Breaking new ground in telling our own stories through theatre and writing

More and more people are telling the stories of western Sydney and regional New South Wales. Felicity Castagna won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2014 for her debut novel The Incredible Here and Now. With a spare writing style she evokes a picture of the inner life and thoughts of Michael a teenage boy in Parramatta, who undergoes the sudden loss of his older brother and its impact on his family and his own growing up. It’s a gentle story of a quest for understanding and finding his place in the world and is filled with intimate glimpses of his home and family and the places where he hangs out with friends.

Yes, there is drama, but the story is more about Michael’s responses to it rather than the events themselves. The Incredible Here and Now has a quiet, meditative quality about it so it will be very interesting to see how it makes the transition to the stage. The National Theatre of Parramatta commissioned Felicity to create a play of the same name from her novel, which opens at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, on July 13 and runs to Saturday, July 22. For Felicity, it has been a great learning curve as she works with directors Jeneffa Soldatic, right, and Wayne Harrison. Jeneffa herself grew up in Sydney’s south west, at Ingleburn, and feels that Michael’s teenage experience has many similarities to her own. To make her way in theatre, she had to leave Sydney for New York, where she graduated from the Actors Studio in 2004 and became one of only a few Australians to be accepted as a life member.

Felicity says, “I’ve been attending shows at Riverside Theatres for more than 15 years. To see my own work on stage there, in my own community is such a privilege. The support and guidance provided to me by National Theatre of Parramatta, has been incredibly important in developing my own career as a writer and as a voice in the community that I love so much.”

“Fundamentally,” she says, “it’s a play about language and silence. Our personal grief is such a fundamentally hard thing to articulate whether you’re a teenage boy or a mother. That grief therefore, needed to be expressed in the visual language of the play; a box, a stack of pancakes, an older brother who is not there anymore but continually returns to stage like a memory that is always in the back of one’s mind.”

Performing the lead role of Michael is Bardiya McKinnon, above, (TV’s As the Bell Rings and In Your Dreams) and as Dom, Alex Cubis (TV’s Mako Mermaids and Rake). In addition, The Incredible Here stars Caroline Brazier, Libby Asiack, Olivia Simone, Ryan Peters and Sal Sharah. Information and bookings.

Two young women are taking the concept of storytelling across the regions of NSW to new heights. Natalie Wadwell, left, of south western Sydney and Lucinda Davison of the NSW south coast have been developing a comprehensive website State of the Arts – SOTAau – for the last two years. They “support the next generation of Australia’s storytellers”. It’s a big vision and requires a lot of work and financial investment. This year, Natalie was a recipient of a Layne Beachley Foundation ‘Aim for the Stars Scholarship.’ This money was put towards SOTAau to gain legal support and redevelop their platform. SOTA is also among the first initiatives to be supported by Arts Initiatives Australia – an organisation aimed at making Australian arts more sustainable.

You can now explore the prototype of SOTA’s new platform. Over the next six months they will be shortlisting and targeting five areas, the independent artists within and the organisations servicing them. This will help them learn where the platform can improve and how they can scale it to effectively service the vast geography that is greater western Sydney, regional NSW and the ACT.

They provide publishing opportunities for writers based in suburban and regional areas and access to a growing network of mentors and other creatives to help build sustainable career pathways. SOTA is a social enterprise: a business that generates profit for a social purpose. They say, “Local writers are best positioned to share experiences of art and culture.” Watch this space!

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Counter vilification and stereotype by getting to know the individual

1-khaled-sabsabi-majority-minorityWhat can we as individuals do if we don’t accept the torrent of vitriol, racial abuse and false information currently swirling around us? Quite a lot, really, if we are prepared to be steadfast, patient and respectful. Artists and arts activists in western Sydney have been travelling this path for many years. Through their art forms they have offered insights into what it’s like to belong to one or several different cultures and how that may find individual expression through their personal experience. As artists reveal aspects of their lives, we witness vulnerability, a search for the infinite, for meaning and understanding. Insights may challenge assumptions about each other and leave audiences and participants more open to new ideas and understandings.

