The fight for federal arts funding intensifies, even as new programs emerge

Art Changes Lives - June 2016



A National Day of Action begins today with demonstrations by artists and the arts community against drastic funding cuts. On May 13 this year, 50% of small
to medium arts companies did not receive funding as a result of the government’s
cuts to the Australia Council. These cuts will result in job losses and will have flow on effects across cultural industries, educational institutions and the commercial sector. The arts employ more people than agriculture, construction or mining and the creative industries generate $50 billion for the Australian economy. Independent artists and organisations are the backbone of arts in Australia, generating new ideas and new talent.
Artists are the innovators of our nation.

Rosie Dennis, artistic director of Urban Theatre Projects, based in Bankstown says, “Join us at 12.30pm outside Bankstown train station to show your support. Follow #Istandforthearts and join in, wherever you are. Now more than ever is the time to hold onto our democratic right and freedom to speak out and protest, and let our leaders know that we want to see and hear great stories, told by talented artists, that are connected to the country, the city, the suburb, that we call home.”

UTP - One Day for Peace - 2The National Day of Action launches a two week campaign highlighting the importance of the arts in the lead-up to the federal election on July 2. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Association for the Visual Arts will be asking visitors today to tell politicians about why the arts are important in their own lives. Theatre companies are taking similar actions with their audiences. Rosie Dennis says, “Increasingly the arts are disappearing from our daily lives and are almost always under-valued as a career path. Yet it’s one of the most valuable industries we have in terms of reminding us of our humanity.” Above, is an image from UTP’s 2015 film One Day for Peace, which featured members of many different faiths in western Sydney and was shown to a range of audiences across the region in September. One Day For Peace will feature on ABC’s Compass program in August this year.

Family Portraits - Joanne SaadFederal funding has been vital to the success of UTP programs, which work closely with communities in western Sydney and regions across NSW to highlight the experiences of many different cultural groups and offer them the opportunity for deeper understanding and sharing common ground. Left, is an image from Bankstown Live, UTP’s four day event in last year’s Sydney Festival.

Organisers urge –

→ Get on social media and post about your support with #istandwiththearts
and #ausvotesarts
→ Write a letter of support for the arts to your local member (or email)
→ Write to the Arts Minister Hon. Mitch Fifield
→ Vote for the candidates with the best arts policies on July 2

Rosie Dennis says, “I urge you to have a conversation with your neighbours, your local school, the people you work with, your friends, your family about the value and importance of the arts – theatre, film, dance, literature, visual arts. And not the Hollywood blockbusters, or the big names that play at the top end of town, but the little guys, like us, here at UTP, who reach out to a broad range of people and see the impact that our work has on people’s daily lives.”

Blacktown Arts Centre 1In the meantime, state government funding through Arts NSW has allowed the development and launch of a new program for young Aboriginal people Solid Ground 2016. A new partnership between Carriageworks in inner city Redfern and Blacktown Arts Centre, right, Solid Ground 2016 is a new three-year strategy that will provide pathways for young Indigenous people in NSW into the arts and cultural industries. Solid Ground will create designed tertiary education and on the job training programs for 90 young Indigenous people from across Redfern, Waterloo and Blacktown. It has been a long time in preparation and aims to give young indigenous people meaningful connection with school and rewarding pathways for their own futures.

Sydney Sacred Music Fest 16 - headlineState funding is also assisting the 2016 Sydney Sacred Music Festival, now in its sixth year, scheduled for September 2 to 18 throughout Sydney. Their first major fundraising event presents a great line-up of Sydney’s best world music performers at Camelot Lounge, Marrickville, July 3, 6.30pm for 7.30pm show. Festival founder and director Richard Petkovic, of western Sydney, promises a night of “the authentic, the fusion and the future in world music!”  Tickets and information – click here.

In the meantime, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre has opened bookings for its Way Out West Festival for Children program. An annual event funded by Liverpool City Council, the children’s festival is Sydney’s only free contemporary arts festival for children and will run from July 13 to 16. It’s an extensive and varied program promising lots of fun and which has also been assisted by state funding. Although free, bookings are essential.


