Kalgoorlie–Boulder is getting ready to welcome arts practitioners, politicians and policy makers from around Australia for the Regional Arts Australia annual summit, to be held from 16 to 19 October.It will be opened by federal Minister for the Arts, the Hon. Senator George Brandis, and WA State Minister for the Arts, the Hon. John Day.
The Summit will present edgy theatre, dance, music, visual arts, writing, film and digital media, showcasing our vibrant cultures in regional Australia.
One of the keynote speakers is Lindy Hume, Artistic Director at Opera Queensland, who is a passionate advocate for regional arts.
She is currently Chair of South East Arts and serves on the Board of Regional Arts NSW.
Ms Hume recently spoke at an event at Canberra’s Parliament House, attended by Senator Brandis, as well as other senior government and opposition figures, about the growing traction of creative participation in regional Australia.
‘Creative participation has risen among regional Australians from 39 per cent in 2009 to 49 per cent in 2013—that’s 2 per cent more than those living in cities’, she said.
‘So, what’s going on in regional Australian arts?
‘Those stats indicate a powerful commitment to creative participation—and yet regional Australians have fewer opportunities to attend and participate in the arts than their metro cousins.’
She said it seemed that we’re approaching something of a regional/metro tipping point—which had certainly been Opera Queensland’s experience with Project Puccini.
Project Puccini was a six-month exercise in auditioning adults and children to sing and act alongside OperaQ's principal artists and Queensland Symphony Orchestra musicians for a regional tour ofLa bohème in August and September this year.
The Project Puccini team travelled more than 21,000 kilometres from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, Toowoomba, Ipswich, Fraser Coast, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Mount Isa.
‘Now, globally, opera is going through some difficult times’, Ms Hume said, ‘but with this project, we comfortably doubled our box office compared to our last tour, and sold 2000 more tickets toLa bohème in regional Queensland than we did in Brisbane.
‘This not only opens the door to a potential new business model for OperaQ but also untapped creative adventures and new audiences, where those communities feel more of a sense of ownership.’
She said everywhere the Project Puccini team went, local choruses ‘absolutely blew us away with their discipline and preparedness’.
‘Act 2 of La Boheme is short but it is one of the most complex chorus scenes in the repertoire—and these guys were singing with some of Australia’s finest singers and finest musicians.
They were in tune, in time, in Italian—and their enthusiasm absolutely exploded off the stage.
‘So there goes that old-school argument that participation in community arts is not about excellence—well, it is, in Toowoomba and Mackay.’
She asked what the implications of this surge in creative participation were for the major performing arts community and for Australia’s elected representatives of these regional communities.
As she said, for all the major companies, these days it’s much more than just fly in/fly out touring.
Regional communities crave genuine collaboration with Australia’s major performing arts companies.
‘They want us to share our excellence and skills, not just show them.
‘And it’s part of our leadership role to share our resources in this way.
‘Our MPA status empowers us to empower others. As the lines that separate elite and community arts continue to blur, we are reimagining the metro-centricity of the national cultural landscape.
‘Our recent experiences have changed the way we imagine the future of opera in Queensland and beyond our borders.’
She said she was inspired by other major performing arts companies leading the way, like Bangarra whose residencies in remote Australia and their cultural exchange program with elders in traditional Indigenous communities are at the very core of that company’s creative work.
‘Other MPA companies like Bell Shakespeare and Circus Oz, to name just two, have been working in regional, remote and at risk communities for decades.’
She addressed the MPs and senators reiterating that they could be sure ‘the MPA companies are connecting with your constituents and making a lasting impact—not only with performances that stir the heart, spirit and mind, but with a legacy of cultural infrastructure that’s greatly valued by your communities’.
She not only pointed to the soft infrastructure that a healthy creative life helps develop—that is, the ideas, the networks, the conceptual frameworks that give shape, direction and confidence in community planning.
But she pointed out the MPA companies can help provide hard cultural infrastructure too—jobs, for a start.
‘Four of our regional community choristers have just sung their first professional gig. We signed them up straight away for our recent co-production with Brisbane Festival of Philip Glass’sThe Perfect American.’
‘While we’re on tour, we share high level training, performance skills, industry knowledge and contacts, professional development, technical, creative and leadership skills with eight local chorus directors and coordinators.
‘Our backstage crew guided local teams in the use of our state of the art digital animation and lighting technology.
‘QSO musicians and the conductor, Guy Noble, gave workshops, and our singers gave voice lessons.
‘We built eight fantastic new Queensland choirs and we know this is just the beginning.’
She said these culturally ambitious communities are full of great ideas for collaborations with our major performing arts companies, both face-to-face and with digital technologies.
‘The potential is as limitless as our beautiful Australian landscape.
‘So by supporting government investment in Australia’s major performing arts companies, you are delivering real value to regional Australia.
‘Australia’s major performing arts companies are making connections in Biloela as well as Brisbane, in Mudgee as well as Melbourne, in Port Hedland as well as Perth, and putting community activity at the very heart of what we do.’