Welcome to Western Riverina Arts - a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to develop, support and promote the arts and culture in Griffith, Leeton, Narrandera & Murrumbidgee. 
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Dream Big 15

Words and pictures by big dreamers Peita Vincent from Frank & Earnest and Jackie Cooper from PIEDESIGN

The Cootamundra Arts Centre provided the perfect setting for Dream Big, the Riverina’s annual arts and culture conference on Friday August 21. 

This once derelict factory complex was transformed into a multipurpose arts facility thanks to a small band of locals who dared to ‘dream big’ and stuck to their vision.

Conference goers were treated to a stirring welcome to country by Wiradjuri man Bob Glanville and his grandson Peter Beath, who greeted the group in both English and Wiradjuri.

First keynote speaker Lisa Havilah, Director of Carriageworks, warned against the click of the door counter being the only KPI measuring success. For Lisa, it is important to support artists to deliver art that is relevant to the location and has the involvement of community, for example through community curatoriums.

Known for her ambitious and risk-taking artistic programming, Lisa called for audiences to be given a less mediated experience of the arts. “Don’t aspire to be safe. Aspire to provide the space for intelligent, hardworking audiences to engage and reflect upon their own place in the world.”

Speaking on commercial partnerships, Lisa explained that what an organisation says no to is just as important as what it tries to do.

For the panel on the topic So you have a venue. Now what? Nikita Agzarian, Alicia Leggett and Elise McGrath gave insights from three very different arts venues.

General Manager of one of Sydney’s newest venues, Giant Dwarf, Nikita Agzarian said the demand for curated live events spaces in Sydney is growing, but such dedicated venues are few and far between. A venue that hosts events with low ticket prices to suit a younger audience was needed.

Enter Giant Dwarf, the brainchild of The Chaser team.

Seeing virtue in the way night clubs run, Nikita sought to create a venue that provided a middle ground of professional entertainment outside of a traditional, rigid theatre-going experience. Promoting shows only via social media and word of mouth, Giant Dwarf attracts big name talent as well as those seeking to perfect their craft.

Orana Arts Executive Officer, Alicia Leggett described the transformation of the old fire station in Dubbo to a multipurpose arts facility.

The fire station has been transformed into a full gallery with office, exhibition and studio spaces. The Old Fire Station Arts Centre has so far had four artists-in-residence, 24 exhibitions and two productions and is available for hire.

Art appreciation and Soup Sessions (where community members live crowd-fund selected arts projects) are helping to maintain community involvement. An artists’ exchange with Western Sydney arts centres is also planned.

Elisa McGrath, Operations Manager at the arts centre, Cootamundra described how the small core staff (1.5 positions) and volunteers turn their hands to lots of different things to keep the arts centre open seven days a week.

Along with building connections with other community groups and programming around their events, the arts centre also seeks several opportunities to engage with artists when they are in town to better defray costs.

Benefits to the community of having an arts centre like this include social cohesion, driving economic development, being able to “tell our own stories”, learning from visiting artists and building capacity in local artists.

Through the marvels of modern technology, NAVA Executive Director Tamara Winikoff was able to beam in to Dream Big 15 via Skype. Tamara shared some very practical tips for talking arts with politicians, borne of 30+ years in arts advocacy.

Describing her talk as a “consumer eye view”, Tamara first described how to secure a meeting with a politician (shoring up that 90 second elevator pitch), and then being:

  1. Informed – know what you’re asking for and what it will mean to real people 
  2. Purposeful – show what you want from the meeting, go in with a solution to the problem at hand (and be prepared to trade)
  3. Anthropological – understand the nature of the person/people you’re meeting with to press their buttons and ignite their interest
  4. Strategic – form alliances with organisations and individuals to add power to your case; employ petitions, hard copy letters and social media to get the point across
  5. Enduring – be prepared to be in it for the long haul and never ever give up.

Tamara encouraged people to have a say in the cultural future of Australia by contacting NAVA and by following #freethearts.

Co-Artistic Director of Monkey Baa and one-time Cootamundra resident Tim McGarry reflected on his childhood and how he had been inspired to pursue a career in the arts.

This was the lens for a broader discussion on the need to support young people to play, create, fail and ultimately make sense of the world around them.

Whether it was seeing Pope Paul VI on a Papal visit to Sydney in the early 1970s and dressing up as the ‘Man in White’, or making a costume like The Flying Nun and attempting to catch a strong gust of wind in his suburban backyard to fly like Sr Bertrille, Tim had a person who allowed him to live out his big dreams – his Mum.

