I’m a Creative Industries and NFP Consultant based in Southern Tasmania, as well as a writer and reviewer for ArtsHub. I work here locally as well as nationally and internationally.
These ponderings will be a complement to my new website and provide you with a backstage invitation into my work and lifestyle here in Tasmania. There will be plenty of thoughts, reviews of work, and of course the blatant overshare of beautiful pictures of Tasmanian vistas and my hound Tully being overjoyed.
Occasionally there will be some reminiscing on a life and career well lived or some pondering on key issues facing the sector and independent life, and every so often I might pop in and share some of the creative pieces I’m working on.
For more information about my work check out my LinkedIn profile.
My broad career has encompassed leadership roles in Federal & Local government, leading national grant programs and strategies as well as executive roles in the private creative sector, festivals & NFP’s. I have been recognised for creating bespoke strategies to solve challenging problems & enjoy working with & understanding new communities & sectors. I love work both on and off stage that is muscular, robust, meaniful and memorable.
I’m getting ready to launch my website in May and it will outline the full range of services and workshops I offer. I hope there’s something that grabs you!
Optics aren’t lasting change, they’re just optics. Changing the way something looks is really just skimming the surface, but it can be a tempting solution for an arts industry grappling with the opportunities of integrating diversity into the fabric of organisations.
Diversity is more than finding someone with different coloured skin who thinks the same way you do. It’s more than a diverse group of people around the table who’s individual role is solely to represent themselves in attempt to catch all through one individual voice.
In a complex, connected, globally thinking world, diversity is as much fuelled by empathy and curiosity as it is about representation. We have the opportunity to create organisations where leaders are not seeking approval from diverse groups to validate their own world view, but listening and designing solutions that embrace diverse and connected viewpoints and approaches. Coming to the table with respect and recognition means more than championing endorsement as the pinnacle of diversity.
Part of me is writing this and ducking, but the thinking is backed up by some serious work that has been done recently through a partnership lead by Diversity Arts Australia, and it confirms that when it comes to decision making it’s a step too far for the majority of arts organisations.
Do you strive to be the kind of organisation that attracts smart, driven creatives, arts managers, boards and leaders and gives them the space to make brave and intelligent decisions?
Diversity isn’t a theoretical practise, or a matter of optics, it’s a fundamental shift. Its also an acknowledgement that the person brings more to your organisation than their race, sexuality, disability or gender, and that there are intersections and diversity within each of them. It’s also about being comfortable being led by someone who is in a minority among their peers.
I get it, I don’t mean to stress you out, these times are ridiculously pressured, funding is tight.
Here’s a couple of things you can do to make your workplaces more interesting and embracing of diversity, and align even better with what you’re trying to achieve… and a couple of pitfalls to avoid while you’re travelling on that road. So if you’re a decision maker or a person of minority brought into an organisation and feeling a little bewildered, there’s some provocations here for you too. If they seem familiar, it’s because they are.
1. If you find yourself in an organisation being shepherded to a corner and only being heard on issues to do with your immediate race/sexuality/religion/gender/disability then nothing has really changed. Break the silence by inputting something extremely clever and devastatingly well informed about a new topic. Bring back up if you need to. People’s reactions will tell you a lot about how embracing the organisation really is.
2. Social media optics are not systemic change, nor are they the pinnacle of your journey, so please put aside any idea that you must choose the person that looks the most ethnic/gay/Indigenous/disabled. Let it go. Choose the people who are right for you with the full and transparent knowledge that diversity and diverse view points are extremely good for your organisation.
3. Don’t be that conference that invites equal amounts of women on a panel but has a moderator that directs all the questions to the male panelists. Just don’t.
4. If you’ve been approached to be on a board or on staff because “you’re fabulous”, but deep down inside you feel like it’s token and the person approaching you can’t think of any of the work you’ve done then it’s probably not going to be the funnest place to be you.
5. Don’t be the Non Indigenous organisational equivalent of the person who overshares with zealous glee every single moment they share with their First Nations friend on Instagram. It makes you look weird.
All sassiness aside… most importantly try to keep moving forward, don’t become paralysed. Start from a place of integrity by embracing a life that is diversified because you’re curious, you want to understand and you can see that there is injustice, limitations and discrimination in the way things are currently.
