Empowering mid-career artists to create bold new work 

The journey of an artist often requires a "day job" to maintain the freedom to pursue their creative practice. By mid-career, artists may question whether their art is sustainable as a profession.

A veteran dancer of 15 years with Bangarra Dance Theatre, Yawuru woman, choreographer Tara Gower, found herself returning to her homelands in Broome and the Kimberley during COVID-19. While it was a strange time for many, it became one of great rebirth for Gower as she started her project – Burrb Wanggarraju Nurlu – and then secured the support of the 2022 Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund to expand it. 

Gower says, despite her global success with the company, she ‘always knew, even as a young teenager, that I would return to Broome to teach the skills I learned professionally dancing with Bangarra’.  

‘And 15 years felt like a really good achievement – a good time to come home,’ she adds. 

Gower’s project engaged non-mainstream students from Broome Senior High School and young local artists (7-35 years) in a collaboration with Elders, telling stories through movement. ‘As a result of completing my program, youth have an empowered understanding of themselves through connecting to country, culture, kinship, spirituality and ancestors, community, mind and emotions, which creates strong leaders of tomorrow,’ Gower tells ArtsHub. 

Now, as her project enters its third year, Gower has just been celebrated as the recipient of the $50,000 Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund Award, which is awarded to one member of each year’s cohort. 

Gower says of her award: ‘It is really hard retiring as a dancer and then coming into the world and trying to get a job to help you survive,’ adding that not a lot ‘matches your creativity and ambitions in a professional way. The Fund has really helped me transition’. 

Gower believes growing up on Yawuru Country has given her the strength to pursue her dreams into reality. She says that her ambition is to create alternatives for students who are not academic and to give them professional pathways to creative industries.

‘Some of the biggest challenges with my project are not having a space to rehearse, and no safe spaces for Contemporary Indigenous Dance.’ She says the funding has allowed her to create some stability, adding that ‘my ambition in the future is to have my own studio’. 

Fund focuses on mid-career success 

The Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund is an opportunity for mid-career artists to create new work in Western Australia. Designed as a prompt for artists at a crucial time, the fund empowers artists to build sustainable careers, seeking new ambitious ideas as a pathway towards their next chapter. 

In 2023, the Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund will support a new cohort of 10 mid-career artists with grants and residencies. They are comic book writer and illustrator Scott Wilson, percussionist Thea Rossen, author Holden Sheppard, children’s author Cristy Burne, and multidisciplinary artists Bruno Booth and Chloe Flockart, with residencies awarded to screenwriter Cassandra Nguyen, author Annabel Smith and visual artist Merrick Belyea. 

In another first this year, the Fund will be looking beyond WA’s borders. The tenth member of the 2023 cohort is east coast-based composer Nicole Murphy, who will travel to the Minderoo Exmouth Research Laboratory to create new musical compositions inspired by the environmental surrounds and the investigations of science-based researchers working there.  

Next July, following Gower’s trajectory, one of these mid-career artists will be nominated for the Minderoo Foundation Artist Fund Award. All will benefit from the Fund’s support as they pursue their projects over the next 12 months. 

For this year’s recipients of the Fund, Gower’s advice is: ‘I encourage you to look beyond the boundaries and try and extend beyond the scope of your project, because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.’ 

Scott Wilson. Photo: Supplied by the artist.

Grow your ambition 

Comic book writer and illustrator Scott Wilson is a part of the 2023 cohort and is creating an Aboriginal superhero universe through comics. 

Wilson – a Gooniyandi person from Muludja community and a Gadgerong man from Kununurra – will use his project, INDIGIVERSE, to enlist additional First Nations creatives to continue expanding his comic series. There is a great opportunity to take the series further as an animated series of screen adaptations. 

He explains: ‘This is the first time any of these stories are created in this medium, showcased across Australia and even the planet. We’re going to reveal to Australia, with all the support from Minderoo, our first female superhero, as well as our other superheroes across the Indigiverse.’ 

‘One of the most important things for me, is to take these ideas, and bring them to life, so that our people, especially our young people, can see that it is possible. That just from taking pen to paper, you can bring something like this to life.’ 

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina