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BITSCAPE, La Trobe Valley BITSCAPE, La Trobe Valley
photo Ian Corcoran
The EPIC (Emerging Producers in Community) initiative was let loose on the cultural landscape in 2004 developed by multiple departments within Australia Council—the former Audience and Market Development Division (AMD), the Community Cultural Development Board (CCDB), the New Media Arts Board (NMAB) and the Policy Communication Research Division (PCR). Well named, its aims are certainly challenging: professional development for emerging producers, curators and community cultural development workers, creating projects utlising new media art in rural and remote Australia. Oh, and where possible, get the youth involved too. No mean feat for an experienced producer, let alone an emerging one—you have to be 30 or under. The producers undertake internships or mentorships with appropriate arts organisations, and then devise a series of activities or projects to develop within particular regions, frequently extending that organisation’s reach into areas they have not been able to tackle. Nine producers have taken up the challenge so far.

Western Australia is well-suited for the EPIC program with 2 consecutive producers placed at IASKA, and one at Artrage. IASKA (International Art Space Kellerberrin Australia is situated 210kms east of Perth. IASKA has a strong residency program for national and international artists so EPIC producer’s role is to develop engagement between the visiting artists and the community through workshops, projects, education and other access opportunities. The first round placed Felena Alach at the centre in 2004/5, followed by Amanda Alderston. A key project for Alderston so far has been working in conjuction with artist-in-residence Nigel Helyer who created a temporary FM radio station in the main street airing material collected from locals. For this Alderston initiated a youth radio project Midnight Cries—an 18-part mini drama written and produced by local students. In May she will work with WA artist Bennett Miller for the Playing Up program exploring “sport as the means through which young people in rural and remote communities explore and develop personal identity and interpersonal relationships.” She has also managed to secure funding for Zones of Engagement—a large scale project planned for 2006-2007 involving 2 Australian and 2 international artists from the residency program, and research scientists from CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems working “with local youth, land care groups and rural students to research the interaction between natural and human living environments in the Wallatin/O’Brian catchment.” A key to the success of both Alderston’s and Alach’s mentorships is that that their roles are integrally linked to the everyday business of IASKA and there is a continuing community engagement with secession between producers factored in. (www.iaska.com.au)

While Artrage is based in Perth, Ro Alexander’s EPIC project is expanding the organisation’s reach to Geraldton, 440kms north of Perth, and is in partnership with the Geraldton Regional Art Gallery. Since 2005 Alexander has been working on Audiosity, with artists Josh McAuliffe, Tomàs Ford and young people sampling the sounds of the town: “on the streets, down the beach, at the crayfish factory, the wheat silos and in the bush...During workshops the samples have been cut, stretched, affected, re pitched and rearranged into a range of rhythmic and ambient loops, as well as full sound works.” The results have 2 manifestations, one an interactive sculptural instrument designed by McAuliffe, programmed by Chris McCormick exhibited in the gallery until June 9; and online at NOISE as an interactive sequencer from June 10 until 2008. It will also be shown later in the year in Perth during the Northbridge Festival. Meanwhile Alexander is continuing to work as an associate producer at Artrage. (www.artrage.com.au)

Across in South Australia, Sasha Grbich has joined with ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology) to develop the pixel.play project. Working in Whyalla (396km northwest of Adelaide) and Port Lincoln (646km northwest) Grbich will facilitate intensive workshops for young artists to develop creative content for mobile phones. The outcome will include exhibitions within the regional communities and in Adelaide at the Come Out Festival in 2007. Due to the emergent nature of mobile phone art, Grbich found that no SA-based artists felt suitably skilled in this area so before going into the communities she actually had to set up train-the-trainer workshops led by with the UK group the-phone-book.ltd in December 2005. Workshops in the communities are set to kick off in July this year. Already looking ahead, she is also trying to secure funding for the sequel, portable worlds, “an extensive regional touring exhibition and skills development program engaging mobile and wireless projects.” (www.anat.org.au)

Queensland’s EPIC producer is Thea Bauman. Mentored by MAAP (Multimedia Art Asia Pacific) and with a key partnership with Queensland State Library she is developing Manhua Video Wonderland. Drawing inspiration from graphic novels, gaming, gamics and fan fiction, Bauman will be co-ordinating mobile workshops in video and animation in venues such as hybrid noodle bars, manga cafes and LAN/gaming arcades. The resulting screen and web works will be distributed via MAAP, (Youth Internet Radio Network) and various other media-based festivals, with the potential for other education-based outcomes. (www.maap.org.au)