Khaled Sabsabi is a western Sydney artist, who was awarded the inaugural Western Sydney Arts Fellowship in 2016.  He migrated from Lebanon with his parents as a 12 year old in 1978 as a result of civil war, and settled in western Sydney. His personal experiences of conflict and dislocation in Lebanon and then in his adopted homeland of Australia, led him into deep social engagement. Independent curator and editor of Artist Profile, Kon Gouriotis wrote in 2014, “As a young artist, Sabsabi began experimenting with sound and poetry within the hip‐hop group COD (Count on Damage) in Granville NSW. He gradually moved to sound tracks for short and feature films, his last work was for Cedar Boys (2009). Yet it was to be media that eventually connected his sound and images . . .”

khaled-sabsabi-majority-minority-with-carmel-and-konFairfield City Museum and Gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of Khaled’s work, Majority/Minority, which Kon  officially opened in January. It encompasses three works which reflect on the complexities of migrant experience in western Sydney and the way in which minorities have gradually become the majority in areas like Fairfield. Kon, centre above, with gallery coordinator Carmel Aiello and Khaled Sabsadi. Top, is a still from Khaled’s two channel video Wonderland (2014), one of the three works in Majority/Minority.

In 2003 Khaled returned to Lebanon for the first time. He was profoundly affected by his exposure to the origins of his Islamic Sufi lineage. Kon considers that some of the Sufi teachings would have resonated deeply with Khaled, “especially an individual’s right to imagine the infinite”. It is generally understood that Sufism predates Islam and was connected to Zoroastrianism. Khaled uses the online name of peacefender and has worked extensively in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugeee and settlement camps. Among many awards, Khaled is a recipient of the Blake Art Prize, Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship and an Australia Council for the Arts Community Cultural Development Fellowship.

In the last year alone he has participated in group exhibitions in Yinchuan City, China; Blacktown Arts Centre, NSW; Artspace, New Zealand; and at Bait Al Shamsi, Sharjah, UAE.  Next Saturday, February 25, from 1pm to 3pm, Kon will be in conversation with Khaled at Fairfield Museum and Gallery. They will discuss Khaled’s exhibition Majority/Minority and some of his recent practice and reflect on the broader role of the arts and cultural sector in western Sydney. You are invited to attend and to participate with questions and discussion. RSVP to museumgallery@fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au or call 9725 0190 by Thursday 23 February. Complimentary refreshments will be provided.

You don’t havejason-wing-within-arms-reach to look far in western Sydney for other examples of thought provoking work by artists of sometimes demonised minorities. Within Arms Reach was the poignant and haunting work, right, created by Jason Wing for The Native Institute, a 2013 exhibition at Blacktown Arts Centre. Jason is an artist of Aboriginal and Chinese descent, who was evoking the anguish of Aboriginal parents who camped outside the 19th century institute fence in the hope of catching a glimpse of their captive children.

wagana-woodford-academy-with-n-trust-0117Wagana Aboriginal Dancers from Katoomba, under the leadership of Wiradjuri descendant Jo Clancy, continue to explore traditional culture and create contemporary dance works. They are developing cultural knowledge and confidence among their young members and sharing their understanding with local and international audiences. Here they are at their first performance for 2017 at Woodford Academy, managed by the National Trust. Later this year, they will perform at the World Indigenous People’s Conference in Toronto, Canada.

The politically-charged marriage equality debate is the subject of a new dance performance at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. In Difference is a production of Form Dance Projects and Riverside in which leading dance artist Craig Bary in-difference-preparationhas drawn together a gifted artistic team. Here they are working on ideas and choreography, right, in preparation for a brief season, March 2 to 4, at 8pm.

“Marriage equality is a real issue for real people so we are making this work for them, and hope to make a significant contribution to the debate in the most creative and inspiring way,’ says Bary. ‘We will also bring the real life of the performers on stage to create a compelling, vulnerable and open environment for the audiences to connect with.”

We all have a need of connectedness, of belonging. Is there really any difference between the needs of a same sex couple and a heterosexual couple? In Difference promises a penetrating and poignant demonstration that dance can communicate important issues and make a social and political impact.

sydney-world-music-chamber-orchestra-rehearsalOther examples of work that defy the stereotypes and demonstrate the riches that come with experience of individual stories abound in western Sydney. Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its seventh year, is under the direction of musician Richard Petkovic. Over time, he has gradually assembled a whole range of highly trained musicians from many cultural and religious backgrounds, who are also frequently refugees. Their explorations of contemporary expressions of ancient traditions is continuous, where they share the transformative power of the sacred as distinct from the potential divisiveness of the religious.

1-dth-media-releaseWestern Sydney Literacy Movement – Sweatshop based at Western Sydney University, will launch associate director Peter Polites’ first novel, on March 5. Down the Hume is queer-ethnic Western Sydney noir, the first of its kind, and is published by Hachette, one of the biggest publishing companies in Australia.

