factory Friends, who established a formal memorandum of understanding between them in early 2016. Working in partnership with other groups like the National Trust, Parramatta Female Factory Friends, Parramatta Female Factory Precinct: Memory Project and Parramatta Chamber of Commerce has been NPRAG’s practice from the start. Members are keen to learn from those with a history of advocating heritage preservation, while engaging the community in new ways of thinking about their past and planning their future together.

“Click advocacy is now possible through digital activism,” Suzette says, “and community activism is inevitably political.” The state government has been insisting that the only way they can fund the preservation of heritage is by selling most of the surrounding site to developers. NPRAG is determined to demonstrate alternative solutions. An arts and cultural precinct can have a multiplier effect, NPRAG believes, with economic benefits including domestic and international tourism and the physical and mental wellbeing of residents

Everyone wnprag-pfff-australia-day-1orking on the Australia Day stall, left, near Old Government House in Parramatta Park was surprised by the size of the crowd and the numbers who had still never heard of the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. Two hundred years of colonial history and evidence of thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship are encompassed by the 30 hectare site. Old hands and recent arrivals from India, China and south east Asian nprag-1630_n_parramatta_fshp_artistimpressionsonly_161115_3-300x212countries were fascinated by the stories and eager for more information.

As Suzette later wrote: “As you can see from the picture (top), NPRAG’s Alternative Vision drawings displayed on easels, brought the crowds to the stall and helped direct hundreds of signatures to the PFFF petition (for National Heritage listing nprag-1630_n_parramatta_fshp_artistimpressionsonly_161115_4-300x212of the convict Parramatta Female Factory) and to NPRAG’s Save our Heritage and Pool petition to the state government. We also welcomed 44 new NPRAG members.” NPRAG now has several hundred members and 3500 active followers on social media. One of the challenges is to convert social media followers into a politically acknowledged advocacy voice.

The upper drawing is an artist’s impression of the state government plan to privatise public land for a suburb. Below, is NPRAG’s vision for the same site surrounding the old cricket pavilion open to the public for cultural, mental and physical health benefits.

Suzette, whose background includes project management in the construction industry, summarises NPRAG’s vision for the future, “Over a decade we could develop – affordably – a hub for creative minds with rehearsal spaces, artist studios, community centres with a world class art gallery and museum of NSW celebrating our migration history together with the first centre of indigenous reconciliation and excellence, surrounded by an interactive-family focused sculpture park among renewed colonial botanical plantings. There would be an outdoor performance space and indoor auditoria, with practice and smaller presentation rooms. There would be a connection with Parramatta Park via a foot bridge to link the government lands and the cultural ribbon along the river. All keeping this green public space accessible for the expanding population of Parramatta to both recreate and create in.”

suzette-meade-0117Passions run high among those who are fighting for a better future for the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct, also known as the North Parramatta Heritage Precinct. It’s not always easy for determination and respectful discussion to go hand in hand and Suzette is acutely conscious that her role is to allow all voices to be heard. She says, “Maybe if UGNSW worked with the community and residents genuinely from the outset better outcomes would have progressed. Why is it up to the community to make sure the right thing is done to our green space and heritage?”

parramatta-ch-c-michael_mekhitarianPresident of Parramatta Chamber of Commerce Michael Mekhitarian believes there is merit in NPRAG’s proposals, though he considers there may be a need for a greater mix of heritage, commercial, arts/cultural and residential in the precinct. He urges UrbanGrowth and NPRAG to sit down together and have a conversation. “We want the best outcome for the people of Parramatta. We need to be able to attract the best and brightest. Think of the residents if nothing else.” NPRAG has certainly tried to do this with UGNSW.

If you can spare 30 minutes, go to this link (http://bit.ly/2hBF94H). Overcoming Challenges in Community Advocacy was Suzette Meade’s speech to the Royal Australian Historical Society Annual Conference in October 2016. It not only outlines NPRAG’s operations and achievements, but offers valuable advice for many community organisations advocating change.

Arts, sport and pushing back against fear

1-hakawati-team-and-ntopI could kick myself that I’m too late to get a seat for Hakawati, right, National Theatre of Parramatta’s show currently part of Sydney Festival. On the other hand who could begrudge NTofP‘s sold-out success at El Phoenician Restaurant-Bar and the enthusiastic reviews? Hakawati draws on ancient Arabic traditions of entertaining through story telling while sharing a meal, at the same time offering insight into contemporary issues with a powerful western Sydney twist. The show has proved so popular that a return season is planned for later in the year. Click on this link for notification of dates when they are advised..