What we do in the creative industries is important, vital and valued by many in our communities. We have the power to inspire, reflect, and change through the work we share… But unless we’re on a high trapeze without both a harness or a safety net, then what we do isn’t being conducted in an emergency room. So why are so many people finding themselves there?
It’s tempting in this time of change to panic, to try to match the sense of chaos by moving companies so quickly we almost erase the past, or to stick so doggedly to old ways of doing things in the belief that the world will somehow stay still around us.
There has been a LOT of change, a LOT of incremental funding cuts, so much disruption. So much so that it’s brought many companies into an operational state of emergency. If you look around and see more than two of these then you’re probably already there:
1. A series of regular decisions which are made on ‘gut instinct’ but don’t make a great deal of sense when tested against info from evaluations or financial analysis.
2. Implementing change which momentarily fixes problems you can see right in front of you but causes bigger problems down the line.
3. A deep and sustained focus on activities which don’t connect to your core purpose.
4. Staff on the edge of burnout within twelve months of coming into the organisation, particularly staff who have been thrown running into roles without support and induction.
5. A sense of widespread resignation that the work culture can not change, and little investment in solving systemic ingrained issues.
6. An expectation that you will still manage the volume of work with increasingly depleting resources and no strategy to support it.
7. An expectation that teams working at full capacity will continue to take on additional work over a sustained period of time.
A couple of years ago I found myself in a gig at the RSPCA. A place that really did have an actual emergency room. If you didn’t go all hands on deck, death could have been a consequence. But even when you’re unexpectedly presented with 23 cats that have been living in an abandoned car in the back of a Woolworths, you still have time to assign tasks to people based on their strengths and set up a process that is as quick and painless as possible for all involved. Especially the cats. They’d been through enough already.
To make your way out of the emergency room, or prevent yourself from getting there, you’ve first got to realise that you don’t need to be in there as a mark of your commitment to your work. There aren’t many fantastic long term solutions that have come from rising panic. This kind of adrenaline fuelled anxiety doesn’t produce the quality strategic smarts to solve the problems we find ourselves in. Let it go.
If you can assess the situation, move both quickly and cleverly and implement change that is responsive and forward thinking then you’re 3/4 of the way out of the emergency room. Take a deep breath, just do it.
The arts have been operating in a changeable funding environment with decreasing success rates for the past decade. There have been some positive developments too. New philanthropists, support programs and donors are making an impact in the space, and local governments have stepped in to support grass roots projects and organisations. But if you live in states like NSW, the impact of the changes to government funding have been brutal for many. Others across Australia will be spending the rest of 2019 crossing their fingers and toes, gallantly doing all they can to manifest government funding success.
If you haven’t already, it’s time now to fully flesh out the Plan B for 2020 and beyond. Try your best not to let the current state of affairs paralyse you.
While it doesn’t feel like the most uplifting way to end the year, dusting off the alternatives, crunching the numbers and looking at the possibilities of Plan B will be worth it. It will make you feel so much more prepared, empowered and primed to bring solutions to the table in 2020.
Having been on the receiving end of crucial funding knock backs, I’ve learnt a few things about how to utilise a little sideways thinking and imbed sustainable financial thinking early to keep the ship sailing.
Here’s some tips to help you:
Put yourself into the right mindset. If you’re an executive of a company, do your upmost to not to take it personally. You’re the custodian of the organisation, and while it feels as attached to you as your internal organs are- it’s not. Both of you will likely still keep breathing if you were to seperate. Oh and breathe, deeply, and remember to feel grateful for the smallest of things. I know I bang on about it a bit, but there’s also some pretty hefty science about it too. Gratitude Changes Your Brain and is Good for Business and Harvard’ s Giving Thanks Can make You Happier are great articles to take a look at it if you like a serving of Science with your Art.
Try to clear your brain of the persistent white noise that traps you into living in a future that has not yet come and a past that is littered with roadkill. Meditate, exercise, do yoga, dance, sing in the shower. Do things that make you feel fully present and that dull the persistent anxiety, and do them regularly.
If you’re a board member, your executive needs your support and loyalty. Your championing, coaching, connecting and fundraising super powers need to come into force. Your engagement is vital. Now is the time to step up and really listen to your executive and understand deeply the environment you’re working in. If you have to make hard decisions (and many may need to) try to do so with the respect that reflects the hard work, dedication and smarts your organisational leaders and teams have committed over their tenure.
