An RAA Summit article by Madeleine Norman.
Chance and Chaos Lead to Excellence!
That was certainly the case in Kalgoorlie over the four day Regional Arts Australia summit 16-19 October. Chaos, albeit organised, was due to the weather, and excellence was the outcome of the conference.
Brian Ritchie, who put Tasmania on the contemporary music map, and Lindy Hume who moves and shakes things at Q Opera in Queensland, were two of the keynote speakers whom I was privileged to hear during the Arts and Edges forum. Both speakers were, to quote Lindy Hume, excellent (she thought the word was not used often enough when referrring to the regional as opposed to the metropolitan art scene). Brian Ritchie was also encouraging with his motto to do the best you can with what you’ve got, and harness the forces of chance and chaos. A motto which certainly applies to our own Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council.
550 delegates from all over the country congregated on the Goldfields city, in 39° heat, to network and find answers to questions dealing with the arts. I was one of those delegates. Wearing at least 3 distinct community group ‘hats’ I was looking forward to discover new or different ways to do things.
The summit was a mixture of keynote speakers, panels using experts, performances, displays of projects and hands-on activities based on Noongar culture. The panels I attended dealt a lot with funding and re-energising small towns through the arts; topics with wide application for our district. The keyword throughout was ‘engage’. Engage the young ones. Engage the wider population. Engage local governments. Even engage artists.
Regional Australia faces challenges, one panel informed us, due to climate change (apparently) and depopulation. Both of these phenomena lead to change which can be confronting, but also opens up opportunities for communities to exploit and thrive. Engaging (here’s that word again!) more deeply with the arts was one solution mooted for successful adaptation, survival and growth. A common theme in many of the sessions I attended was the fact that sports receives a lot of attention, sponsorship, funding and acknowledgement in comparison with arts and culture. Here is a challenge for regional Australia: to mesh the two together and incorporate sports into arts and culture, or the other way around! How could this be done in our community?
It was also confirmed by another panel that engaging (again, yes!) in the arts has well documented health benefits. Much research underpins this assertion and more should be made of this fact to attract funding, just like the sporting sector, which uses the health angle to great advantage.
Funding is not the only issue, however, people in the wider community need to realise that art is everywhere: you listen to music? – It’s art. You read a book? – As well. Art should not have to be viewed as synonymous with highbrow performances and ‘scary’. Another panel suggested to leave the word ‘ART’ out of titles and projects altogether to ensure larger audience appeal.
But, the conference was not only about serious discussions. One of the highlights for me was the performance of A Gala Night with the Duchess, excellently (!) presented by the Boulder Repertory Club in the beautiful Boulder Town Hall. This play was originally written for the Goldfields about a 100 years ago, and yet never performed there. Another highlight was the Kalgoorlie Belly Dancers, a group of ladies, appropriately dressed in high viz vests and hard hats, who gyrated and grooved to some great music. I had no idea that some of our muscles could be induced to move so!
In closing, I would like to acknowledge and thank Country Arts WA and Jerdacuttup Community Association whose sponsorships enabled me to attend the summit in Kalgoorlie. It was a thought provoking and fun four days; the benefits to our community should be excellent!