I was more successful in booking for Champions, at Carriageworks, this week, where the skills of contemporary dance and soccer collide. Directed by Martin del Amo, assisted by Miranda Wheen, Champions tells the story of an all female soccer team and their preparation and performance in a drama filled match. Blurring the boundaries between the elite skills of 1-1-champions-form-dance-projects-photo-by-heidrun-l_hr-webdance and sport, the team worked with coaches and athletes from Western Sydney Wanderers. Channel Seven sports presenter Mel McLaughlin provides analysis and commentary in the show. If Champions, left, has anything like the qualities of previous Form Dance Project productions, including the linked Dance Makers Collective’s Dads, last November, it will be enthralling, thought provoking and highly entertaining.

Providing background to my thoughts about these and many other productions engaging western Sydney artists are the heartfelt observations of two such creatives shortly before Christmas. The first is Aanisa Vylet (below right preparing for Daisy Moon Was Born This Way to be produced by The Q at The Joan, Penrith in 2017, photo by Alana Dimou) – gifted actor, director, adventurous and generous spirit. That’s also Aanisa in the bottom right hand corner of the Hakawati photo above, where she has been dramaturge to the production. On December 21, she posted on her blog Secrets : From one artist to another. Do read it.

aanisa-daisy-moon-q-2017-photo-alana-dimou“I feel like we are living in a very unpredictable and frightening political landscape. I have had this idea sitting in my chest: to write a blog of secrets and tips that I would whisper to a fellow artist…to offer support. So these are some values and strategies that have kept me going as an actress, artist and outsider for the last 11 years . . .”

I’ll leave you to read the 10 points for yourself, but her final note is illuminating. “I will share one last secret…at the beginning of this year, I told myself – “Ok, so this is your last chance to be an actress/artist, you need to give it your best shot and if you don’t land something and if your play turns to shit – you need to find another career and accept it. This is your last shot. NO HOLDING BACK.

“I have not had the time to write a blog this year because I have been overwhelmed by the abundance of what I have experienced. I still had moments where I was  afraid, mistrustful of myself and of the the world at large. What if I eliminate all fear?”

1-natalie-dec-2016On a related theme are the writings of passionate community activist and creative entrepreneur, Natalie Wadwell, left. Natalie is concerned that the arts are not valued in the community in the same way as sport and yet their contributions to physical and mental skills, imagination, social cohesion and much more have many features in common. She wants to see more artists of all disciplines engage directly with communities, take courage in forging their own pathways and enlarge our understandings of our shared humanity.

She is continually putting her words into action. With her colleague Lucinda Davison, they have established a website State of the Arts. It has a big vision – “It aims to bring together creatives, art writers, performers, musicians and art organisations to investigate, engage and promote the diversity of creative initiatives and cultures. From the northern plains to the southern basin of NSW, including Greater Western Sydney and the ACT, State of the Arts will be a guide from country to coast.” Now they are advertising for help in developing their website.

natalie-web-developerState of the Arts web developer [PAID OPPORTUNITY]
Help State of the Arts refine our platform and shape new features to be launched in April 2017. Live, work or playing across Western Sydney or Regional NSW is not essential, but desirable (we want to support local).
If you or a mate you would highly recommend is interested send us an email with the subject line ‘I can web, mate,’ and three samples of recent work.”

Like so many others, Aanisa and Natalie are determined to push back agains the clouds of fear constantly under discussion in mainstream and social media. Working collaboratively, talking openly and honestly about concerns and sharing explorations towards better understanding are just some of their tools. Fear can engender more fear which just ends in paralysis. I love the Bernard Shaw line famously only half quoted by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy . . .  my child, but take courage: it can be delightful.”

Western Sydney Frontier – does this blog have a future?

1-IMG_4548Have you ever read posts on this blog and thought how they could be further developed? Feedback has suggested there could be more critical depth to the story telling and discussion encouraged of ideas and creative proposals. A continuously updated “what’s on” section, space for reviews of exhibitions, performances, events, books etc, and listing of opportunities – workshops, auditions, employment? Feature items by invited contributors?

Well, now is your chance. By the end of this year I will have reached the age of 75 and would like to pull back from my current engagement. Having a range of contributors would greatly increase the value of the blog, but would require clearly developed policy, shared management and editorial responsibility and more sophisticated technology. A multi-platform website may be one answer and/or a collaborative blogging platform. Clearly, this needs skilled advice. If Western Sydney Frontier is now superseded by other blogs and websites, I am happy to let it wind down and just deliver occasional posts myself.

NPRAG rally T shirtIn the meantime, it’s worth considering some facts. Two subjects which have attracted the largest response are those around Aboriginal experience (see Appin Massacre 200th anniversary commemoration, photo above) and national heritage issues particularly the convict Parramatta Female Factory Precinct in North Parramatta, left, and the former Parramatta Girls Home.