Open up the conversation with potential collaborators early. Go on a couple of small, low risk dates doing something you both enjoy, like venue sharing or co-marketing. Don’t be scrabbling to forge a make or break partnership at the last minute with someone you don’t know that well. It could end in a messy divorce.
Enlist some help. You really don’t win a prize for doing it all on your own. For a good deal of my 30’s I truly believed that there was indeed a prize (well at least a badge), and I can assure you it’s a myth. As a leader, much of your time can be spent absorbed with the day to day running of an organisation. You can benefit immensely from someone else probing gently into the centre, to unlock new ideas and new ways of doing things. This can be a consultant, a mentor or a professional qualified coach. Sometimes it’s just listening to a podcast each week. Simply listening and connecting with solutions from a different industry, with similar values, can unlock a new path forward. I gain great inspiration and deep thought from stories of the journey of animal charities, neighbourhood houses and food/agribusiness who are doing things differently. For you it might be fashion, film or travel industries. If you have any podcast gems you’d like to share, please message me!
Plan B isn’t all about cut backs, although most likely it involve them, it’s also about the possibilities of doing things a different way. The little and slightly crankier cousin of Plan A can also be the the one that unlocks an even better way of doing things.
Collaboration. The stretching and combining of two organisations toward a common goal or the completion of a project. It’s going to become more essential to organisational survival in the next decade. We’re going to be asked more and more to pool resources, be agile, share audiences and reduce overheads and it’s becoming clear just how much healthy collaboration will be vital to the success of big projects and small organisations.
Most of us have experienced the uncomfortable in artistic or resource collaborations. Many of us have had to have difficult conversations to bring the project and relationship back on track. Some of us have walked away from collaborations where we couldn’t find a compromise or communications turned rancid.
Plenty of us have driving collaborations that have increased our capacity and given great results for each collaborator. Collaborations where values align, the relationship deepens and it results in new discoveries and better ways of doing things.
So how can we avoid the organisational equivalent of getting a terrible flatmate in to pay the rent?
After some thinking and consulting with trusted colleagues I compiled a handy shortlist of red flags to look for when choosing a potential collaborator :
Red Flag 1.
They use of lots of ‘I, my’ language and very little of the ‘we’ ‘us’ language. When you collaborate you’re creating a new shared language, fed by common understanding and new knowledge.
Red Flag 2.
Early attempts at asserting control or status which seem incongruous to the situation. Healthy collaborations are generally entered into by organisations who are confident in what they bring to the table. They’re comfortable being flexible, tempering their need for complete control and happy to discuss problems as they arise.
Red Flag 3.
Early on there’s an uncomfortable feeling about who is doing what and when. It feels a little like a relationship with someone who’s just not into you. Effective collaborations have a clear sense of who is leading each aspect and there’s respect and supportive behaviour on show.
Red Flag 4.
Take a look at your prospective collaborators’ social media channels. Do they acknowledge collaborators? Do they shout out the success of others? Or do they have an organisation policy which bans supporting others publicly?
Red Flag 5.
Your values are miles apart and you’re struggle to find commonalities in terms of approach or organisational purpose.
Red Flag 6.
Do they balk at setting up a mutually agreed document outlining the relationship with mutually respectful terms? This can be as complex as a a legal partnership agreement or as simple as one page description of process.
Red Flags are there as a warning. Sometimes with some clear, timely communication and eyes wide open they can be transformed into a healthy, collaborative relationship. But don’t ignore that horrible feeling that something isn’t right. It is guaranteed to fester.
Today we launch our new full day workshop for organisations in Eco System Mapping, just in time for end of year board and staff get togethers and planning days.
I’m writing this on my laptop amongst a blooming Spring Tasmanian garden and watching the bees around me pollinate the various flowers, the aphids try to attack the newly blooming roses and the ladybirds valiantly keeping them under control. We don’t work in isolation from other organisations and ecosystems, we are connected in so many dependent and non dependent ways. I’m seeing this glorious metaphor play out in front of me with the awareness of the impact we make on our physical and professional environments and the small and large decisions that are made to interrupt it.
Short term thinking to rid ourselves of aphids can result in the decimation of bee populations in our garden, critters that are essential to our success as gardeners. So too can short term thinking in organisations.