Check out Natalie Wadwell’s latest blog post where she reflects on Resilience, it’s a cultural thing and promotes Jon Hawkes’ argument that culture should be the fourth pillar of sustainability. He proposed in 2001 that culture is not an additional policy or a strategy, but a framework through which we assess social, environmental and economic strategies. Natalie links this to her recent experience of a Resilient Sydney workshop.

National Theatre of Parramatta is just one more of many fine examples of companies that seek to defy stereotypes by presenting stories from diverse cultural communities. Still only in its second year, it has already met with great success.

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.”

Yes, this blog does have a future – building on each other’s achievements!

Well, hello again! It’s more than two months since my last post. In that time, I have been sorting and culling files, books and other records and generally downsizing. Many were used in the writing of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published in 2013 and in the subsequent publication of this blog Western Sydney Frontier – beginning in 2014. Simultaneously, it has meant a chance to reflect on the last 45 years of arts and cultural development I have witnessed and the monumental changes that have occurred across the region.

1-bsa-collective_blank-slate

In the midst of this period, I was honoured to open the first exhibition of the recently formed Blacktown Studio Artists Collective, Blank Slate. It is a perfect illustration of what has happened in that 45 years. Distance and isolation remain facts of life, but population growth, cultural diversification, growth in social infrastructure like education and the arts and the determined advocacy of hundreds of passionate individuals has produced  extraordinary change.

Above is Blacktown Sun’s photo of the exhibiting artists, Jan Cleveringa, left, Nazanin Masharian, Suzannah Williams, Rosalind Stanley and Alex Cyreszko. Nazanin says “Blank Slate is a metaphor for the collective; we’re not sure what we’re going to be yet. We’re open to the energy of the group and what comes up,” They are all well educated, widely experienced and willing to explore their own histories in a context of local and global issues like displacement by war and colonisation, the impact of changing technologies, and climate change. They came together under the auspice of Blacktown Arts Centre and are also committed to Blacktown and its future.

ian-zammitThen last week I had the immense pleasure of an evening of conversation over dinner with two inspirational people, Ian Zammit, left, and Natalie Wadwell, right below. Our evening resulted from both of them contacting me after I questioned whether this blog has a future. Having reached the age of 75, I am increasingly reminded of my own mortality and the need for me to pass on the baton of networking, support and promotion. Both Ian and Natalie grew up in western Sydney. Each was creative and imaginative, but frustrated by the limited opportunities available locally. Ian grew up in Emu Heights, pursued music and theatre studies and completed an honours degree at Middlesex University in the UK, in 2006. He returned to live in Penrith and for five years worked at Carriageworks arts centre in Redfern. Then he took a gamble on working full time to develop Emu Heights Theatre Company with a group of local artists, teachers and business people and the support of his wife Michelle. The company survived five years of successful productions and work with local schools, but decided to close last year when facing unending struggles for money and resources.

Far from giving up, Ian recognised the need for more collaboration and mutual support among theatre people and established Theatre Links in the West, which meets monthly and shares theatre information through its Facebook page. His track record is leading to increasing professional employment opportunities for him in Penrith and Liverpool performing artsNatalie Wadwell - ARI forum.

Similarly, Natalie has been confronting the frustrations and challenges for young people in her local area and continually investigates, analyses and instigates creative solutions. With an appetite for learning, strategic thinking and a commitment to improved opportunities, she established an online presence with Wadwell Initiatives, giving her own background as a writer and creative instigator and a summary of her projects, writings, ideas and vulnerabilities. She has a Bachelor Art Theory/History (First Class Honours), UNSW Art and Design (2012-2015).

Earlier this year, she graduated with 16 other young people from the inaugural accelerator program conducted by the School of Social Entrepreneurs for young people wanting to drive social change in Western Sydney. Now, she is working with Lucinda Davison, founder and editor of the online publication State of the Arts to develop the site as an online platform promoting a more inclusive arts and culture conversation across New South Wales. “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.

State of the Arts brings together the broad experiences of art and culture “out there” to take art off its pedestal, because culture is everywhere.” Natalie is determined to ensure that western Sydney is well represented and the platform provides scope for lots of participation. Do check it out and consider contributing. State of the Arts is a more than worthy successor to Western Sydney Frontier and for the time being, we can gladly cross promote each other’s posts. In the meantime, those people who left generous comments supporting the continuation of my blog can feel pleased.

wagana-becky-chatfield-and-jo-clancy-2016While most of the arts and cultural achievements in western Sydney are the result of sustained collaborative effort and many disappointments, some require even more commitment than most. For Becky Chatfield, above left with Jo Clancy of Wagana Aboriginal Dancers in the Blue Mountains, there are daily encounters with casual racism and denial of her own deep sense of identity. Statements like “Aboriginality is just unnecessary. It’s not really in the best interests of Aboriginal people. It’s not good for Aborigines to remain Aborigines.”

