The festival that won’t be shut down

When lockdown restrictions hit Darebin Council’s FUSE Festival, they not only pivoted but proved that artists are integral to our local communities, pandemic or not.

In the lowest moments of lockdown, art has not just survived but thrived. Take Darebin Council’s FUSE Festival, which was planned as a big celebration of Spring featuring a 2000-person public picnic but changed tack dramatically when Melbourne’s sixth lockdown was announced.

The latest lockdown put FUSE Festival’s coordinator, Jodee Mundy OAM in the kind of position many arts organisation have faced thanks to the ever-changing conditions.

‘We had to cancel over 50 events this festival. Just shut them down completely. It’s been quite heartbreaking. Our team have had to call every single artist that runs every single event and let them know that we’ve moved to FUSE Digital. And if they’re not able to pivot, then we can look at postponing to next year,’ Mundy said.

In a year where everybody is pivoting, FUSE Digital showcases not only the creativity of Darebin’s artists but more significantly their tenacity.

Mayor of the City of Darebin Lisa Messina is celebrating their commitment. ‘FUSE Digital upholds Darebin City Council’s mission to nurture and support local artists. Although we are not able to hold FUSE events in person, FUSE Digital means that artists will continue to be paid at a time when they need it most,’ Messina told ArtsHub.

PROGRAMMING LOCAL, THINKING GLOBAL

One the key aspects of the program is the way it engages with place and the community of Melbourne’s inner north.

The festival kicks off with Ganbu Gulin (‘One Mob’), a collaboration with the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee featuring a Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Welcome to Country by Uncle Bill Nicholson and an exclusive live streamed performance by Pirritu, a Ngiyampaa singer/songwriter known for his soothing acoustic guitar folk.

In lieu of a live performance, there is the online premiere of the documentary Ganbu Gulin: One Mob telling the story of the Council’s decision to cease celebrating 26 January as Australia Day as part of their commitment to the Change the Date movement.

Engaging with a different passion, The Market Record wanted to embrace the diversity of cuisine and culture at Preston Market. Intended as an IRL tour, the event switched to a guided audio tour that cleverly avoids the potential Zoom fatigue of many digital events while also encouraging exercise, Mundy explained.

‘It’s a great way to participate during lockdown, because you are permitted to travel to the Market, as long as you’re following the latest health advice. But this is something that people can do when they go to do their shopping at the Market. And so it’s essentially an opportunity to reflect on food and where it comes from, and what makes Preston Market so special.’

A Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), Mundy – for whom Auslan is her first language – brings her disability awareness to the programming of another event presented under the umbrella of FUSE Digital, the Flow Festival.

Flow showcases Auslan storytelling, Deaf Slam Poetry and children’s art activities all via Zoom.

‘The majority of artists in this program are Deaf,’ Mundy explained, ‘which is not usually the case. You might have one, but in this program we’ll have at least 80 Deaf artists and then the audience will also be large. So I feel very honoured that this is happening under my watch but it’s all being led by Deaf people.’

For Mayor Messina it all relates to the way the festival supports its diverse community.

‘FUSE Digital is committed to finding innovative ways to move beyond the pandemic’s damaging effect on the arts, forging new and positive connections with artists, performers and audiences,’ Messina said.

FUSE Digital will run online from 4-19 September. Bookings and full program details are available now on the FUSE Digital website.

George Dunford is Director of Content at ArtsHub and Screenhub. He has written for Meanjin, The Big Issue, Lonely Planet, The Good Food Guide and others. He has worked in digital leadership roles in the cultural sector for more than 10 years including at the National Library of Australia, National Museum of Australia and the Wheeler Centre. You can follow him on Twitter: @Hack_packer

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