Here’s a little taste of the new organisational workshop offering and why we think it’s a winner.
It’s the best way to comprehensively understand how your organisation is fed and what influence you have on others.
You consider the ways your organisation is pollinated and the ways creativity is fed- as well as the way you are financed.
You understand your codependent relationships clearly and can model disturbances and changes to your operating environment in a way that is immediate and visual.
You can map how your internal structures and relationships reflect and support the sustainability of your organisation.
If you’re running a small to medium arts company right now I feel for you. I especially feel for you if you’ve just heard that your funding isn’t going to continue.
I was in your position a few years ago when I was the CEO of Legs on the Wall and the decisions came down from Ozco. Prior to that I was a Director at Ozco of a wildly successful program which was also the victim of federal budget cut backs to the arts.
If you’re reading this and working at Ozco right now, I feel for you too.
To those at the head of companies and on boards of companies doing innovative, kickass meaningful work who didn’t get through this first round, I hear you.
If you’re feeling anything like I did at the time then it’s a mixture of white hot rage and deep sadness.
It’s okay to sit with that feeling for a while- resist the urge to move on too quickly. That shit’s real. But stay there too long in the pit of raging despair though and you’ll end up paralysed and deeply fucking cynical.
It’s bloody hard being a funder in this situation too, please don’t ring them up and threaten to commit suicide or tell them they are completely rooted and don’t understand what being an artist is. Those things happen more often than you think and I’ve been on the other end of my team getting those phone calls.
Just don’t do it.
They are the front line staff on the end of a political process that doesn’t have anything to do with them. If you’re feeling like that, you’re not in a good place – The Wellbeing Helpline is accessible 24/7 by calling 1800 959 500 within Australia. The Wellbeing Helpline is available free to anyone who works in the Australian performing arts industry. Or take a look at Beyond Blue’s website .
At some point you need to gather yourself and make a plan because walking around for too long like a hose that’s become unhinged is real, but it isn’t healthy.
For what it’s worth I’ve put together a few tips that might help you- no matter which side of the funding paywall you’re sitting at.
Resist the urge to buy something really extravagant to make you feel better. Take a long hard look at your personal finances. Do things that don’t cost too much money. Think about a side hustle. Realise, that just for a little while you’re probably going to have to dig into survival mode, even though you thought that was over for a while.
Look into income protection. Have a think about what you need financially. Both for happiness and for survival.
Try every day to clear the lump of anxiety in your brain. Here’s a simple meditation you can do focussed on bird songs and can be done anywhere. It helps clear the white noise in your brain, the regrets of the past and the anxiety of the future. If you’re a nature type like me, it totally hits the spot.
Sit (or stand) anywhere and close your eyes. Find the place in your brain in which you can hear the sound of a bird in your environment. To do this you’re going to have to delete the other noises. Try harder. Focus. Focus until you can only hear the birds.
Find each of their songs, seperate them from each other. When that’s all you hear, breathe in deeply thirty times, each time in tune with the bird calls, each breath an opportunity to once again block out the white noise. When you’re done, open your eyes, ground yourself and walk on.
If you work at OzCo, like I once did, please be kind to yourself, it’s gunna get harder. Try and understand what the sector is going through and walk the line of lobby and support, with arms length obligations, in a kind and compassionate way.
Don’t stop seeing work by defunded companies, even though the foyer walk is going to be a biatch- they’ll be coming to you for project funding in droves and you’re gunna want to know what they’re doing. You know inside that there’s a decent percentage of unfunded excellence, even if you can’t always say it out loud in public.
Think about seeking outside help to guide you through the worst of it. There is zero shame in finding the support you need and investing in a confidential and clever professional outside of the organisation. Personal and career coaches who specialise in the creative industry are going to be your best friend. Someone like Sarah Gilligan The Boltcutter could be the kind of grounded help you need, she’s ridiculously qualified and she works nationally via video call. I’ve just done an Infinity Black Session with her and she knows her stuff because she’s also been where you are at.
If you’re funded or defunded be careful what you say to the media. And by careful I mean, consider whether you want to make a statement at all, especially if you’re feeling a touch of the ‘unhinged hose’ coming on…
If you haven’t already, now really is the time to get clever about your business models, keep the hope but build elasticity into it.