Ceaseless exploration on display at Penrith, Bankstown and throughout the region

Penrith R Gallery - David HainesBlue Mountains artists, David Haines and Joyce Hinterding are engaged in a ceaseless exploration which has no regard for boundaries between arts and sciences. In 2011, they won the Anne Landa award for video and new media arts at the Art Gallery of NSW. The outlands invited visitors to “take control and conduct their own voyage through an immersive digital world of forests, islands, and futuristic interior architecture.” Recently, under the title Energies: Haines & Hinterding, they exhibited at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Arts. There, a similar work invited viewers to explore a different mode of control of the spectacular giant images of Geology projected onto a wall. Other works connected with energies beyond the museum, like television signals or radio waves, while some explored the unseen energy of the occult.

Each artist has pursued their own independent research and experimentation, while collaborating on other projects. For almost a decade, David has been exploring aroma – “composing fragrances inspired by plants, the earth and the cosmos” – creating complex chemical formulas. Now he is one of four Sydney based artists including Tully Arnot, Salote Tawale and Genevieve Lown, who are participating in an exhibition Hot House at Penrith Regional Gallery. Inspired in part by the violets in the gallery’s heritage garden, David’s Violet Gas (Phantom Leaves), see photo above, permeates the atmosphere of the exhibition. It’s a playful exhibition with an audioguide giving insights into the artists’ work.

1-The Way_A4-page-001At Bankstown, another kind of exploration is having its third phase of presentation. First, it was Look the Other Way, then it was The Other Way and now it is The Way – the first two co-produced by Sydney Theatre Company and Bankstown Youth Development Service (BYDS). For more than 20 years BYDS’s mission statement and practice have been “To inspire local young artists and to deliver sustainable cultural programs that invigorate the local Bankstown community”. Through many of their projects, they work with local high school students and staff. BYDS director Tim Carroll says, “Produced by BYDS The Way explores the lives of families living in Bankstown. Over one day, follow people whose choices and decisions may have a far greater effect than they could ever have imagined…”

The Way is directed by Stefo Nantsou with the assistance of gifted professional performer and director Aanisa Vylet. Their previous work with local young people has produced rich insights, energetic and polished performances. The Way will be presented at Bankstown Arts Centre from October 1 to 10. For bookings and information click here.

Now in its second week of showings Urban Theatre Project’s new film One Day for Peace continues to be seen at sites around the region. Described as a film about faith and the everyday, One Day for Peace contains interviews with 27 different people who provide a microcosm of the immense diversity of cultures and religious faiths across western Sydney. Included are people of Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Baha’i, Buddhist faiths, Aboriginal spirituality and more. Each gives a description of their individual practice, sometimes with touches of humour, sometimes with poignancy and always with honesty.

UTP - One Day for Peace - ParraOutside Parramatta Town Hall last night, a panel led by ABC broadcaster Geraldine Doogue discussed their individual responses to the film and some of the issues raised. Maha Abdo, Dr. John Rees, Professor James Arvanitakis participated with the film’s director Rosie Dennis. Each agreed they felt a sense of quiet optimism and often a wish to know more about the individuals’ lives. Rosie’s primary intention has been to start a widespread conversation about faith, culture and diversity. She wants to encourage people to recognise the nuances of faith and culture within the community and avoid the constant simplistic “them and us” delivered by the media. She mentioned an audience member at Blacktown, who had assumed every man with a beard and headdress was Muslim and had little idea of other religions.

James described students who struggle to find the words needed to articulate thoughts, beliefs, ideas and questions. His academic area is management and he doesn’t consider himself a religious man, but he recognises the need across many fields. For Maha of the Muslim Women’s Association, she agrees and finds encouragement in the demonstration of diverse individual experience. Since 9/11, young Muslims in Australia have been subject to all sorts of abuses and exclusions and little effort to understand their experiences. They can be left with a sense of isolation and disconnection. Nonetheless, in response to a question from Geraldine, she sees glimpses of an Australian Muslim identity emerging, which will be distinct in the way that Indonesian Muslims distinguish themselves from Arabic Muslims.

