When I grow up I want to be Jude Kelly

leadership, reflections

I had the privilege of attending a talk today by Jude Kelly, the Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre (UK). Even more happily it was held in my own hood, at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Jude spoke with great generosity on what she now understands about feminism, festivals and spaces since founding the Women of the World (WOW) festival in March 2011. Below are some particularly provocative thoughts she offered that I managed to scribble down before my brain caught on the snag of her next astute observation. There is every chance I’ve only caught the crumbs, so I’d encourage you to attend a WOW – any WOW – that you can possibly get close to. For example, this weekend in Katherine, NT.

* * *

Festivals are there

– to honour something;

– to welcome anyone who comes;

– to meditate on loss.

The values we want to see expressed in artistic work should also be expressed in an organisation, and a space. Cultural organisations are often not nearly as progressive as they ought to be; it is their role to question, create discomfort and challenge – as much as it is the role of art, and artists, to do this.

A “festival” is often a lot less frightening a frame than “culture.”

“I reflected on the advantage I have managed to accrue.”

However passionate women are about making new histories now, the canon we inherit could suggest women only ever exist at the edges. This is present not just in the history of art, but health, or law, or activism, too.

Humans as a species have massively unfinished business as far as the rights of girls and women are concerned.

Without interventions and provocations such as WOW we are merely “meandering towards equality.”

It is isolating to suggest that the developed world has somehow ‘made it.’

We must carry on the mission towards equality, but not be cast as more of a victim than we are already are.

In terms of programming, workshops for female comedians alongside meaningful discussions about the realities of domestic violence actually ensure we keep up some kind of stamina.

The space itself gives audiences a kind of embrace; it provides women and girls the capacity to hang around for the first day, slowly building confidence.

In terms of a tone, WOW needs to feel happy. There’s an interesting contrast to be drawn with the gay pride movement, which always had a cultural quality to it – and, always always looks fun.

“Critics do not write about social progress”; so how do they write about a festival with a social intent? They are largely uncomfortable, but they are improving.

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