Learn to read the room. Or in this case the Minister. He’s made it pretty clear from his entry into politics how he feels about arms length bodies and ‘wooly headed dreamers’ like playwright Bob Ellis. It shouldn’t be a surprise that funding wasn’t restored to The Australia Council.
Get savvy about politics, or connect with people that are. Get savvy about non funding reliant life and company models. Now is also the time that state and local governments and philanthropists need to lean in, and we need to lean into them, irrespective of political persuasion. Healthy and uncensored art is a sign of a functioning democracy and freedoms and we have to work out if we want to fight for that.
For me the last Ozco decision on organisational funding triggered some massive life changes, it made me think deeply about what I wanted and what it took to be in the snake pit at a time where back stabbing was a fully funded sport. Pretty much none of my values aligned when I looked around and the only thing to make it right was to make a pretty big shift. You might just need a small adjustment.
No one knows the answer except you. But it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
Here in Tassie we’re just the other side of the (in)famous Dark Mofo Festival. The event brings around 25,000 people into town from interstate and overseas. It’s really the only festival in Australia that brings a diversity of people out to see contemporary art in such enormous numbers. Not the plastic commercialised pop, empty fireworks spectacles, but the seriously wierd, sometimes deeply complex and often obscure kind of contemporary art.
I was lucky enough to get a gig this year reviewing works in the festival for the newspaper. It was a very different reviewing experience for me. Previously I’d been writing for an arts industry digital publication and a very arts savvy reader. Reviewing for the newspaper meant sparser text and the challenge of distilling experience into half the word count I was used to.
I saw a lot of shows across performance art, music, dance and theatre. A couple of the works were truly incredible. Some brutally disturbing and others the kind that will stay with me for a very long time.
Here are some thoughts on a couple of my favourite shows. Would love to hear from you if you were there too!
Take This For It Is My Body
This performance work, created by S.J. Norman, is a powerful and intelligent artistic experiment. Simultaneously dark and macabre, complex and layered, it cracks open the difficult tensions between our Indigenous and colonial histories.
You are greeted at the gates of Government House and led past the grand entrance to the main building into a much more modest coach house nestled in its gardens. There you meet the first of three female Aboriginal performers, dressed as servers, and you are asked to take your place at the table. The performers wait patiently, as passive and seemingly unseen as they would have been as workers in this house in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, there is an underlying defiance to the considered actions of the tea ceremony and we are soon to discover why.
I won’t give the game away (much of the work’s power relies on the moment of surprise) but each person at the table is asked to make a choice. In doing so each participant becomes a symbol of the difficult conversations happening at a national level about embodied Indigenous trauma, of difficult histories and the haunted residue of it in our blood.
The setting, a powerful symbol of Colonial architecture, creates another evocative layer. The feeling of being haunted by the questions of belonging, power and privilege stay with you long after you leave its grounds.
A special mention must be made of the Governor, Kate Warner, who welcomed this provocative and difficult work to be staged in her residence, the site of so much difficult and cruel colonial history. It’s a sign of a healthy democracy.
Take This For It Is My Body is an experience that will stay with me for a very, very long time.
Photo- Elliot Hughes
The Dirty Three
The much anticipated 25 year anniversary tour of their self titled album did not disappoint when The Dirty Three played in Hobart. ‘Afternoon Tea With the Dirty Three’ was the kind of virtuosic instrumental mayhem that made you believe in music again.
The journey from intimate accordion ballad to the kind of fully embodied thrashing violin that frays the strings and has the crowd in rapture is what makes this band so great live.
Punctuated by the amusing stories of a well lived Warren Ellis, a wild hellcat from Ballarat, the performance is warm and generous. Drummer, Jim White, whose stamina has not dented in 25 years, drives home the thumping heart of the album and the dynamic between White and Ellis is a joy to watch. Mick Thomas on guitar brings a studied cohesion and together they are in fine form.
Age does not weary The Dirty Three. Their rebellious freedom and passion to experiment and play is as present in their music as it was in 1994. Their energy on stage, their ability to connect with the crowd and their playful sense of mischief isn’t fading anytime soon. Go and see them.
Photo- Kath Melbourne
Costume is the persona of local Hobart writer and bookseller AdamOusten, who looks very different outside of his full-length red snakeskin jumpsuit, bouffant Mohawk and dramatic make up. This show is a debut of his first album,Pan. It’s one of the great examples of DarkMofo’ssupport of local work premiering in this year’s festival.