All acknowledged the role of culture in the interpretation and experience of faith and John emphasised the importance of this understanding in Australia’s growing relationship with its south east Asian neighbours. Even though people can be very critical of the faith and culture in which they may have been brought up, Geraldine considers their impact in giving a sense of identity and being grounded is deeply significant. While the future of the film is not yet clear, there was general agreement that it should be shown widely and especially in schools. Despite the freezing wind, passers by were happy to sit down and watch. Two young men came and sat on either side of me, introducing themselves to me and each other as Faroz and Nabil. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, assisted by the provision of free hot drinks and snacks.

There’s still time to catch a full screening at:
Auburn Central, Wednesday 23 Sept, 6:30pm
Blacktown Train Station, Thursday 24 Sept, 6:30pm
Blacktown Train Station, Saturday 26 Sept, 6pm (additional screening)
Canley Vale Heights, Saturday 26 Sept, 6:30pm
Cabramatta Moon Festival, Sunday 27 Sept, 7pm
More info on locations can be found here.

Multi-faith film projects “One Day for Peace” across multiple sites

UTP - One Day for Peace - 3It was an act of faith that launched Urban Theatre Projects‘ crowd funding campaign for their second documentary film One Day for Peace. They had already won a Western Sydney Arts Initiative grant funded by the Crown Resorts Foundation and Packer Family Foundation, but they needed a further $15,000. They began 22 days of filming, just as they launched their Pozible campaign. As filming finished on July 21, 76 supporters helped them reach their target. It was a great achievement and one warmly acknowledged by Rosie Dennis, UTP’s artistic director and the film’s director.

Just as this blog has grown out of our daily experience of western Sydney as a frontier society where were “working out the multicultural project day by day”, Rosie says, “One Day For Peace takes us on a journey across the suburbs of western Sydney to ask: what do you believe? We see everyday ritual combine with reflections on humanity, impermanence and social justice. An epic undertaking, One Day For Peace wrestles with some big (and not so big) questions inside homes, prayer houses and from the back seat of a taxi.

UTP - One Day for Peace - 1 “During the making of One Day For Peace, Urban Theatre Projects collaborated with dozens of people of different faiths, beliefs and cultural backgrounds. The film aims to provide viewers with a deeper understanding about the role of faith as something greater than the individual, and look to the importance of belief in people’s daily lives. The work was also designed to be a compelling counterpoint to the perceived differences between cultures and religions, which are often inflated by the media.”

Exploration of difference, whether it be cultural, religious, art form or experience has long been a theme of arts projects and programs in western Sydney. It allows the opening up of dialogue between groups, the acceptance and understanding of difference and the discovery of commonalities. Just like One Day for Peace, it leads to opportunities for creative collaborations and a sharing of vision and inspiration. This is very much the theme of Sydney Sacred Music Festival, opening September 5, and I’m guessing, PYT’s Jump First, Ask Later, launched today at Fairfield. I’m looking forward to seeing it on Saturday.

UTP - One Day for Peace - 2One Day for Peace will be screened over two weeks in high pedestrian traffic locations across Western Sydney from 14–27 September, with the video work to be projected onto buildings, screens and in train stations in Auburn, Bankstown, Blacktown, Canley Heights, Liverpool, Mt Druitt and Parramatta. Click here for location details and times.

Taking a step toward each other through writing and theatre at Bankstown

1-IMG_3203When Urban Theatre Projects’ artistic director Rosie Dennis set out to create Bankstown Live, her goal was to get to know the neighbourhood better where the company works. By offering the opportunity for locals to work with a range of different artists, it was a chance for neighbours to get to know each other a little better and to tell their stories to a wider world. It was a four day event and part of Sydney Festival 2015.

For long established resident David Cranston, Urban Theatre Projects’ Bankstown Live offered the possibility of gently pushing a door open to catch a glimpse of what the future might be. When Rosie met David at his house in Northam Ave, 18 months ago, she found his yard perfect as the stage for the premiere season of The Tribe. Michael Mohammed Ahmad grew up in the area, is director of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and a doctoral candidate at UWS’ Writing and Society Research Centre. The Tribe is his semi-autobiographical first novel in which he reflects on family and his Arab-Australian Muslim community as seen through the eyes of a child. David welcomed the proposal.