The role of parents and teachers in helping young people experience art is vital.

“When we started Monkey Baa, we had dreams, hopes and a passion to make a difference and bring quality theatre to young people and perhaps inspire them to follow their own creative dreams,” Tim said.

“Creativity can be taught and nurtured… We need to nurture creativity so young people can use their senses and express their emotions. It takes believing, encouragement and time. We have to instil in our young people that it’s ok to fail. The process is far more important than the end result.” 

What was meant to be the Fantastic Five soon became the Magnificent Seven as seven artists and community builders took to the stage to talk for seven minutes (no mean feat!) on their recent projects.

  • Sarah Last, Wired Lab:  looking at the qualities of emergent, convergent and disruptive digital media, Sarah spoke about Temporary Amateur Radio Club which gave local artists a doorway into the unique and idiosyncratic world of ham radio operators.
  • Gemma Meier: a big project in a small community, Gemma spoke about the Grong Grong Earth Park project, social licence and the need to get a small community involved. (Who else can still hear, “But who’s going to mow”?)
  • Louise Cooper: exploring the value in the stories of our community elders, Louise spoke about the For Prosperity’s Sake project that gathered the life stories of 15 Leeton Shire residents.
  • Victoria Lowe, Wagga Wagga City Council: recognising the need to take theatre experiences to outlying villages, the ‘Hall-a-Day Adventures’ program brings live performance to community halls. Key messages included ‘Dream big but start small’, conduct a cultural audit, and keep program design simple.
  • Scott Howie, Eastern Riverina Arts: funded by Regional Arts NSW, Bold – Selfies by Oldies is a Creative Ageing Project that sought to subvert the genre of selfie and stereotypes about ageing. Scott called for those interested this project to touch base as other similar projects may be in the works.
  • Greg Pritchard, Regional Arts NSW: Cultural Program Director, Artlands Dubbo 2016, Greg gave a brief insight into what audiences can expect from Artlands next year.
  • Kylie Dunstan, REROC:  noting the importance of volunteers to the arts and the very fabric of our communities, Kylie spoke about the Take Charge and Volunteer website that helps match volunteers to the organisations that need them.

Conference goers then had a ‘choose your own adventure’ session.

Participants heard from Jeff McCann from Cardigan Threads Collective about the new world of workshops (the world of workshops is now more accessible to the broader community, not just the ‘creatives’), Vanessa Keenan from Comms & Co spoke about Instagram (there is a difference between tagging and hashtagging!), and Scott Howie from ERAP spoke on taking projects from thought bubble to project plan (it all starts with one idea).

Conference wrap-up was expertly handled by Tim Kurylowicz.

Quotable quotes:

  • “Why can’t engaging with the arts be messy and slightly dangerous, as our lives are?” Lisa Havilah, Carriageworks
  • “Young audiences are impossible to trick. You have to match or better the experiences you’ve sold them on.” Lisa Havilah, Carriageworks
  • “You have to be open to the work processes of others, which leads to a bigger, more excellent result. It takes being open and open minded about constant change.” Lisa Havilah, Carriageworks
  • “People want to see low cost, accessible entertainment.” Nikita Agzarian, Giant Dwarf
  • “Everyone is important, from the big names right through to the cleaner.” Nikita Agzarian, Giant Dwarf
  • “Having venues like Giant Dwarf is important in regional area for the kids who don’t do sport.” Nikita Agzarian, Giant Dwarf
  • “It’s a huge asset to have the available space for the Orana Arts program. We wouldn’t be able to enter into so many ventures without it.” Alicia Leggett, Orana Arts Executive Officer discussing the Old Fire Station Arts Centre, Dubbo
  • “Good administration has to be underpinned by professional staff who care greatly about the centre and the town.” Elise McGrath, the arts Centre, Cootamundra
  • “Explain the problem and the solution. This is worth gold to a politician.” Tamara Winikoff, NAVA 
  • “Don’t forget individual hard copy letters. Politicians read every letter like 100 people agree with it.” Tamara Winikoff, NAVA
  • “My imagination had been well and truly awakened.” Tim McGarry, referencing The Flying Nun and living at the Globe Hotel, Cootamundra
  • “I had a parent who let my imagination fly.” Tim McGarry, Monkey Baa
  • “We need to capitalise on the intrinsically engaging nature of the arts and the sense of belonging you feel in a theatre space – we all love to pretend.” Tim McGarry, Money Baa
  • “Check your hashtags thoroughly first before using them!” Vanessa Keenan, Comms & Co.

Bring To Light will shine in Narrandera

CASP opens for 2016