The Australian Arts Scene: A Thriving Hub Of Creativity
By Carol Dance
Australia is 15,000k (9,300 miles) from New York and 17,000k (10,500 miles) from London which may be one reason we’re booming with creativity. That far away, you have to create your own fun. The early settlers wrote plays, wrote folk ballads and painted the fascinating plants and animals never before imagined. Now in 2019 Independent theatre is thriving in the Australian arts scene.
The Australia Chamber Orchestra is reviewed as the best chamber group in the world and international films are shot in the streets of Sydney and the Mad Max-esque outback. The world comes to us to market its performing arts and we market our productions to the world with great success.
Vivid Light Festival. Photo Credit: Srikant Sahoo
So, who are we and how did this happen to someplace that a few decades ago was mainly known for its cuddly animals?
There are four reasons: the distance, immigration, money and sunshine.
After WWII, we had eight million people. Now we have almost twenty five million. The British and continental Europeans came after the war, all eager to re-create the cultures they left behind. They attended the opera, joined the art galleries and after they got a bit of money, became generous art patrons supporting all sorts of institutions and individual artists.
That was all about the ‘European’ arts. Then came a burst of Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese immigrants bringing different and exciting dance, visual arts and music forms. All that required new theatre spaces and galleries, and initiated the now 42-year-old famous Festival of Sydney which takes over our lives in January (that’s summer!) bringing in productions from all over the world. Without our immigrants, Australia might still be watching British TV murder mysteries and going out to see yet another Noel Coward play.
Photo Credit: Fiona Smallwood
Money is another reason. We’re rich. Oh, it’s not because we’re clever… it’s just that we have iron ore, diamonds, and just about every other resource the world needs. We haven’t had an economic slow-down in 30 years. Young people can afford to do arts degrees, invent new lighting equipment, or study acting at our renowned National Institute of Dramatic Arts where Cate Blanchett and Mel Gibson earned degrees. The hundreds of students graduating from acting courses every year mean young people are keen to tread the boards in independent productions that kick start their careers into the Sydney Theatre Company, The Belvoir, La Mama and others. And money means people can afford to go to shows, whether it’s a $50 ticket for a minimalist production by Scene Theatre Sydney or $300 for The Book of Mormon with the Australian cast.
There are also government grants and corporate sponsorships that assist small cultural organisations and individual creatives.
The Australian Aborigines (our 60,000-year-old indigenous population) began the Bangarra Dance Company through sponsorships. Now this amazing company tours the world receiving stunning reviews for its powerful dancing, distinctive theatrical voice and utterly unique soundscapes, music and design. And then there is the prehistoric indigenous rock art, the oldest in the world, all the way up to the present with indigenous artist Lena Nyadbi’s ochre and red-earth painting on the rooftop of the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris.
There are specialist grants for young and buzzy projects like the Sydney’s Art and About, Create NSW (New South Wales), the Kaldor Public Arts Project, the Myer Foundation and dozens of others.
Kaldor Public Arts Project. Photo Credit: SLV Kaldos
Finally, there’s our famous sunshine. Yes, Mad Max and other dystopian visions were filmed in the ‘outback’ but there’s more to Australia than desert. The coasts are temperate, ringed by beaches and inner-ringed by bushland and rainforests. People want to come for the many cultural residencies available, to paint a beach, to tread the boards for a year or so, or to study at NIDA or one of the other drama institutions.
In 2018, the Association of South East Asian Nations held their conference in Adelaide, our Festival city in South Australia. This was the first time the conference was held outside Asia. Individual creatives, cultural organisations, producers and governments came to pitch both their ideas and production-ready shows to Australian producers. I was privileged to have a government grant to attend and met creative people from Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China and the Middle East, all keen to come to Australia. And, of course, we pitch to the world through conferences like The Australian Performing Arts Market.
There is the effective direct-marketing and collaboration system developed over long time periods by the major art galleries and performing arts companies.
The Sydney Art Gallery’s current exhibition Masters of modern art from the Hermitage, presents a magnificent selection of works from the towering figures of modern art drawn from the collections of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Opera Australia’s Syndicate 30 patron program is currently presenting the hugely successful Woyzeck (Alban Berg), a collaboration with William Kentridge.
That’s us. That’s Australian creativity in a very small nutshell. And I haven’t even mentioned Russell Crowe, Hugo Weaving, Heath Ledger, Eric Bana, Hugh Jackman, Toni Collette, and our most famous creative couple – Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. We’re open for business for cultural events from anywhere in the world. We’re open to collaborations from anywhere in the world. We’re keen to sell our plays, dance, art, actors, film locations to the world. The first point of call would be the Australia Council for information about residencies, grants, programs, offerings and, of course, for encouragement! For film, Screen Australia is to ‘go to’ for information, ideas and joint-ventures.
Keep tuned for Carol Dance’s next article: Are Australian plays, art and film different or has the cultural world been Netflixed into one homogeneous bubble? ?
Carol is a Sydney playwright, producer and artist. She has had four full-length plays and 14 short plays produced (Sydney, Malaysia, India). Her published plays are at australianplays.org. Reviews of her latest play are at Kiss of the Gallery Guard
Her artwork is found at Paintings by Carol Dance
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