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Matt Huynh, from Komala Singh’s All Draw Same anthology Matt Huynh, from Komala Singh’s All Draw Same anthology
courtesy the artist
WHILE THE RESOURCES BOOM APPEARS TO BE FEEDING AN ARTS RESURGENCE IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA, AN EQUALLY SIGNIFICANT ARTISTIC BOOM SEEMS TO BE REACHING CRITICAL MASS ACROSS WESTERN SYDNEY. WITH THE EMERGENCE OF A DIVERSE RANGE OF NEW AND REVITALISED SPACES, NEW COLLABORATIONS, AND EXCITING VISIONS, COULD WE BE WITNESSING THE RISE OF WESTERN SYDNEY AS A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE NATIONAL ARTS SCENE?

parramatta riverside’s 20 years

One of the great success stories of the arts in Western Sydney has been Parramatta Riverside Theatres, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in February. I remember performing there as a very young aspiring artist shortly after its opening in 1988, but much has changed since then, and now Riverside is a key player in the flourishing cultural life of Parramatta. For Artistic Director Robert Love, Riverside’s growth over his tenure since 2000 has been driven by building culture and economy around the theatre complex itself, developing a sense of value from the communities that call Parramatta home. Bluntly put, this entails attempts at “unleashing the spending power of Western Sydney” by “finding things that people want to attend—local stories, national stories, works that are eclectic but have artistic integrity.”

Clearly part of the challenge of running such a venue is to build and maintain diverse audiences, and as such Riverside’s programming caters broadly. Under Love’s stewardship Riverside has engaged in a wide range of collaborations and initiatives with local artists working in contemporary artforms, including performance poetry, hip-hop and a strong contemporary dance program. Riverside has been the home to Western Sydney Dance Action since 2000 and, currently, Riverside is one of the commissioning partners on Stalker’s Mirror Mirror, a collaboration between company co-director David Clarkson and dancer-choreographer Dean Walsh that will premiere in early 2009. As well as a special concert to mark the 20th anniversary, upcoming theatre works on Riverside’s program include All the Blood and All the Water, a commissioned work by Suzie Miller, and Adelaide playwright Caleb Lewis’ Men, Love and the Monkey Boy. Both of these works were developed through Riverside’s in-house script development program Breakout, itself celebrating two years of operation.

casula powerhouse renewed

After a $13.26 million refurbishment, Casula Powerhouse will re-open to the public on April 5, launching a program that promises an exciting mix of visual arts, performance and theatre. The redeveloped facility features seven galleries, including a climate-controlled exhibition space that will enable Powerhouse to access works from major state galleries for the first time. Other features include artist studios that allow for residencies and commissions, as well as a brand new 328-seat theatre. Artistic Director Nicholas Tsoutas is understandably excited about the project: “It’s a major initiative that will be of enormous benefit to southwest Sydney, providing a challenging diet of contemporary arts.” Tsoutas promises that the program to be launched at the opening will be “ambitious, entertaining and provocative”, effectively straddling “experimental forms, comedy and theatre.” To make it all work, Tsoutas has assembled a dynamic team, including former B Sharp Artistic Director Lyn Wallis who will curate the theatre program.

The refurbishment certainly promises bang for buck, and audiences will be encouraged to cross between artforms as they traverse the interlinking spaces within the building. In Tsoutas’ view, “the interactive nature of the geography allows people to have multiple experiences”, a diversity of aesthetics that perhaps mirrors the heterogeneous identities and cultural diversity of the Liverpool area. Tsoutas stresses that Liverpool City Council has been tireless in its support of the refurbishment, is critically aware that it is “culturally responsible to generate cultural opportunities” and has allocated “a generous budget” to support Powerhouse’s artistic programs. For Tsoutas, partnerships are crucial to Powerhouse, not only with the Council but also with artists, other arts organisations and the diverse communities of the area.