The Tribe - coverGiven the support of theatre director, Janice Muller, actor Hazem Shamas and composer and performer Oonagh Sherrard, Michael Mohammed adapted his novel for the stage. With minimal props and sympathetic background sound by Oonagh (top photo), Hazem evoked Bani the young boy and traced his relationship with his Tayta, the grandmother central to his young life, through his Tayta’s death and some of his extended family’s experience. It was a vivid, insightful and humorous evocation, just like the book, and greeted by the audience with warmth and recognition.

Director of Emu Heights Theatre Company, Ian Zammit, from the Penrith area, describes Michael Mohammed’s book as beautiful. In light of the Martin Place siege in December and the Charlie Ebdo attack in Paris, Ian is especially drawn to Michael Mohammed’s nuanced response about freedom – “Freedom of speech is a freedom worth fighting for, but there are equally important freedoms – the freedom to love. We may be granted the right to offend, but out of respect we can always choose not to exercise that right.

“I call this freedom, “Taking a step toward each other”,” Michael Mohammed says.

Family Portraits - Joanne SaadThere were many instances of this approach in the different presentations comprising Bankstown Live. Artists worked respectfully with each group. There was no sense of voyeurism or judgement as visitors were invited to share the experiences, hopes and dreams of local residents. Left, multi-media artist Joanne Saad captures Wafa Ziam in conversation with residents in Family Portraits. Joanne created an outdoor studio, using a life-size photo of the interior of four different family homes. She ensured the permission of each participant to publish their portraits and each of the four families hosted the event against the backdrop of their own home on successive evenings.

1 - Dancing Project - Albert OhThrough headphones, local writers shared intimate stories, read by another performer, of their responses to the death of a loved one. The Last Word was created with Rosie Dennis. The Bankstown Dancing Project was another with a generous spirit presented in two parts and developed by Emma Saunders. Emma was delighted to work with local couple Albert and Nancy Oh, whose suggestion of the Rumba 1 set the tone for an exuberant street celebration. Albert, above, puts his heart into the feeling of spring.

1-IMG_3200Left, the second dance was described by Emma as a kind of hokey pokey for the 21st century. The audience was left in no doubt about the dancers’ enjoyment. This dance was performed in front of the Bankstown Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House, which had been lifted, see below, by a willing group of supporters and transported to the other end of the performance area in Northam Ave. This followed Uncle Steve Williams - Acknowledgement to Countrythe launch of Bankstown Live by Aboriginal elder, Uncle Steve Williams’ traditional smoking ceremony and acknowledgement to country, lower left.

The Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House was the work of Filipino visual artist Alwin Reamillo and part of an ongoing collaboration with Urban Theatre Projects. The spirit house was reminiscent of the light structured house1-IMG_3189s of his homeland and the impact of Typhoon Haiyan last year. Bayanihan is the spirit of community action, which can be triggered by devastating events and lead to powerful links in volunteer assistance. Among the many meanings of moving the spirit house described by Alwin were the transience of housing in such climatic conditions, continuing change in the streets of Bankstown, the spirit of cooperation engendered by the need of mutual support and the movement of the house in a “creative spirit of community, diversity and togetherness”.

The spirit house became the backdrop to another new initiative by Urban Theatre Projects – their film debut. Bre & Back follows four Aboriginal women, Grace and Jenny Shillingworth, and Noeleen and Lily Shearer as they head to Brewarrina to visit family and reminisce about their lives. It’s a gentle, meandering film, full of glimpses into the lives of families profoundly affected by the removal of children decades ago, but coming together to reflect and share stories and culture in an atmosphere of humour, acceptance and quiet optimism.

A lullaby project, original songs and a short animated film were further enrichments of Bankstown Live and really required a second visit to fully appreciate the event.

