Thinking Splendid thoughts in Lismore
Held in Lismore on Thursday the 4th of August and hosted by Splendid, Splendid Think Tank was an opportunity for artists, arts workers and festival developers to come to together to discuss the surprisingly diverse topic of arts festivals, or more specifically, contemporary art in a festival context.
SO! Anna and I decided to take a road trip down to Lismore to check it out and engage with some other thinking minds.
7am – The journey begins
Navigating our way out of Queensland, a first for me, we set course for the Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales. With Bacon and Egg McMuffins in hand, we drove past the red spiral tower, which, as Anna informed me, marked the border! My google search of this mysterious and pretty funky statue unfortunately turned up blank. Anyone out there know better than Google? Please comment and inform.
10am – The arrival
Another bit of scenic driving later and we arrived at the Lismore City Hall. The awaiting group huddled around the coffee cart, caught up with arts acquaintances from around the country and chatted (we assume) about the current state of arts and festival development in Australia. Or maybe about the new Glee concert movie which, FYI, comes out this Thursday. I got to catch up with colleague Imogene Shields from Young People and the Arts Australia and took the opportunity to meet Julie Clarke, the Acting CEO and Regional Arts Development Officer of Arts Northern Rivers, both of whom are doing some great work in Youth Arts development.
11.30am – Splendid Showcase Panel discussion
The Think Tank started off with a welcome to country ceremony and a great keynote address from Brian Ritchie, curator of MONA FOMA (Museum of Old and New Art festival of Music and Art), about festivals as experimental spaces for new cultural forms, new technologies, and new modes of audience engagement. Something that resonated well with me, which ties in to my previous study in performance art, was Brian stating “Don’t tell the people what’s experimental, let them decide what’s experimental”. He went on to say that we have become a culture of spectators, and it’s important, particularly in the context of arts festivals, that we allow the audience to become the artist and to find their own objective voice and sense of discovery.
We moved onto a discussion about Splendid, an innovative emerging artists program which allows 15 young artists to enter into a share house in the north coast of NSW to explore the rich and creative environment of making artwork for large-scale festivals. Provided with expert guidance from industry professionals, these artists emerge equipped with new found skills, networks and ideas ready to be pitch to be a part of Splendour in the Grass festival the following year.
The discussion centred on the view from inside the program, including current JUMP mentee Jordana Maisie. We were provided with an insight into this fantastic program, seeing images of their work and being introduced to a host of interesting other festivals including the Burning Man festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
1pm – Lunch
I broke a macaroon in the foyer and it kind of went everywhere…
2pm – Exploring Art in the Festival Context
It was in this discussion that we got to meet the panellists of the Think Tank. These included some prolific artists and curators from around the country, including, CEO of Artrage Marcus Canning, Artistic Director of Sydney Dreaming Festival and founder of the International festival of The Dreaming, Rhoda Roberts and community engagement curator based in Sydney, Lisa Havilah. One organisation that I was all kinds of excited to learn about was Underbelly Arts in New South Wales.
Over 10 days, more than 150 artists come together to build and develop projects in an intensive Lab. Audiences are invited to the watch the Lab in action, and often requested to join in the development of the art pieces themselves. The Lab builds into a festival which shows off all the work completed over the previous 10 days. This year the festival drew a crowd of over 2,500 and after a successful development period with mentors, they are implementing mentor strategies into future plans. This organisation blew my mind!
The chat rounded off with a Q&A. A question that left me pondering was – what is the future of arts festivals and development in Australia? Whilst this was a fairly broad question, panellist Rhoda Roberts had a brilliant answer. As modern technology has moved in leaps, bounds and tweets (it’ll catch on), communication between groups, societies and individuals has done so as well. With new methods of collaboration, technical innovation and increased awareness of contemporary arts practise, the future of arts festivals and experiments is pretty exciting.
4pm – The Departed (not the movie, just us departing)
After a lengthy discussion regarding a 100m wide donut as a community arts project, Anna and I made our move back to Queensland.
Our day at the Splendid Think Tank was a great opportunity to hear and see how festivals act as a springboard and experimentation platform for emerging artists. When curators emerge that care about artists and their development, we see interesting, engaging and exciting art take front line.