If you’re a Generation X’er with fond memories of the heyday of electronic pop then you’re going to want to experience Costume. I say experience because seeing Costume live is not like going to see a band- It’s a stylishly constructed performancefilled with luscious costumes, layered set design, a seriously complex lighting rigand a troupe of masked dancers.
The stagedesignisahighlight;it’s asophisticatedart pop video clip comingto life.It’s a bit like earlyDuran DuranandThe Cure collaborated with a Bauhaus designer. It’s crackly, smoky and angular,and the costumes have shoulder pads.The choreography is precise and every moment is considered.
Despite a few technical difficulties at the start of the show,the performance was mesmerising and unique.Costume’s performance is engaging, stylish anddistinct.Special mention needs to be madeof the extremely talentedHobart basedviolinist Natalya Bing who brought emotional and musical high notes to the work.Catch Costume when he performs next, or check out his albumPanhttps://www.costyoume.co.
I’ve been to quite a few ideas summits, conferences and talks programs over the last few years and I’ve started playing a bit of a game. I’m curious about the presence of female achievement at these kind of shindigs.
Being the kind of human who is interested in a diverse range of contemporary thinkers, I’m quite often looking in the program to see if there are women speaking (sadly it’s still a thing that they’re not) This issue has been highlighted in recent years through all male panels and the people who have signed up not to be the only female on a panel. I’m one of them, and I decline to be on any panel as a token woman.
But I’m also curious about the ideas and leadership of women. The presence of women in the conversation and in what context they are brought up.
I’ve observed that female panelists don’t have a worry at all referring to men who have played a role in the topics they are talking about. However, it’s a very different picture with male panelists.
So this is the game:
The game is that I listen out and note when male speakers, particularly key note speakers mention women.
After all, they are half of the population.
I note the context of how they reference women, do they know the names of other pivotal women in their topic, do they speak of them in a generalised way, or do they only refer to women in the context of them being wife, mother and daughter? Do they include the women who are just as successful as men, who have made breakthroughs, changed history, added to the conversation?
The thing about the game is that once you play it, you can’t unplay it and the results are often kinda depressing.
I watched male key note speaker Stan Grant talk across politics, Indigenous identity, sports and philosophy at Dark and Dangerous Thoughts. He’s a writer and a broadcaster and quite the knowledgeable man about town with access to a plethora of information sources.
He never once mentioned a woman’s name. The closest he came was saying the word ‘Thatcherite’. He also genuinely lamented that he wished he spent more time with his wife and daughter and he loved his mother. He did not mention them by name.
But most devastatingly, not once did he mention any women who had contributed to Australia’s narrative on Australian identity, human rights or culture. In fact he didn’t mention a woman’s name at all during his 2 hours on the stage.
Not Cathy Freeman, not Lindy Burney, not Marcia Langton, not Truganini, not Gail Mabo, not Pat O’Shane, not Nova Peris, Anita Heiss, Rachel Perkins, Bronwyn Bancroft, Mum Shirl, Eleanor Harding, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Ashleigh Barty, Samantha Harris, Jessica Mauboy, Leah Purcell, Deb Mailman, Frances Rings or Sally Morgan, not Gladys Elphick, not Fanny Cochran Smith or Joyce Clague.
None seemed to come to mind.
When he delved into international human rights he couldn’t bring to mind any women either. Not Rosa Parks or more recently Malala Yousafzai.
Women’s achievements in the public sphere were simply invisible.
I would like to say that this doesn’t happen very often, but I’d be lying. It happens less when a panelist or key note speakeris a woman or a younger man, but it still happens then too.
Sure, there is an unconscious bias at play and sometimes women’s achievements or female experts don’t come first to mind becausethey are often not profiled as heavily in the media.
But seriously– we can all do better.
If you’rein a position to bring together a panel or you’re going to be on one, here’ssome quick tips to help undo theunconscious bias.
1. Read up on journalists and writers that profile women and follow them.
2. Use your social media contactsand ask the question ‘who are some kick ass women working in that space?’
3. Use the word ‘women’ in your google searchof the topic. Otherwise you will likely get 80% of results being men.
4. Play the game at your next conference, summitor talks festival. Reflect on what the results are. Ask yourself -who is not being spoken about?