1-Diet FC FinalTaking a step toward each other by different means is The Diet Starts on Monday published late last year in Bankstown. Author Tamar Chnorhokian is another founding member of Sweatshop and an arts and communications graduate from UWS. Drawing on her lifetime in western Sydney and her Armenian background, Tamar says The Diet Starts On
Monday tackles themes of obesity, cultural expectations and body image. “My novel is about the pressure teens today feel to emulate the perfect body image created by the mass
media.” It’s a story told with a light, but poignant touch and plenty of humour. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and highly recommend it.

Arts centres, book and blog expand post siege discussion on social harmony

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra - rehearsalAt a time of heightened anxieties and security alerts following this week’s siege in Sydney’s CBD, it’s worth considering the role sustained by arts centres across western Sydney managed by local governments. They make an enormous contribution to the social harmony of local communities. They stimulate conversation and exposure to other ideas, experiences and cultures and their absorption into the minutiae of everyday interactions.

It’s a process that has been growing since the 1970s. “When Professor Andrew Jakubowicz addressed Creative Cultures’ Parramatta forum in 1994, he said art forms are now recognised as being produced in a cultural context that may endow them with different meanings. ‘The process of taking control is, I think, fundamental to the process of community cultural development.'” This is quoted on page 159 of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, published last year, which tells the story of this growth. Click on the About and Book pages of my blog, which continues the story. Western Sydney is indeed a Blog - PPM book coverfrontier society and passionate individuals are working creatively and generously through the experience on a daily basis.

One of the most outstanding examples of this process was the emergence this year of the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra, top, under the leadership of western Sydney musician Richard Petkovic. After more than a decade of development, which saw him launch the now annual Sydney Sacred Music Festival in 2011, the orchestra’s first performance delivered three sides of love and death. The work explored the universal themes of unconditional love and rites of passage through the stories and sacred music practices of culturally and linguistically diverse artists who make up the orchestra. The work was created through a collaborative process that transcended culture and faith. Arts centres across the region, from Campbelltown to the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury to Olympic Park hosted festival events, along with many others across Sydney and suburbs.

1-UTP - JOANNE Saad - family portraitsUrban Theatre Projects, which works from Bankstown Arts Centre, has been working for 18 months on Bankstown Live, an event for the 2015 Sydney Festival next month. Nine new works have been created by a team of professional artists developed in conversation with local people. Among them is Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo’s Bankstown Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House, the Bankstown Dancing Project (click for the Sydney Morning Herald report) and the world premiere of The Tribe, drawn from Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s book of the same name. Through the eyes of a young child, book and play reveal the life of a small Muslim sect which fled to Australia just before the civil war in Lebanon. Joanne Saad has worked with four Bankstown families to create a photographic project Family Portraits, see above, where audiences are invited to sit alongside the family on the couch, get to know each other and make a new family portrait.

Most arts centres are in areas of rapid population growth and increasing cultural diversity. Change can be disorienting and discomforting for established communities and newcomers. It’s not unusual that newcomers have fled from conflict in their native lands and may arrive traumatised and confused. Like the other centres, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC), managed by Liverpool Council, conducts a program very responsive to its local community. Performances and exhibitions offer insights into other cultures, their ways of thinking, seeing and believing. They offer topics to explore that generate discussion and information exchanges and can have a transformative effect on the attitudes of those participating.

CPAC_Cosmic CambodiaIn launching their 2015 performance program, CPAC director Kiersten Fishburn highlighted the collaborative project Origin-Transit-Destination to be presented in March. Described as a “journey to remember in the company of extraordinary asylum-seekers from the war zones of the Middle East”, it will begin in Auburn and culminate at Casula. Kiersten describes it as a remarkable production that offers a vivid experience of what it’s like to be an asylum seeker, who eventually finds safe haven in Australia. Still with a post-conflict theme, but with an exuberant atmosphere is one of Kiersten’s favourites for the year. Cosmic Cambodia, above, is at the forefront of cultural revival in Cambodia. The Cambodian Space Project sound mashes tradition with rock’n’roll, rare groove, soul, and trippy visual spectacle with reimagined Khmer classics and will be at CPAC in May.

