Part Conference, Part Festival, All Arts | ARTLANDS 2016

Part Conference, Part Festival, All Arts | ARTLANDS 2016

Susie Blatchford
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Circus West at the opening night of ARTLANDS

Four days jam-packed full of activity, conversation, discussion, debate and inspiration from across Australia and overseas. The 2016 ARTLANDS conference, held in Dubbo last month, is the bi-annual Regional Arts Australia event and the largest arts gathering in Australia.

The inland City of Dubbo is the gateway to the Great Western Plains of NSW and didn’t disappoint – hosting a dynamic and inspirational experience that drew people from across Australia, allowing for significant cultural exchange. For NSW this marked the return of the conference for the first time in 14 years, and introduced the ARTLANDS brand to be used for all future RAA conferences.

The occasion was also used to launch a new federal program in language, Mitch Fifield the Federal Minister for Communication and the Arts, said this new national project is designed to acknowledge and embed Indigenous language in Australian culture.

“The message to all Australians is to treasure the first languages of the country and the stories they echo and the stories that they continue to tell” said Mr Fifield.

He went on to say “Whats to often underappreciated is freedom of speech and that, in turn underpins the pluralism and robustness of our democracy…… Arts is core to our communities, not an optional extra”.

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The opening event

The conference themes of regeneration, connectedness and emergence, pushed us to think holistically and long term so that the arts remains dynamic, sustainable and relevant across our nation.
The opening performance by activist in song, Radical Son set a current and common international theme of reclamation, human resistance and a pivotal time for questioning where the future of ‘counter-urban’ arts and culture is positioning itself. An arm of agricultural irrigation was used to pivotal effect as the sun set on the conference opening with the protesting voices of farming, water resources vs commercial gas companies that are crisscrossing themselves over the nation’s land like a spider’s web. This conference highlighted the power that the arts sector has as a collective voice, with agricultural equipment, music and dance and stunning projections, making a statement of regional strength.

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Projections on balloons quietly floated in the night’s sky at the opening event

These acts of strong statements continued throughout the conference with Wiradjuri man, Associate Professor from the Melbourne Law School, Mark McMillan, explored the connectedness of the art practices and sovereign practices of Indigenous nations. “Art practices and the practicing of sovereignty when combined, become a meeting place of complex relationships.”

Followed by Clive Parkinson’s interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking presentation that reframed the arts and health agenda in terms of social justice and inequalities fundamental to any notion of arts and health. Based at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, he took us through a history of inequalities and the use of arts to make statements, stating “there is a parallel shift happening in the world with Arts and Health understood. Arts have a powerful part to play in this cultural change – our challenge is to remain authentic to ourselves and our practise”.

David Doyle, Director, DAADA with Dr Ricardo Peach from South Africa, presented on the development of Arts and Health in the Free-State context of South Africa. This long term bi-cultural partnership between DADAA, UFS, Vrystaat Kunstefess, The Australia Council for the Arts and the Mellon Foundation highlighted the use of arts to give a voice to young people addressing the social issues and arts in heath. There was a sense of urgency for the development of creative industries in South Africa by both speakers to combat the major health issues of Aids, hunger and reverse apartheid.

Truly inspirational was Karl Johnstone from the East Coast tribes of Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Ngai Tamanuhiri. Until recently, Karl was the director of the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. He has developed a dynamic and innovative leadership approach to the culture and heritage projects he leads. Developing numerous national and international initiatives, all underpinned by traditional knowledge and Māori tribal perspectives, he explored the connectedness to the world and the strength of the amalgamation of first nations culture and at the same time exploring ways of connecting to each other and maintaining first nations uniqueness. Karl stated “we created a framework, a mechanism that is designed by us …….allowing us to recalibrate our culture”.

Chair of Regional Arts Australia, our very own Kate Fielding challenged us as a sector stating “We are a third of our country’s population and our cultural contributions have a national impact. To prepare for the future – we need to imagine what the future will be. The reality is that the future of the regions has never been linear, singular or straight – it has always been about the back roads, not the highways”.

She went on to say, “I passionately believe the future lies in embracing diversity – economic, cultural, generational, political, gender, in short diversity of diversity – regional arts already plays a key role in that diversity.”

“[The arts needs to know] how to improvise and how to find possibilities in unexpected corners, and success usually lies in any direction except straight ahead”. We have a collective strength, “we are best when we are adaptive and flexible, when we trust, collaborate and we share. We, regional Australia, will have a critical leadership role in the shift and change of the future – it is absolutely critical to work together.”

“I hope that arts and culture voices from the regions will play a key role in imaging and shaping our futures across the country, I hope that our voices can be valued and properly invested in to make rich contributions to that national conversation.” Kate said

She urged us to continue to have that conversation, again, again and again, about how arts and culture is something that happens in the regions, how arts and culture makes your place a better place to live, the creative industries generates more jobs than mining, and above all how the urge to create and strive and imagine is one of our fundamental human needs. This was a conference that stretched our thoughts, beliefs, ideas and gave us strength to move forward together leaving us with a legacy of inspiration.

Written by Andrea Gray, Director of CAWA Board

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