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Michael Dagostino, Made in Australia exhibition by Jamil Yamani Michael Dagostino, Made in Australia exhibition by Jamil Yamani
courtesy CAC
A very happy Michael Dagostino, Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre, enthuses about the first annual program he feels is really indicative of his vision, constructed, he tells me, with “the new life and energy” brought to the arts centre by Jenn Blake, Head of Program and Production, “who has invigorated the performance program, alongside Visual Arts curator Megan Monte who is setting a really interesting direction around emerging practices. Also, we’ve boosted our residency program quite dramatically.”

Former director Lisa Havilah put Campbelltown Arts Centre on the map, ambitiously engaging the Centre with the local community and state, national and international artists. Dagostino has sustained Havilah’s vision of a vibrant, across-the-arts, inclusive contemporary arts centre (as she has since achieved with Carriageworks) with a commitment to nurturing long-term development of new work, and is now clearly making it his own.

Making work with artists

Michael Dagostino was, he says with a smile, “once upon a time a practising artist but I was always organising exhibitions, either my own or curating shows for friends or writing proposals to galleries. So I slowly transitioned across.” At Casula Powerhouse, another major arts centre in Sydney’s west, he installed shows, became head of exhibitions and did some curating. For Parramatta City Council he established the Parramatta Artists Studios and a small gallery as part of the Creative Cities push. “The biggest thing I took from that experience was being able to assist and to create work with artists. That’s really important for me. I’ve always placed artists at the centre of programs.”

Being the centre

Responding to a not uncommon question about where outer city and regional arts centres see themselves situated, Dagostino thinks it over before responding: “At Campbelltown I guess we perceive ourselves as being on the edge. So we want to offer artists something that they really can’t get anywhere else, especially assisting them to produce new works in the early stages through residencies. We are on a geographical edge but we are creating our own centre. There’s a big perception about Western Sydney that everything is far away but I’ve lived there all my life and I’ve never been far away from anything, because it’s all centred around where I live.”

With a background in visual arts, at CAC Dagostino has had to deal with dance, performance, live art, music: “It’s been a really steep learning curve. It still is. I get out and experience as much as I possibly can across all disciplines and meet as many people as possible. The biggest culture shock was the very different histories and languages that operate. My biggest challenge is linking people from, say, the dance world to the visual arts world, seeing where the differences are—because there are so many similarities— and trying to break them down. But we’re never about creating one homogenous art genre, one big, grey mass of art.”

Investing long-term

At the core of the CAC vision is investment in artists’ projects, taking many from the early stages through realisation, often taking two to three years, especially for performance: “The long gestation period needs to be considered and we actually invest in that time.”

In 2014 CAC is establishing a partnership with Zodiak Center for New Dance in Helsinki, “putting Australian artists in an international platform and exposing them to other contemporary works. We wanted to put artists together just to see what the results were in the first stage and in the next, hopefully profiling them in international platforms or a major Australian festival.”

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Delirious, Serpentine Pavilion, London, summer 2006 Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Delirious, Serpentine Pavilion, London, summer 2006
© the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
The young

Dagostino is particularly keen for CAC to engage with young people in the region: “When I first came to the centre, I didn’t see many young people…mid-teens to 23-24. They weren’t using the arts centre, not engaging with the work. So we’ve put together an exhibition framework, The List, curated by Megan Monte, that asks artists to engage with young people, their issues, their politics, with what’s happening at the moment, to get them to ‘own’ Campbelltown Arts Centre. We’ve engaged 12 artists including Shaun Gladwell. He created a work during C*town Bling (2005) when the Centre first opened and he wants to look at the skateboarding park in that work, how it’s changed, how some kids might still be skating there and talking to them.”

Other artists include Marvin Gaye, previously Spartacus Chetwynd, a London-based visual art/performance artist shortlisted for the 2012 Turner Prize: “Her work is kind of mad and very participatory. The last work she created was a sort of manic mediaeval play. Australian artists Abdul Abdullah and his brother Abdul-Rahman will be working with young local boxers to create a video work that also involves a performance. They’re both amateur boxers as well as being visual artists. Abdul’s work is very much about cultural stereotypes in Australia— the perception of violence in boxing and young male culture.”