Click here for the full 2015 performance program, which includes some highly entertaining children’s shows and some special tribute productions for Liverpool’s commemoration of the Gallipoli landing of World War 1.

Arts funding from state and federal governments contributes to many of these programs, but local government carries the lion’s share of financial responsibility. As we have all witnessed this week, social harmony is a precious commodity and western Sydney has been making a major contribution.

Seize the chance – share the garden

1-IMG_3069If you have the chance, make your way to Blacktown Arts Centre tomorrow afternoon, November 1, 3pm to 5pm. The Democratic Garden project developed by Urban Theatre Projects with members of the local community culminates with the gardeners giving away the produce of their labour. Herbs, vegetables and flowers on a vertical frame have flourished under their care, despite the challenges of storms and heat.

1-IMG_3070Join the culturally diverse gardening team and share the spirit as well as the results of their collaboration. Maybe you’ll come away inspired to grow more of your own flowers and vegetables, even if you have only a balcony or a windowsill.

Blacktown Arts Centre, 78 Flushcombe Rd, Blacktown. Click here for more information.

Dispatches from western Sydney arts frontier

I’m taking a short break, so I thought I’d deliver a few quick dispatches from the Frontier.

Victor Valdes with Mexican Baroque harpJuly 30 – Sydney Sacred Music Festival director Richard Petkovic announces that master of the Mexican baroque harp Victor Valdes, left, has joined the Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra. Richard says he was talking with Victor recently, when Victor described how he was playing his harp at a funeral and responded intuitively by playing new music for a few hours. Victor’s sense of responding to what was needed at the time harmonised completely with the spirit of other members of the orchestra. The exchange of energy that followed was a gift to them all.

Richard is very proud that the 14 highly talented cross-cultural members of the newly formed chamber orchestra all come from Western Sydney. Check out Sydney Sacred Music Festival.

RAHS - Penny Stannard, John Newton, Naomi Malone presentAugust 13 – The Royal Australian Historical Society hosted their third in the History is Hot! series of presentations by fledgling historians. Penny Stannard, left, John Newton and Naomi Malone gave 20 minute presentations about their postgraduate studies at UTS. Three years ago, Penny began her doctoral research on the topic – Cultural Policy and its Convergence with Suburban Australia. Now her focus is a case study of Campbelltown from the mid-1950s to 1988, when the Campbelltown City Bicentennial Art Gallery was opened. The gallery has since been redeveloped to become Campbelltown Arts Centre. See Royal Australian History Society. There’ll be a report of Penny’s talk soon.

1-Dance Makers Collective - Sketch and Between Two and Zero-001August 13 – Dance Makers Collective issues an invitation to attend their upcoming premiere of two new works Sketch & Between Two and Zero, Riverside Theatres, from September 11 to 13, at 8pm. Sketch converges old and new technologies to intercept lines, curves and colours with choreographic and sound scores. Tickets from Riverside.

1-UTP - Democratic Garden 0814August 14 – Urban Theatre Projects reveals a crossover to visual and environmental arts in its latest e-newsletter. From their Bankstown base, UTP is looking for Blacktown residents interested in creating a vertical garden as a public art work to be displayed at Blacktown Arts Centre in October. Democratic Garden will reflect the demographics of Blacktown using flowers, herbs and edible plants. Enquiries Democratic Garden.

UTP - Verge of Bloom 0814In the meantime, Bankstown Arts Centre, home to Urban Theatre Projects has a display of flowers across its facade made entirely from  recycled household materials. On the Verge of Bloom has successfully weathered its first few weeks and remains on display until the end of the month.


FOOTNOTE –  Any mention of a long proposed centre for the visual and media arts  has been conspicuously absent from recent public discussion of the Framework Master Plan for the North Parramatta Precinct. If you want to make a submission about this, contact Urban Growth NSW.

1-IMG_5591croppedAnd just a final note of thanks to Geoff Lee, state member for Parramatta, who earlier this year, went out of his way to assist with promotion of my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney. As you can see, this was before work began on alterations to the Lennox Bridge. Geoff has been leading the planning push for North Parramatta.