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.


Talks talks talks

hosting, panels

People of Melbourne, we have arrived at Epic Festivals Season. Yes, the tumble roll of MIFFMWFFRINGEMELBFEST is here, and that has landed this lil lady in a puddle of panel discussions!

Now, you needn’t groan.

And really you are very unlikely to, such is the current and seemingly insatiable appetite of Melbourne audiences for the public discussion of big ideas. Obviously this charge has been led by the Wheeler Centre, and indeed these days you can’t move but for an arts organisation’s talks program. That influence and spread has had the happy outcome of higher expectations, and those who are charged with facilitating must be better at the task. I do think we’re seeing less of the dreaded statements-as-questions, and I also think we’re seeing more interrogation of the format (not least *cough* through events like Next Wave’s Breakfast Club *cough*). Certainly the debacle that surrounded the program announcement of the 2014 Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House demonstrates the rigour that is required of curators and programming teams when considering how to position public provocation and debate. The strong and swift reaction against aspects of SOH’s 6th iteration of FODI is an interesting marker in terms of how our expectations have changed. (Really that whole thing was a massive shame, on a number of levels – not least for the attention it drew away from some actually fairly great stuff in the Festival; moreover it would troubling if the experience meant SOH became shy about programming more ‘dangerous’ and provocative work.)

But as a reaction against the echo-chamber of Twitter, the disorganised noise on Facebook, and with a political party in power whose preference is individualism,  I find it so, so encouraging that we have found a different and critically important way to gather. I’m not sure what its relationship is to other artforms, I’d guess I would say the Talks’ closest cousin is radio in terms of those qualities of intimacy, urgency and discovery. Of analysis and reflection. There’s some good borrowing from aspects of theatre and television, too. But what’s interesting about the Talk is its absolute reliance upon other cultural ideas or movements. In that way, it has the flexibility to do literally anything.

Anywho, now that I’ve explained just how important it is to do this stuff well…


you can join me in having a crack at such a task on four different occasions over the coming months.

On Tuesday 12th August at 6:45pm I’ll be hosting the Q&A with Directors Eleanor Sharpe and Justin Olstein for CURTAIN CALL as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Yes in 2 days’ time, look sharp!

On Sunday 17th August at 3pm I’ll be hosting a discussion on art and provocation, with Melbourne Writer’s Festival theatre company-in-residence The Rabble. Co-Directors Emma Valente and Kate Davis will be joined by visual artist Casey Jenkins, and writer/spoken word artist Maxine Clarke. It will take place in the Merlyn Theatre at Malthouse, and is FREE! I’ll post booking details for this ASAP.

Tuesday 26 August is the Victorian Theatre Forum. This is only open to members of TNV. Though if you’re an independent artist, membership is just $16.50 (ie, about 4 coffees). We’ll be discussing theatre’s political implications. Does it have any?  This annual meeting always sells out, so if you’re a theatre nerd, hop-to.

On Monday 13 October at 6pm I’ll be chatting with artists from a range of disciplines about what they experienced of two Melbourne Festival productions: Have I No Mouth by Irish theatre company Brokentalkers, and Roslyn Oades’ Hello Goodbye Happy Birthday. Interestingly, it’s taking place at the all-new MPavillion, another cool thing happening in this fair town. Hosted (of course) by the Wheeler Centre, you can book tickets for this freebie here.



Spherical Walter

Secretly Melbourne

media, melbourne

Given how much I love Melbourne’s secrets, it’s a bit uncool to expose them so brashly in the major newspaper. So I didn’t. My version of The Age’s My Secret Melbourne contains some secrets of this city, but only if you haven’t been looking very hard. It’s no secret that Melbourne is a great, great love of mine, and I would never betray one of the best parts about her – discovering the good stuff for yourself – by calling last drinks too early and bringing up the hangover lights.

Hopefully you will read this and be reminded of how you need to go back to all those gorgeous, delicate, independently minded places I have left out…

(Meanwhile, how cute is my baby bro?)



Rushed Happiness


With 4 days of the 2014 Next Wave Festival to go I forced my elated/exhausted self to scrawl some highlights on Facebook. I’m glad I did. I have more expansive reflections in me that I’m going to attempt to whittle into something coherent, soon. But I don’t want to lose the rushed happiness of these ones, either. So I am posting them here again, with only some slight alterations because conventions are different on Facebook to this blog.

Personal highlights of #nwf14 (and we’re not done yet).

No particular order.

1. Parents. Brothers, sisters, partners. Meeting Raghav’s parents (who had never seen him dance before), Jesse Cox’s Mum, Ghenoa Gela’s Mum, James Welsby’s parents. My own Mum spending 2 hours folding boats with Phuong Ngo this morning.

2. The staff meeting we had on Tuesday at Shebeen (/the ping pong we played that night). Ugh, I love you guys sick.

3. Shebeen, full stop. Best Festival Club, I am loving it.

4. Rainbow collaboration between Henry Jock Walker, Stephen Armstrong and I on Saturday – indeed the whole walk we did with the Next Wave Collective was a massive highlight.

