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Regional Indigenous youth program takes centre stage

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Brooke Boland

Regional skills development projects like Transmit at Bundanon Trust shape career pathways in the arts.
Regional Indigenous youth program takes centre stage

Image: Transmit 2015. Photo by Heidrun Lohr. Supplied.

Arts programs designed for young people in regional locations are often the first place where participants experience the creative process for themselves and on their own terms. On the south coast of New South Wales at Bundanon Trust, the project Transmit is a vibrant example of the importance of arts programming in developing and encouraging the next generation of artists in Australia 

Transmit is a three-year skills development and performance project for local Indigenous youth from the Shoalhaven area. Kryton Stewart said he first participated in the project when he was a student at Nowra High School. 

‘I turned up thinking the dance was going to be corroboree and it ended up being contemporary, so I just did the written work and ended up really enjoying that,’ said Stewart.

‘I never even thought about writing poems or anything before the program. It has shaped what I want to do and where I want to go.’ 

The project offers participants a series of unique workshops led by professional artists and mentors working in the fields of rap, poetry, film making, and contemporary dance. 

'It’s incredible to work with some of the artists at Bundanon. I’ve collaborated with people like William Barton and Bjorn Stewart, and a few others. You meet people who you’ve only seen on TV and it really inspires you to do more with yourself,’ said Stewart.

‘Nowadays, I’m working on a couple of different projects with people from all over Australia. I’m involved in a program called Planet Nowra, I do private gigs at pubs and clubs. Just recently I got my ABN to start mentoring privately.’

Transmit has been running for several years and culminates in a public performance on 1 December at Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre.

Kryton Stewart in Transmit, 2015. Photo by Heidrun Lohr. Supplied.

Community Engagement Manager Regina Heilmann said Transmit is a formal continuous program that grew out of an earlier project with local Indigenous youth at Bundanon. Its success is in part due to the expert mentors Bundanon engages.

‘Bundanon invites artists who have come through the artist-in-residence program or through partnerships — people who are committed to working with young people — to work with the community as mentors. This way the young people get the expertise of our practicing professionals. Quality of engagement is very high,’ she explained. 

In previous years, the project involved around 300 students, but this year the format has changed slightly.

'Students meet for a period of time, about three to five days each term with a team of artists to develop work. We are working with a smaller group of people — students who are specifically interested in the arts — and because we are working with a smaller group there is more potential for one on one feedback and interaction. This means we can push the level of work up a notch, as it were. 

‘We are working with kids who are really keen to explore the creative process, kids who are interested in going to NAISDA or eventually Bangarra, kids who want to be poets or rappers, or are interested in film.’

Heilmann said running a community engagement project like Transmit requires relationship building and a great degree of flexibility that involves being mindful of students’ other commitments to school and family.

But the proof of the project’s success is in the way it creates opportunities for young people to experience the arts and give them the confidence to create high calibre work themselves, as Stewart explained.

‘What I found for myself that was most valuable about Transmit is that it’s somewhere you can go and create something over a period of months that you actually feel really pleased with and happy with in yourself,’ he said. 

‘It’s a really big confidence boost and really good for your mental health. Teaching younger kids to write and put their emotions into words really does help with other issues that are happening maybe at home. It helps with depression and anxiety because they now have a release, they now have someone to tell and they can put it down into words.’ 

For more information on Transmit, visit bundanon.com.au/bundanon-local/transmit/

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.

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