5. Celebrate when it’s done right, andcontribute to the normalisation of women being included in the conversation and profiled as essentialcontributors.
Last year I wrote a book, well a novella really. A collection of work on wildness. It was a vulnerable work that laid a lot of me bare. The kind of first work that needs to come out before anything else can. I write a lot about the darkness, difficult characters with difficult lives ignoring the one moment of silence and driving toward implosion instead. Complex relationships, women who make the ‘wrong choices’ and men who take advantage of them. People who… People like me.
I kept diving deep down into the pain of the past to fish for stories. A kernel of a memory. A hitchhiker jumping a counter with a knife while I unwittingly waited in the car. A nine year old child who asks her older neighbour to punch her repeatedly in the shoulder until she can’t feel it anymore. A woman identifying her husband in a morgue, her boyfriend in a line up.
Each time I went fishing it dragged up the past, and the more vividly I remembered it the better I wrote. But what came after were the things that I needed to push back all the memories again. Booze. Cigarettes. Food. Like somehow by stuffing them all down again I could control when they came out. But I may have well taken a giant dump on my body. There was nothing about what I was doing that was healthy. What I needed to do to write was working though and I was afraid if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to write. There was a vulnerability in the chaos and dysfunction that sparked words. Good words. Words that made people cry and gasp and laugh.
I’ve been on quite a journey lately. I’ve poked and prodded all these bits of myself and I’m sorting the remaining dysfunctions caused by a life marked mostly by survival. I’ve taken an hiatus from writing creatively for the past few months while I work out how I access the wildness in my characters and their lives without the things that drag me backwards. To maintain a sense of wildness in my own.
It’s important to me, in my work and in my life. That sense of adventure. Although my sense of risk has got smarter and less reckless over time. I think that happens when you reach middle age, as you balance the edge between not dying with the not living.
I’ve been working this past week reviewing work at a festival here in Tasmania. It’s full of the bacchanalian. The wild, the rebellious and the extreme. I’ve been stone cold sober in the middle of it. Taking photos and reviewing and getting a spectacularly close up opportunity to experience music and art and celebration. I’m inspired by the wild sweaty performers, the 5am revellers and the groupies. But I’m tucked up in bed in my pjays in front of the fire with the dog by 11pm.
I feel one step closer to feeling like shedding the dysfunction doesn’t mean stopping the writing. Let’s hope.
I’m just on the other side of two days of an intellectually dense creative summit, filled with connectivity, people I hadn’t seen for years and mind expanding concepts and projects.
It’s the kind of event many artists I know would rather stab themselves in the face with a fork for four hours than attend.
Just the mention of the words ‘post talks networking cocktail hour’ fill them them with the desire to stay at home in their flannelettes and cry.
‘But it’s such a great opportunity to catch up with people in a short space of time’ I wail at them. At this point I usually get the semblance of a side eye. Maybe a glimmer of recognition as they read the list of attendees and remember how much they’d like to see someone, or bring to life in physical form a project they’d only seen on social media.
It’s not to say that the hard sell and brutal rough and tumble of events like performing arts markets can’t be exhausting, overwhelming and have ironically so little to have with arts and ideas. Sometimes I want to run away and cry in my flannelettes too.
I’m glad to say that the past two days held only small pockets of show and tell, hard pitches and by the large part there was genuine exchange, transparency and the opportunity to discuss, debate and congratulate.
Artists should try and make themselves go to at least one of those events each year. The creative, imaginative contributors, active listeners and art makers should be in the room in force.
Here’s a bit of a list of tips to help slide you into the mood.
1. Pair yourself with an extrovert who likes you. Not one of those abnoxious sorts that just talks over you, but one of those people who genuinely loves connecting others.
2. Before you go think about a couple of people you’d really like to see. Reach out out on Facebook and see who else you know is going.
3. Know you can always go for a walk away from everyone or a coffee one on one with a colleague. I was lucky, this last event was at Melbourne Museum and there’s a really rad Indigenous garden there to decompress. Seriously do it. Absolutely no one thinks you are a weirdo.
4. Remember, it’s not wanky to talk about your professional life, especially the things you are most proud of. There could be a young artist or arts worker who is deeply inspired, a colleague who reaches out to collaborate or a new friend who knows just the right producer to work with.
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