Hip hop a catalyst for new collaboration and growing audiences

Powerhouse’s Lisa Havilah speaks about a new strategic partnership with Blacktown Arts that will amplify Western Sydney voices through music, spoken word, weaving and graphics.
Hip Hop performers gathering for photograph

Did you know that Western Sydney is the heart of the hip hop scene in Australia? It is not surprising then, as Powerhouse Parramatta approaches its opening in 2025, that it will sustain and strengthen that cultural vibrancy by giving spoken word a permanent home.

The museum has joined forces with Blacktown Arts, through Blacktown City Council, to deliver a new five-year partnership that will work with local communities to tell the stories of this place – one of the most multicultural areas of Australia.

Powerhouse Parramatta Chief Executive Lisa Havilah says the partnership ‘is really establishing Blacktown as our Foundational Cultural Partner’.

‘The partnership will have diverse strategic pillars. We have announced the first three this week, and others will come online as we continue to develop and deepen that relationship,’ says Havilah.

The new partnership initiatives are:

  • Powerhouse Parramatta will become home to 4Elements Hip Hop Festival and Conference (4ESydney), establishing innovative pathways to education, training and employment through spoken word and interdisciplinary creative practice.
  • The development of WE’VE, a program to support, present, collect and amplify cultural weaving practices of First Nations Australian and Pacific artists and communities in Western Sydney, along with the establishment of a First Nations Weaving Garden at Powerhouse Parramatta.
  • To collaborate with Mount Druitt’s Garage Graphix Community Arts Inc, to plan for, conserve and extend knowledge around its important decades-long archive with a permanent home.

The announcement coincided with the ninth edition of the 4Elements Hip Hop Festival and Conference, presented this past weekend by the Vyva Entertainment team. Of the festival, Havilah says, ‘It’s definitely an event that has emerged from Western Sydney; it’s cross-generational and interdisciplinary and aims to empower a new generation of artists and diverse communities by connecting their practice nationally and internationally.

‘One of the things that we’re really committed to is supporting that self-determined, cultural practice and histories of practice from this place,’ she continues. The partnership is in sync with new global thinking around museums, which ensure a place for community voice and ownership with deep histories and lineages.

‘The voices that have emerged through hip hop are really the future social, cultural and political voices of Australia, and it’s so important for us, as a nation, to hear them,’ continues Havilah. ‘That is a role that the Powerhouse can play, enabling that amplification.’

Weaving futures forward

With construction of Powerhouse Parramatta well underway, one of the ambitions of the project has been to bring the architecture, the landscape and the people together as a connected cultural experience.

‘We are creating an expansive green landscape, but also a landscape that is connected to local histories, to First Nations histories, and broader cultural histories across Western Sydney such as the Pacific communities – which is one of the fastest growing communities,’ explains Havilah.

The Powerhouse has committed to creating an Australian and Pacific First Nations Weaving Garden as a meeting place for learning and sharing. ‘I think that’s what is very distinctive about Powerhouse, that it offers an intersection between community and industry and education where we can support the development of cultural practice while also documenting, archiving and sharing it with our audiences,’ says Havilah.

Havilah adds that through WE’VE, the museum ‘will support international and Australian weavers to collaborate with Western Sydney weavers and build upon the ecology of practice across Asia and the Pacific’.

Hip Hop performer singing to crowd in Western Sydney
Musician Ruby Ibarra performing at 4ESydney hip hop festival. Photo: James Evans.

Why creative futures are all about collaboration

Just as 4Elements and WE’VE are culturally specific and community driven, so too is the Garage Graphix Archive, which includes hundreds of political and socially relevant screen-printed posters made with Western Sydney communities throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 

‘Through this partnership, we want to actively contribute to the conservation and preservation of the archive, while working towards determining a permanent home that it is right for the archive and its future.’

Part of that determination is also about mapping out pathways for access and education surrounding the archive. ‘There’s so much of that practice that happens every day in Western Sydney, and it’s important that people know about those histories and lineage,’ she continues.

‘For Powerhouse Parramatta to be successful, it has to be of its place,’ Havilah concludes. ‘And the only way it can be of its place is through collaborating, and sharing the stories of Western Sydney, number one, and then connecting those stories nationally and internationally. The partnership with Blacktown, is really key in terms of embedding local histories and stories into the museum and its ambitions.

‘I want people to see in this museum something that’s distinctive and future focused, but also connected with the multiple histories of Applied Arts and Applied Sciences,’ says Havilah.

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