A week ago on Facebook, she posted “I tossed up whether or not to watch First Contact last night but decided I had to, the issue is too important. So many people saying ‘ignore it, don’t worry about it, give it no energy’. But unfortunately, I feel that I must indeed give energy to it and I believe we all should, because David Oldfield is not the only one with these sickening views, Australia has many people who think the way he does and I can’t close my eyes to it. I have a responsibility to my daughter and to all of our children to at least try. I will continue to spread the beauty of our culture, and I will call out the bullshit.
I want change and it won’t come unless we actively tackle the situation together.”

Then out of the blue came a contact from Anton Arets, an artist I hadn’t seen for 30 years. It was followed by a completely unsolicited response to my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney  – one that reflects the views of Ian and Natalie. “I have Blog - PPM book coverjust finished reading it. It is such an excellent, well researched and insightful publIcation . . . This book will help everyone contemplating a career in any of the many art forms and cultural support networks, to appreciate that its not an easy road, that there will be challenges, disappointments, limited budgets, rejections, lack of community support and opportunities – just to mention a few.. But they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They need to build on the foundation set by the many dedicated artists and artisans before them, and capitalise on every opportunity that presents itself or is even self created, regardless of how small it appears on the surface. Effort always pays dividends.

“Just thinking….. What the book highlighted in my mind, amongst other things, was how the Aboriginal community and also the European/Asian Migrant population, the New Australians, were basically told to bury their identity or ‘shut up and fit in..’  Art gave them their voice back, and helped them research and regain their identity as individuals worthy of dignity and respect. Its a voice we cannot afford to lose.

“As the powers-that-be continually implement and endorse the time tested quality of not listening to the general populace, this may end up being the only voice we have.”

In officially launching Blacktown Studio Artists Collective exhibition Blank Slate, I gave each of the artists a copy of Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney to thank them for their inspiration to the rest of us and to let them see themselves as part of a rich continuum of creative arts development in western Sydney. They work in a wide range of media to give expression to their ideas. Blank Slate continues at Blacktown Visitor Information and Heritage Centre in the original Blacktown Primary School, Civic Plaza, Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown, (across from Blacktown Library), until January 28, 2017. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3pm.

It’s a pleasure to know that Ian Zammit and Natalie Wadwell are looking forward as much as I am to getting together again early next year. All good wishes in the meantime.

Are artist run initiatives (ARIs) the answer for creative spaces?

Natalie Wadwell - ARI forumHere’s a welcome opportunity to discuss an issue of major concern across western Sydney – creative space.  Young and committed creative Natalie Wadwell, is organising an all day forum on May 27, We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector, as part of Vivid Sydney. It will be a co-presentation by 107 Projects in Redfern and the National Association for the Visual Arts. Above, Macarthur Advertiser’s photo of Natalie.

Natalie has been pursuing the issue of space run independently by creative artists, for several years in the Campbelltown area. She is not opposed to government funding, but is well aware that there is not enough of it and all too often, it comes with strings attached that limits its relevance to local needs. Participants in Theatre Links in the West, based in Penrith, have been working on the same issue across several locations. Among many subjects of lively discussion at their meeting on April 5 they recorded, “The Penrith Council priority for a hub for arts and cultural development at the grass roots level in the heart of Penrith was a very popular topic, with discussions revolving around its location, its purpose, how it would be managed and the need for its management team and activities to be funded significantly for it to work.”

For a decade, Parramatta Artists Studios have been providing a tremendous resource and service for a whole range of artists across different art forms, though the number they can support at any one time is limited. Of course, the studios are not run by artists, but professionally managed by Parramatta Council. There are hopes that among the opportunities that may be available through the “transformation” by UrbanGrowth of the North Parramatta heritage precinct would be the establishment of an artist run initiative.

We Run This_John O'CallaghanThis suggests the forum We Run This: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is very timely. There will be representatives of ARIs from Sydney, Wollongong, Launceston, Alice Springs and Canberra. They will offer experience and ideas in answer to questions and presentations from a dynamic group of speakers including John O’Callaghan (JOC Consulting), left, and Monica Barone (CEO, City of Sydney). John O’Callaghan is an urban planner specialising in social activation, community engagement and new media.

Other participants include Euphemia Bostock, left, below, founding member and chairperson of We Run This_Euphemia BostockBoomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative. She is a Munanjali-Bundjalung woman and elder, who has worked across many mediums including textile, printmaking, design and sculpture from the early 1960s. Her work has been exhibited extensively in Australia and internationally. Boomalli has operated since 1987.

The conference will be moderated by Maria Miranda, a research fellow from the University of Melbourne writing on The Cultural Economy of Artist-Run Initiatives in Australia. Natalie and the joint organisers argue that Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) play a vital role in balancing Australia’s arts ecology. Established for independence and flexibility for artists, ARIs operate at the intersection of community, urban planning, business and culture. “Is the ARI concept the future of the prosperous community?” they ask.

Western Sydney has already had its own experience of an Artist-Run Initiative, as recorded in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. Street Level operated for two years from a Penrith shopfront from 1988 to 1990, when it moved to a vandalised pinball parlour in Blacktown and continued for another five years. Street Level was instigated by visual arts graduates of University of Western Sydney and in its seven years of operation provided a huge range of experience and training for artists, curators and communities. In fact, it was one of three examples of developments that seemed to me to represent the region’s turning point in 1990 from being a victim of isolation and media demonisation to finding a strong voice confident of its unique characteristics.

We Run this: A Conversation with Australia’s Independent Arts Sector is designed for councillors, regulators, developers, urban planners, artists and practitioners, policy advocates, researchers, arts investors and all those interested in facilitating the sustainability of existing spaces, as well as encouraging the emergence of ARIs in more communities across Australia. Tickets from $33. Bookings and information.

 

 

 

An enterprising thrust in the search for creative space

1-Theatre Links #15Looking for creative space that won’t cost a fortune? Join the queue. Despite big distances that challenge getting together across the region, there is actually a shortage of space. That is, easily accessible, low cost space available for community creativity, experimentation and the chance to fail as well as succeed. At the February Theatre Links in the West meeting in Penrith, above, and then in March, the issue of space was under discussion. Where is there a Penrith venue to host regular play readings, performances of short plays, somewhere to allow testing and development for writing and performance?

It’s the same issue in Blacktown, Campbelltown and many other communities across western Sydney. The established arts centres are very valuable, but the demand for their spaces is strong and hiring charges can be prohibitive for small groups. The cost of public liability insurance can be another barrier. Theatre Links itself meets at San Churro cafe in Penrith led by director and producer Ian Zammit, above right. Blacktown playwright and drama tutor Rob Escott, second from left, has temporarily solved his space problem by conducting activities at home.

WestWords seminar 0216Space was certainly an issue on the minds of participants in WestWordsWriting the West: Future Directions for Western Sydney’s Literary Culture, a seminar and workshop, held at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on February 4th, left. The first priority to emerge from the event was strategic partnerships with other groups seeking similar resources and services. This led naturally to the second priority – a creativity centre or hub with the capacity to co-ordinate ‘writing mentors’ at satellite sites across western Sydney and to host writers in residence – among other roles.

Someone who has been pursuing solutions to the need of creative space in the Campbelltown area is Natalie Wadwell, third from left, front row, below. She successfully applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs for training to assist her in establishing The Access Point – an independent art space particularly tailored for the western Sydney community. The Access Point, she says, “will operate at the intersection of community, culture and business; contributing to the region’s capacity to prosper culturally and economically. Investing in this venture means: community activation, artistic innovation and meaningful social collaboration.”

Natalie Wadwell - Social EntrepreneursThe School for Social Entrepreneurs was clearly impressed by her application. Natalie is thrilled with her experience. “I’ve just finished the first block of SSE and had to share with you how amazing the cohort is! They are tackling a range of issues, with three of us focusing on some form of the arts which is great. The commitment and dedication from the SSE team to deliver this opportunity to young people in Western Sydney is nothing short of remarkable. They genuinely care and are invested in us. The cohort is a sample of the diversity of young people in western Sydney. Their ideas and drive to promote social change in the region is inspiring to be around and I cannot wait for the next 4 months as we develop our ventures.” Natalie has been matched with a “fantastic” mentor from an established law firm.

She is keen to start building the network of people who share the same interest and invites you to contact her. Click here.

The School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia nurtures those in our community that see big opportunities where others see big problems – social entrepreneurs drive local actions to meet local challenges. SSE is about helping communities to help themselves.“ – Emily Fuller, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation

SSE Australia was founded in 2009 by Social Ventures Australia, SSE UK, and serial social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence AO.