For Tsoutas, the Powerhouse team is not only moving into a wonderful facility, but will also occupy a unique position from which to pose challenges to “rethink the map of multiculturalism” in contemporary Australia. As he observes, “the 11-year Howard agenda was clearly not in sync with Liverpool’s reality” and, reflecting this, his first major exhibition, Australian, will contest and challenge the notion of identity in a changing national culture.

ice/proboscis: lattice

In February and March this year, cultural development of a different scale played out elsewhere in the west. Facilitated by Granville-based ICE (Information and Cultural Exchange), Lattice: Collaborative Anarchaeologies of the City saw artists Alice Angus and Orlagh Woods from UK group Proboscis working with an interdisciplinary group of 15 emerging Western Sydney artists “to develop new methods of sharing knowledge and creativity” in order to re-imagine the possibilities of suburban space and cultures. The first stage of the project, a three-week laboratory workshop, has just been completed.

For participant Matt Huynh, a comic book artist, Lattice was about “igniting ideas about how to use the local area and its communities differently”, to adapt and transform suburban areas through creative intervention, using art to add value and change perceptions. But the core benefit of the workshop for Huynh was “being exposed to a range of artists from the local area and from a range of disciplines—breaking down isolation and finding synergies.” While Huynh envisages that potential outcomes of Lattice will most likely be initiated by the participants themselves, ICE wants to maintain the creative dialogues that Lattice has established, and to nurture these emerging interdisciplinary collaborations.

c3 west: panthers meets mca

A very different scale of value-adding through creative intervention presented itself in C3 West, launched in mid March, on the surface an unlikely collaboration between Penrith Panthers Rugby League Club, the Museum of Contemporary Art and additional partners Casula Powerhouse, Penrith Regional Gallery, The Lewers Bequest, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Panthers’ World of Entertainment. The three C’s of the title give some indication of the project’s approach: community, culture and commerce. In the words of comedian HG Nelson at the launch atop Penrith’s CUA Stadium, C3 West sees “Rugby League and Art in bed together, and we’ll see what pops up in 18 months time!”

According to MCA Director Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, “artists have a much wider role to play than simply delivering art to galleries.” For her, C3 West promises collaboration rather than patronage as a mode of corporate sponsorship of the arts, with the emphasis on ways in which artists might “inject creative thinking into businesses, rather than on the creation of conventional artworks.”

Max Cowan, Marketing Manager of Panthers, agrees: “The traditional relationship between business and art is one of patronage. This is not that. Panthers is not buying or commissioning any artworks or installations. Artworks will emerge, but the focus is on commercial outcomes for Panthers’ business. Panthers’ business is based in the community, and if this business is profitable, this has positive community outcomes.” In Cowan’s view, some of the quality of the club’s community engagement has been lost, and “needs to be re-found.” Enter the artist as corporate community saviour.

Will a marriage of art and Rugby League really be able to achieve such an outcome? No one is really too sure, and each of the speakers at the launch noted that the project was a grand experiment that may well fail. But the project certainly has enlisted a group of fascinating artists for its first 18 months of operation. Brisbane-based Craig Walsh promises photographic portraits of fans and players that capture the “intense emotional responses to the outcome of the game”; Western Sydney-based Regina Walter will present a “theatrical light spectacular for the stadium, creating a series of black panther sightings”; and French artist Sylvie Blocher has proposed a series of creative interventions into and modifications of the Playrooms of Panthers’ World of Entertainment involving lighting, interior and landscape designers. Each of these projects will be developed in-residence at Panthers over the next two Rugby League seasons.

With a fantastically diverse range of initiatives occurring over a broad sweep of suburbs (add the extensive Campbelltown and Blacktown Arts Centres’ programs already under way), it’s clear that the arts in western Sydney are indeed ready to kick off into the major league.


Parramatta Riverside
www.riversidetheatre.com.au;
ICE/Proboscis’ Lattice
sydney.latticeproject.net;
Casula Powerhouse
www.casulapowerhouse.com

RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. 15

© David Williams; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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