What has been the response since the launch of Western Sydney Frontier in February 2014? WordPress statistics seem to be a bit contradictory, e.g. in recording Facebook links, but the broad figures seem consistent. There are only about 100 followers – people usually “follow” in response to a particular story, whereas the broad reach of the blog across the region and across art forms is usually too broad for most readers – in its present form, anyway. At the time of writing there have been 12,000 visitors in two and a half years and 18,500 views. Best total views in one day – 263, Feb 11, 2016 – Confront the racist crap and create real change – though WordPress later credited those figures to a different story. The vast majority of visits come from within Australia, but views are recorded from a multitude of different countries. 144 posts have been published and 103 comments recorded in response – the reply facility on this particular blog design (Twenty Eleven theme) is disappointingly obscure, so that conversations that begin, rarely have the chance to develop.

What is the anecdotal feedback? Feedback is mostly verbal and generally enthusiastic, though infrequent. Those who are the subjects of stories, usually express great appreciation and share the stories through Facebook, Twitter etc. There are plenty of others who share the links through social media, too. As you know, there is such a plethora of online information and comment, it can be hard to register in the public mind.

If you would like to reply with comments or suggestions – preferably about what you would do, not what I should do, please click on the Leave a reply link at the bottom of the post, click on the Join In page under the blog’s header, or message me or comment under the link on the Passion Purpose Meaning Facebook page. Many thanks.

william+barton+sacred+musicIn the meantime, some of the best developments occurring across the region are represented in the opening events of the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival. Director Richard Petkovic has worked in partnership with Cumberland Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee. “Come and see Sydney in a 360 degree panoramic view and be part of The Gathering Ceremony, on Friday, September 2, at 2pm.” he says. “Featuring internationally acclaimed artist, William Barton, above, The Gathering Ceremony will bring together the local Aboriginal community to relaunch Marrong (Prospect Hill) as a significant place of culture for Aboriginal people. A place of spirit, a place of the Crow (Pemulwuy’s totem).”

On the following night, at 7pm, Sydney Sacred Music Festival launches Worlds Collide – Eight Storeys High, Seven Cultures, One Amazing New Sound – A live multimedia performance of contemporary world and electronic dance music on Wentworth Street Carpark in Parramatta’s CBD. Here is a short video promo of the music element

Richard says, “The roofworlds+collide+sacred+music+festival top will be transformed into an artistic wonderland, featuring art installations by Khaled Sabsabi, Marian Abboud and Ghasan Saaid, video projections, interactive dance workshops and the world premiere of the Arts NSW funded, Worlds Collide ensemble. Worlds Collide brings together the best world musicians in Sydney and fuses the South Asian Underground beats of Coco Varma’s Sitar Funk, the acoustic world fusion of the Shohrat Tursun Trio; Latin music legend Victor Valdes; soaring vocals of Blue Mary’s Maria Mitar and the hip hop rhymes of Mt Druitt’s Esky the Emcee, all under the direction of music producer and composer Richard Petkovic (Cultural Arts Collective).

Worlds Collide will invite the audience to move their bodies, from meditative drones and sacred African chants to full on dance beats with soaring vocals and hip hop rhymes, this performance is designed to take the listener on a journey into the new sound of multicultural Australia.” Program details and bookings.

Could this be Penrith’s creative hub for the future?

Breuer Building - Penrith 1Local artists and theatre makers are holding their collective breath that an appropriate buyer might purchase a building currently on the market in Penrith. For some years they have been seeking a suitable space as an arts and cultural hub, where people can work together to create events and products, to teach and learn from each other and to provide a flourishing centre of inspiration for the entire community. The building is the only one in Australia designed by modernist architect Marcel Breuer, whose most famous work is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. It was one of several around the world originally designed for the Torin Corporation, manufacturers of air moving equipment. The building was designed in collaboration with architect Harry Seidler and landscape architect Bruce Rickard. It was completed in 1976 and state heritage listed in 2009.

The BreueBreuer Building - Penrith 2r building is located in Coombes Drive just off Coreen Avenue.  Photos of the building by Max Dupain were published in Architecture Australia, Vol. 66, No. 3 in July 1977. On Facebook Billy Gruner has posted some of the photos, see left and below. He asks “Should this be the new centre for Art, Culture and Design in the West? The fabulous Marcel Breuer building is for sale in Penrith. This building needs to be lobbied as the location of a Centre of Contemporary Arts and Culture in the West. Penrith Breuer Building - Penrith 3set on the river at the foot of the Blue Mountains already houses the Western Sydney University, TAFE, a major hospital and medical centres. Many would like to see this national treasure  turned into a community asset. Please pass this on to friends and associates.” On Theatre Links in the West, Ian Zammit says, “This could be a game changer for our city and our cultural life.”

Penrith was the first local government in western Sydney to provide a home for the region’s first professional theatre company, Q Theatre, in 1977. It opened a regional art gallery in 1981 in association with the Lewers Bequest, and launched The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in 1990. The Joan, as it became known, also incorporated the Penrith Conservatorium of Music.

While these spaces are greatly appreciated and well used, they are too costly and inappropriate for the messy activities and experimentation that can produce the completed works for presentation in these other facilities. The Breuer building looks like a perfect solution. What do you think?