Dedicated individuals work with local focus, but global influence

Randa SayedAround the region, inspired individuals commit themselves to improving their skills, deepening their understanding of their art and sharing their observations and experiences. It’s a major challenge where distance isolates people from face to face contact with each other. One of those who has been on this trajectory for more than a decade is Aanisa Vylet, left. Finding herself in the last intake of students for Theatre Nepean (University of Western Sydney) in 2006, her initial disappointment became the tool that turned frustration into determination that she was going to pursue an acting career, no matter what.

Aanisa has become an independent actor, writer, director and filmmaker. She is passionate about creating new Australian work and draws extensively on her own experience and observations. After an initial foray in 2011, she undertook the professional course at the Jacques Lecoq School Of Movement and Theatre in Paris in 2014. Most recently, she has created Experience and The Girl and has performed it with Brigitta Brown. It has received rave reviews at Adelaide Fringe Festival, where it continues until February 28. Simultaneous to developing her solo careeer, Aanisa maintains a special commitment to Western Sydney where she has worked on several projects.

At Penrith, it is a similar story for Ian Zammit, below – of pursuing international training and a professional career, while maintaining a commitment to his home town. Ian established Theatre Links in the West, two years ago, with the aim of bringing together professionally-minded theatre arts practitioners and supporters of all levels of experience in western Sydney. After co-founding and operating Emu Heights Theatre Company for five years, directing a Ian Zammitseries of well reviewed productions and working with local schools, he was forced to acknowledge that to continue independently needed greater structural support. Theatre Links is the first step in that process and recent meetings have led to constructive discussions about issues that affect small productions, and the need for readings and critical support for new play writing. Ian is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Music and has a BA Hons in Drama and Theatre Studies from Middlesex University in the UK. Once he returned from the UK, he spent more than five years working at Carriageworks, Redfern, while he and his wife Michelle worked with others to establish Emu Heights Theatre Company.

Natalie Wadwell - with-roy-jacksons-blocking-out-west 1975At Campbelltown, in the south west, another person with a deep commitment to her neighbourhood and a passion for meaningful creative activity is Natalie Wadwell, right, (in front of Roy Jackson’s Blocking Out West, 1975). In growing up in the Campbelltown area, she experienced the difficulties common to many young people with limited access to entertainment and opportunities in the region’s sprawling suburbs. Once she reached the age of 18, there were not the local venues and events attractive to her age group and access to others further afield was restrictive. Natalie took a pro-active approach and began volunteering and seeking mentorship opportunities with creative venues like Campbelltown Arts Centre, 107 Projects in Redfern and Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art to analyse and develop some alternative approaches. This led her to undertake a BA Hons in art theory and history at UNSW, which earned her first class honours last year.

Wadwell Initiatives logoThrough all this, she has become a cultural researcher and critic, a project director and a passionate advocate for creative initiatives that emerge from within communities. Natalie has developed the Wadwell Initiatives website to promote her ideas and community partnerships, and a blog which discusses many of these. Recently she posted: “For all the times I have written about or spoken on panels about the need to make participation more accessible, it is both exciting and overwhelming to see it finally coming to fruition. If anything meaningful is going to happen, it needs to come from small businesses and entrepreneurs operating independent of cultural policy and in tune to local relevance.”

Among other things, Natalie was referring to Live‘n’Lounging, a not–for-profit house/garden gig series supporting Australian singer-songwriters and bands. The shows have been running in a private home in the Macarthur region (an area which includes Campbelltown, Camden and Wollondilly Councils) for four and a half years, with opportunities to expand the popular program emerging. She also said, “Campbelltown is gearing up for its first independent Wadwell - Creative Arts Festivalcreative arts festival. Organised by Brian Laul of the Wizard of Oz Playland (Leumeah) this festival seeks to create an opportunity for Campbelltown’s creative community to have a presence. Laul has experience working in journalism, music and theatre. He is currently taking expressions of interest from creative practitioners – be that dance, theatre, visual arts or film to name but a few – to participate in this independently funded and run event. It is anticipated that the festival will take place in September/October 2016. The only guidelines for EOI are quality and 100% independent. The festival, as I imagine it, will open up opportunities for local creatives to participate in and be more visible in the Campbelltown area. Locals can send their EOI to Brian on info@thewizardofozfunland.com.”

Natalie feels optimistic about the burgeoning independent sector in Macarthur and ends her post by saying, “As always, take the local and make it global.”