Henry Jock Walker meets Emily meets Stephen
5. Chatting to Benjamin Kolaitis at Golden Solution’s Shower Party and him introducing the word ‘conviction’ when describing our artists’ projects – haven’t stopped mulling over this for days, such a great word.

6. Moral complexity is not an easy or comfortable space to facilitate, and it is a strong choice to invite it. I’m proud that many of our artists aren’t giving answers but asking provocative and interesting questions. It’s brave and hard and they are trying. I’m very proud of this.

7. The Blak Wave opening at the Wheeler Centre – generous, inclusive, funny, honest, diverse. I loved it. (You can find a podcast, here).

8. Triple R’s Outside Broadcast on the steps of the State Library. I love the station so much, and to open 35 of our projects with this event was a real honour.

9. My house being slowly stripped away as John quietly and with no complaints packs, paints, installs new locks and all manner of other stuff… because we move on Monday. Bloody oath. That’s Support Crew of the highest level.

10. This dog.

The story is much funnier in person, so you’ll just have to ask me.


5 Questions: Angela Conquet

leadership, melbourne
Sam_Ackroyd_Monster Body_11

The incomparable Atlanta Eke, in MONSTER BODY. Co-presented by Next Wave and Dancehouse for the 2012 Festival (19-27 May). Photo: Sam Ackroyd


Angela is the Artistic Director of Dancehouse. She moved from Paris in July 2011 and is now based in Melbourne, Victoria.

1.  You’ve been in Melbourne for over a year now; how have your thoughts on the local arts community shifted from your initial impression?

I’m still discovering its vibrancy and I think this will keep me busy for a long while. When I moved to Melbourne, I was told by the artists themselves that the local arts community was relatively small and it is indeed, compared to some European ones. However, it is very active and more collegial than I would have expected. This year has been very much of a learning curve for me as I realised how many similarities there were in the artists’ needs and wishes when compared to their European peers; and how many differences there are in the way they train or produce work. I still can’t get used to seeing artists who put a tremendous amount of effort and commitment into, very often, self-producing a new work and how easily they move on to the next one. In dance, I believe that the more a work is performed in time, the better it gets – it’s a question of inhabiting the body in the chosen space/time paradigm and it’s like a sedimentation of layers and layers of nuances enriching the work with each exposure. I see many works here which have a huge potential to tour, including internationally and they just go off the radar once the first season is over. It is a shame. One can wonder how the existing production/touring system in Australia impacts on the mentality of the artists and the way they produce and distribute work.

2.  What is missing in the discussion about Australian contemporary dance?

The first thing that springs to my mind is critical writing and discourse on dance. There are not so many dance reviewers and they are often limited to 250 words. Reviews are often descriptive and not analytical and I strongly believe interest can be stirred by discussing ideas explored rather than their narration. It is such a shame to see blogs like Alison Croggon’s disappear. Any art form needs platforms for discussion and debate – it is the only way to cultivate audience’s interest and advance the practice. I also think there should be some sort of travel grant or fellowship for the reviewers to travel the world to see work made elsewhere. It will enable articulation of performances made here to broader contexts and trends and this can only be enriching.

One other thing that I think should be more addressed is how to manage to make a living as an artist. I see a lot of financial strain on the artists’ shoulders and generous money spent on one-off initiatives of all sorts but I wonder how we can contribute to building more sustainable career paths for the  artists, particularly those who have a physical practice – it is tough to go into a studio when one has worked two shifts as a barista…

3. Tell us about an image from a work that haunts you, that you’d love to see again for the first time.

There are many, hard to pick only one. I would give anything to see Pina’s Café Muller or at least Dominique Mercy in Bandoneon. This image, when he is crossing the stage wearing a ballerina’s tutu and every now and then stopping to do some pliés, there is something so powerful there and yet so heartbreaking… I would love to see again Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas. I will never forget how speechless I was after I saw for the first time Cindy Van Acker’s work (recently presented at Dancehouse) – one of those moments when you really feel it will deeply affect you but you don’t know yet how.  On a more conventional note, Maia Plisetskaya in Bejart’s Bolero, which, I am pretty sure, was the first dance show I saw – I was perhaps 4 or 5 only. I like first times but I also like to see the same work over and over again – my personal record is Raimund Hoghe’s Swan Lac, I must have seen it 5 or 6 times.

4.  How do you say ‘no’ to an artist you can’t program?

Very simply and honestly. It’ probably what made my reputation in Europe and I had to say no quite a lot – most often because there wasn’t the budget to present all the artists I was interested in. Artists are sometimes not aware that presenters are not as free as they would like to be. If I am not interested in the work, I always try to offer constructive feedback and encourage them to see other presenters.

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

I think it is a very timely initiative. It is essential for every country to have a National Cultural Policy – it sets a framework and with the framework comes the value recognised in the role of arts and culture. It can bring arts and culture even more into people’s lives and at a level that arts operators will never manage by themselves. I have the impression the sector was widely consulted before and during the process. It is essential politicians, economists and the arts industry people work hand in hand in conceiving it.  In Europe, there are some quite successful National Policies examples, some relatively dated now, but which at that time, set trends and prompted political choices which are still bearing their fruits today. I hope it will be the case with this one.