Pip Shea has recently finished her EPIC internship with Next Wave facilitating BITSCAPE—a program of events across 3 regional areas: the Macedon Ranges, the La Trobe Valley in Victoria and Wagga Wagga in NSW. She says: “We tried to keep the workshop program flexible as conditions, access and skill levels varied from group to group. The workshops explored animation, blogging, digital audio, digital video, stencilling and image making.” Each region had a slightly different final outcome; in the Latrobe Valley, work by Koorie students of the Woolum Bellum Campus were projected onto the TRUenergy power station; in Wagga Wagga, works were projected on to the Civic Theatre; and in the Macedon Ranges the creations were used as projections for a live theatre performance. Components from all regions were also brought together in an exhibition at Experimedia at the State Library of Victoria, during the Next Wave festival. An impressive website also documents the elements allowing the communities to see their contributions to the combined project. (www.nextwave.org.au/bitscape/)

Interestingly, part of Shea’s team was Ian Corcoran, one of the first round of EPIC producers, working with Experimenta in 2004/5 in Warnambool which involved training local artists in new media practices so that this skills base developed in the region. Corcoran is continuing to work in this area producing projects for Artrage (see RT 70, p12) and Liquid Aesthetics for the Midsumma Festival (RT72, p26).

Sara Boniwell has also finished her time as EPIC producer. Boniwell, mentored by 24HR art (Darwin), developed a partnership with the Deadly Mob (Alice Springs) to work further on the Youth Out Bush Project, conducting workhops in sound and video and touring media-based works around remote Indigenous communities in Central Australia. (www.24hrart.org.au, www.deadlymob.org) Daniel Flood from Victoria is just finishing up the DIGITAL GRAFFITI through Franskton Arts Centre on, running skills-based workshops with at-risk youth in the area with an extended exhibition outcome at the Glass Studio.

And in NSW... well. Besides Pip Shea’s slip across the boder to Wagga Wagga, there hasn’t been a NSW EPIC producer. Electrofringe/ Octapod was approach for the first round when I was one of the directors however the mentor model that the initiative proposed just didn’t work for us. Octapod was run by volunteers and the directors of EF receive honoraria so the idea of a paid mentee created an imbalance. Also the EPIC initiative required that the producer extend the current program, and once again, this seemed beyond the current organisation’s capacity. However as Octapod has undergone considerable infrastructure change over the last 2 years, EPIC may sit better within the cultural ecology now. The fact that no other organisation has either been interested or successful does raise questions as to whether the model can be adapted to fit different situations.

In October 2005 all the producers came together in Perth as part of Artrage for a Think Tank in order do a running assessment of the initiative. I was invited as a guest to share my experiences with Electrofringe in 2003/4 and perhaps offer a NSW perspective. By this stage 3 of the producers had just finished their projects so it provided a valuable exchange of handy tips and inspirational experiences. The most pressing issues that arose were (as in all areas of the arts) the matter of raising enough funding. All of the projects augment the established programs of their hosts, and as these are often key organisations there are restrictions on seeking funding from the same artform board. Thus producers have to investigate state and local government options, as well as health, education, philanthropic and other non arts-based options. But as Marshall Heald from Noise (also a guest speaker at the Think Tank) stated, that’s the job of being a producer, securing the cash. The other issue is that none of the mentor organisations besides IASKA are based in the regions. Not only does this mean a lot of travel time and expense, but perhaps more importantly, the producers are always coming in from the outside, trying to quickly gauge the temper of a community, find the right access points and gain trust. This is also problematic for sustaining relations with communities. Also raised, was the problem that some of the mentor organisations did not have prior CCD experience or focus, so that the producers really are forging new, and frequently tricky territory less supported than they had assumed. Of course some of issues can be ameliorated if key partnerships are formed in the regional areas. Discussion also revealed that perhaps one year was actually not long enough to develop the projects, particularly within the cycle of funding deadlines. Overall, the producers have found (or are finding) the experience to be incredibly rewarding. Those who have finished are continuing to work in the area either freelance or in continuing relationships with their host organisation.

So in the ever-shifting landscape of new media funding is this an ongoing initiative? According to Nina Stromqvist, the EPIC project manager for the Inter Arts Office, the Australia Council is pleased with the progress and will be announcing 4 new producers and organisations for 2006-2007 very soon. A welcome sign of support for community cultural development and new media arts.


For more information on EPIC www.ozco.gov.au/arts_in_australia/projects/projects_new_media_arts/emerging_producers_in_community_-_epic/

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 9

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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