Regional artists think globally to grow NSW conversation

Extended Early Bird Registration: A new Lismore conference debunks the perception that regional arts are siloed by encouraging a focus on innovation driving creative partnerships.
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Detail of Blakboi; images supplied courtesy the artist and Regional Arts NSW

The Northern Rivers region has the second highest density of creative industries in NSW, second only to Sydney’s inner-city hub of Ultimo. It’s a fact that says a lot about the outward-looking optimism of regional centres – an optimism that will soon be boosted by a new four-year initiative.

‘We work regionally and we think globally,’ said Elizabeth Rogers, CEO of Regional Arts NSW and Executive Producer of Artstate, a new festival-style conference that is geared towards rethinking perceptions around regional practice.

‘Today there is nothing stopping you from running an international arts business regionally. The question we face is: how do we keep this conversation growing in our state?’

Capitalising on the success of the national conference-cum-festival Artlands held in Dubbo last year, Artstate aims to aggregate that conversation. Each year across the four-year program the spotlight will be directed toward a different regional hub in NSW – the first being Lismore.

Nestled between rainforest and sea in the heart of the Northern Rivers region, Lismore is a scenic 40 minute drive inland from Byron Bay and 90 minutes south of the Gold Coast. Rogers described the area as ‘a hotbed of activity’.

‘The timing is now for us,’ said Rogers. ‘We know the pie is getting smaller, so let’s see how this bigger conversation can play out across art forms and locations.’

Artstate Lismore 2017 runs from 30 November to 3 December 2017. Early Bird registrations have been extended until Monday, 23 October.

Picking up the conversation, Stephen Champion, Chair of Regional Arts NSW, said: ‘Regional arts practice of the highest order is prolific in NSW but it still often occurs without recognition, particularly by reviewers and our urban counterparts.’

Artstate Lismore aims to break down those barriers by adopting the themes of Creative Practice and Creative Partnerships. The expanded conference is expected to corral around 200 arts industry delegates in what is being described as ‘a mosh pit of opportunities’.

‘I know the important thing in a festival is walkability, and those informal interactions that happen on the street. While partnerships can be stimulated through the program and keynote lectures, it is those unrehearsed occasional encounters that make those ideas tangible – real – and being in situ makes that happen,’ said Rogers.

The event will be connect Lismore City Hall, the newly developed cultural precinct, Quadrangle, and the newly opened Lismore Regional Gallery – all within a two-block walk. Artstate Lismore is supported by Create NSW and Lismore City Council.

Soumik Datta performing; Photo by Rehmat Rayat

There’s big value in the big drive

Rogers emphasised that Artstate is not a conference packaged exclusively for the regions. ‘It is really important to get people out of Sydney, to draw that metropolitan participation into the conversation. And the hero moments are when they go back, witness to what is happening, and champion the regions by keeping those conversations alive through fresh partnerships.’

Marisa Snow, Artstate Creative Director, has assembled the two-day program. The first day examines the theme of Creative Practice, with an opening keynote by internationally acclaimed sarod virtuoso, Soumik Datta from the UK. Soumik has collaborated with an eclectic range of artists including Beyonce, Jay-Z, Bill Bailey, Manu Delago, Akram Khan, Bernhard Schimpelsberger, Talvin Singh, Joss Stone, Shankar Mahadevan, City of London Sinfonia, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

This will be followed by a panel of artists from the region including Julian Louis, Artistic Director of NORPA, filmmaker Cate McQuillen and musician and jazz singer, Leigh Carriage

The second session will discuss Aboriginal creative practice following a keynote by Bundjalung artist and Head of Indigenous Programming at Sydney Opera House, Rhoda Roberts.

NORPA will premier their new theatre work Djurra, and Gomeroi man Tom Avery (Blakboi) performs a new blockbuster music production featuring Elders storytelling, an eight piece band, a 15 piece orchestra and a choir.

Blakboi; images supplied courtesy the artist and Regional Arts NSW

Day two will look at the Creative Partnerships developed around regional festivals with a keynote from Karoline Trollvik, director of the Riddu Riddu festival in the far north of Norway, an event that focuses on the local First Nations people, the Sami.

‘She is a great example of working remotely, living north of the Arctic Circle. There is only one road in, and yet she has established a regional festival that attracts people from all over Europe and drives conversations of international importance,’ said Rogers.

‘In the same way, Artstate places artists at the heart of everything. To experience, in situ, what the creative energy is in NSW will be incredibly exciting.’

The Artstart program looks deeper at regional festivals with speakers including Chris Spencer, General Manager, Saltwater Freshwater Festival and Glen Wright, Directors of Mullum and Bello Music Festivals.

Collaboration has become an essential way of working for artists and arts organisations. Nick Mahmet from Kalamazoo, USA will talk about his innovative cross-sector education and drama programs. This will be followed by a panel featuring the heads of four NSW regional arts development organisations whose cross-sector projects are leading the way in establishing innovative partnerships for different communities, headed up by Peter Wood, Arts Northern Rivers ED.

The new Lismore Regional Gallery will present Dreaming Trails, a partnership with Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre, while the legendary Djon Mundine has curated an exhibition, Four Women (I do belong) inspired by the 1966 Nina Simone song.

Afternoons will offer a diversity of events including four masterclasses by Screenworks, presentations by the Live Music Office, and a Create NSW panel.

Don’t miss out: Register for Artstart Lismore. Early Bird Registration extended until 23 October.

Local councils are under-recognised

Local governments often get overlooked when it comes to talking about the arts, but they are the major employers of arts professionals and the major contributors to arts infrastructure in the regions, Rogers notes.

A cornerstone of Artlands Dubbo was in the way it recognised the commitment of the region’s rate-payers, securing future growth for the arts locally and beyond mere economics and politicking.

‘Similarly, Lismore Council is thinking strategically about its cultural precinct, and linking it into its CBD,’ explained Rogers.

‘Local government has come a long way from a commitment to the three Rs – roads, rates and rubbish. The General Manager of Lismore Council Gary Murphy has presented a completely different set of Rs – respect, relationships and responsibility.’

The Council has invested in the redevelopment of the new regional gallery, and their partnership with Artstate is a great example of how creative partnerships can be rethought for a better future – just like turning the three Rs on their head.

Artstate Lismore 2017 runs from 30 November to 3 December 2017 and is presented in partnership with Arts Northern Rivers and Lismore City Council.

Register now to attend. Don’t miss out.

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