5 Questions: Lenine Bourke


(Er, yep it’s been a while. There were other things to do. And now I have a new idea, which is always motivating. This will be a series of profiles of Artistic Directors, in Australia and beyond. Five questions each time, the goal is to be honest and transparent about the kinds of things ADs ruminate upon, worry about and get excited by. Partly inspired by the excellent Arts Interview blog, and also my colleague Dan Santangeli)

Taken in Croatia, as part of IETM and the Perforacije Festival – where Lenine and I have recently been hanging out. Artist: Željko Zorica


Lenine is the Artistic Director of Contact Inc. She is based in Brisbane, Queensland.

1. Is ‘community’ a dirty word in arts practice?

I think the word Community is having a come back. I think it is a hot word right now, I think lots of people who are into grassroots movements, ethics, politics, social justice or diversity would consider notions of community in their creative practice as essential.

I think there is a bit of pressure on big institutions, festivals and venues to consider their communities or notions of community; and so there is a flow on effect for the rest of us that already work in that space everyday.

Dirty words right now in the arts – I can think of a few more. Such as Commercial, Amateur, Bureaucrat or Hipster. But again, they all play some role in the arts…

2. Who or what has been most influential in developing your approach to social practice and the role of the arts?


Darren O’Donnell from Mammalian Diving Reflex has been influential (but I hope he is not reading this cos our relationship works better when I play hard to get…). He is a smart guy, who like me comes from a theatre background but now finds stronger synergies with contemporary arts. His work centres around this idea of Social Acupuncture, and that we can modify the levels of Chi, in the social body or community by intervening in specific ways. I really love this idea.

Sarah and Norm from Feral Arts, a company in Brisbane, were influential in getting me to see the ways I could use performance projects as a platform. For example, they created Placestories – a digital site – based on their years of work in a very remote Aboriginal Community on the border of QLD and NT, as a way of not only engaging collaborators (via participants) but then a much broader audience to complete the work.

The three weeks I spent with the Portland State Uni Social Practice Master’s students and their teacher Harrell Fletcher. In fact I just ran into two of the graduates near Brick Lane in London by accident 2 weeks ago. I met some really smart good creators in that program.

Also all the interesting people I get to work with who think the arts is a weird club, and are keen to do things on stage / in art work that make them look good / confident / capable / cute, while telling their story; rather than trying to learn how to do something that is either culturally, physically or emotionally not right for them to do, like learn lines, dance a certain way, pretend to be someone else.


Feeling frustrated by the very long processes used in Community Cultural Development, but noticing that due to massive issues like colonisation or globalisation, my impact was often miniscule. Whereas in Social Practice the effort is still about the art. I kind of like the middle ground somewhere in amongst this mess.

Also reading people like Donna Walker-Khune’s Invitation to the Party, about engaging more diverse audiences.

3. What’s the most unlikely or ridiculous situation you’ve found yourself in within your work, that’s made you proud of what you do?

Oh my goodness, the one that always springs to mind is being in remote Western Australia in a town called Warburton about 1000 km souh west of Alice Springs. Working on a Fashion and Literacy Festival with the Youth Arts Centre, and on the final morning I am doing a photo shoot with the young girls of their fashion, when Aunty Nora Holland arrives with a bag of chopped up meat trying to explain something to them in language.

I find out later the meat is is a camel’s hump. She wants me to help her make a fire, so we send someone in a troppie to get wood, and someone who has an old nestle tin, and she wants to render down the fat in the meat, let it cool and then have the girls use it for moisturizer. We do not share a language, I have no cultural reference for what she is talking about, but somehow we work it out, and she ends up sitting by the fire with her dogs, cooking this camel hump and so we find her a newer dress and she ends up being in the fashion shoot.

This was when I realised that my work had to be flexible enough to accommodate anything, even if I did not understand what was actually happening.  I also now realise that she in fact made the photos better, she also bridged the project for me and the young girls, and now I trust all the people I am working with to know how to make our work together.

4. Around Australia, who or what can you point to as being the most innovative or inspiring approach to expanding the role of the arts?

Wow – hard question – I think firstly the internet is probably the big innovator in our country. Also festivals, universities and schools are really the space for supporting people, artists and audiences to think differently about what is possible.

But in terms of real people, I think hearing Kiersten Fishburn from Casula Powerhouse talk recently was pretty inspiring,  I love this company called Milk Crate Theatre in Sydney that makes theatre with people who are experiencing homeless-ness. I think someone like Pauline Bell and her project Senior Superstars: a talent quest for seniors, the heats happen in the RSL clubs in the suburbs and then the grand finale at the concert hall at QPAC, with 1500 seniors booking the seats within 2 hours of the tickets becoming available. I could go on.

5. What do you think of the National Cultural Policy, as we currently understand it?

I think we don’t currently understand it. I think the (lack of $) excuse is holding up publishing a word document, that could be used to shape the use of current money. It was positioned as a thought document, to streamline and plan the use of resources, now it seems to be about announcing new money, that is unlikely given the current climate. So I think even the purpose has become confused somewhere. Also I think maybe it will be dropped in again the week before the next election perhaps as an incoming promise, but that will also cause problems.

I also think that we have policy decisions being made all of the time, without a publicly endorsed policy. The move of funding infrastructure back from the Office of the Arts to the Australia Council; we have a prioritizing of funds towards large performing arts organisations in Australia; and then we have a limited pool of government resources going into emerging ideas / technologies / access / participation or any of the other buzz words used in the 4 goal statements.

I am into this question, thanks for asking me.


Next 5 Questions: new Artistic Director of Arena Theatre, Christian Leavesley.


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