Activist artist Zannie Begg will work with young people at Reiby Detention Centre. Abdul will work with kids at the local training centre in Minto. We actually want them participating where they’re most comfortable and then, slowly [bring them to the Centre]… It’s a long-term strategy.”

On the streets where you live

Also staged where people live is the second phase of Temporary Democracies, a live art event set in empty homes in a suburban street undergoing renewal and population change (RT117, p32): “It was a fascinating experience in 2013 for local residents who may not have come into contact with artists and contemporary art. It breaks down barriers. There’s been a lot of support from the local Men’s Shed, building a food van with Robert Guth for Temporary Democracies last year, and now they’ve come on board for another project. In March this year we have a major partnership with the MCA and C3West, the men are assisting on building an amazing sculpture which deals with the retrieval of cars from the Georges River.”

Making music

CAC has long committed itself to contemporary classical music. Dagostino is now adding diversity with Indigenous country musician Roger Knox: “In the first week of his residency he’ll be mentoring young musicians from the emerging Aboriginal country music scene in Western Sydney. In the second week, he’ll be working on his new album. We’re setting up our theatre in a way that is really conducive to recording so people can come in and record a part or a whole new album. Artists work extremely hard for short periods of time to create new work. So we’re really excited to be able to offer these opportunities.” As well, musician and composer Simon Barker will be working with a number of musicians from different cultures on a CAC commissioned new work as part of the Sacred Music Festival. The music commission is annual.”

Dancing partners

As well as the Finnish collaboration mentioned earlier, CAC has invited Daniel Kok (Singapore) and Luke George to remount works by each—an opportunity to see George’s About Face which premiered in Melbourne (see RTonline) “and also one of Daniel’s pole-dancing works—he’s re-positioning pole dancing as a contemporary dance form. And then we’ll commission them to make a new work together for 2015.”

CAC also runs a program with NAISDA “working with local kids to create pathways. We’re investing quite a lot in it this year, taking some of them to NAISDA for a week to see what it’s like to be a student. We’re hoping they’ll eventually create a whole range of new dances that are Campbelltown based.”

The 2014 dance program segues nicely into 2015: “Much of the CAC dance program is focused on the relationship between dance and music, culminating in a major festival for next year called I Can Hear Dancing, which was initiated by the Centre’s former dance curator, Emma Saunders.”

Chiara Guidi, Jeff Stein will produce Jack and the Beanstalk Chiara Guidi, Jeff Stein will produce Jack and the Beanstalk
photo Heidrun Löhr

In the CAC performance program, a major collaboration between Chiara Guidi of Societas Raffaello Sanzio and Jeff Stein will produce Jack and the Beanstalk for children, a co-production with Insite Arts set to premiere at Campbelltown in June. Theatre Kantanka’s Club Singularity enacts the bizarre meeting of a group of people who have strong issues about society and travelling in space: “The Macarthur UFO Society were doing the annual exhibition of their telescopes in the Backspace when Kantanka were here and they just started talking.”

Indigenous performance poet Romaine Moreton is at the centre of 1 Billion Beats, “a performance and installation about the colonial gaze on Aboriginal culture and people, turning it on its head, re-owning the gaze, and asking really tough questions. The next stage of development is in March and we’re hoping to get it up by the start of 2015.”

TV Moore

A major exhibition, Rum Jungle, will feature the works of video artist TV Moore on multiple screens: “His work has such immense power. He’s fascinated with contemporary culture and the way it produces ‘events.’ It’s a major survey show using the whole gallery, featuring existing works and new commissions. Some are in-your-face, others are very quiet: they’re the ones that I keep replaying, that keep me up at night, keep me thinking.”

Campbelltown Arts Centre, NSW, 2014 program,

RealTime issue #119 Feb-March 2014 pg. 12

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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