Artists' Q and A

Kate Grenville

Lyn Williams OAM

Stephen Page

Madeleine Flynn

Susan Cohn

Rosemary Myers

Steve Mayer-Miller

Ali Kadhim

Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature – Kate Grenville Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
It’s a great honour to be recognised in this way and to be in the company of such outstanding artists.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve just published a book about fragrance and the health problems it causes for one in three people: The Case Against Fragrance. Next project will be a novel about early Australia.

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
Don’t worry about trying to shape a career: do what you love, and satisfaction will follow. 

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
I’m inspired by Australia’s landscape and stories. Our shadowed past is a particular impetus – and how that plays out in the present.

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
I start with a question – something I don’t understand. I research and read and spend time on the places where the story happens, and explore my way into the subject by writing about it.

Throughout your writing(specifically The Lieutenant), you’ve explored people’s capacity to bridge cultural/language divides and come to terms with feelings of difference. What role do you think arts & culture (specifically literature) play in that bridging process?
Literature can be our doorway into understanding other people, other cultures and other times. Through literature we can respond to the qualities we share and understand, as well as coming to respect strangeness and difference. The power of a story is to let us put aside what we think we know, and allow ourselves to imagine our way into some other way of being. 


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Don Banks Music Award – Lyn Williams OAM Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I feel very honoured, not to mention thrilled and surprised to receive this award. I hope that it is a recognition of the artistic capacity of young choirs. For this reason I would like to pay tribute to all and my colleagues around the country who work with children’s choirs at a high level.

What are you currently working on?
I am currently preparing for two international tours. The first is a unique collaboration between the Cairns Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. The Cairns choir will soon travel to Vienna and later in the year the Vienna Boys’ Choir will perform with us in Sydney and Cairns. What happens when you juxtapose the oldest continuous culture on earth with a choir more than 600 years old?
In July, I will tour to the Baltic countries and Iceland with Gondwana Voices, our national treble choir.
Meanwhile we have recently completed our national Choral School with 325 young singers, composers and conductors from around the country; Sydney Children’s Choir is in full swing; our three Indigenous Choir hubs are up and running for the year and we are providing the children’s chorus to Opera Australia for two productions in the season. 

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
To rejoice in every new creative idea and all the challenges which accompany each new project. Having said that, I’m not sure I would do anything too differently.

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
I am not sure that there is one particular source of inspiration. Creatively I feel like all the threads of my life come together in the creation of new ideas. I am inspired by the young singer/artists I work with, the boundless capacity of young brains, by the great musicians, composers and creative minds I have collaborated with, by the Indigenous artists, traditional owners, and cultural custodians I have had the privilege to learn from, by the dedicated administrative staff of Gondwana Choirs, and all the remarkable volunteers always willing to make things happen.

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
A new project will germinate in my mind, sometimes in minutes, sometimes over some days or even months, then as I walk into the office, my “new idea eyes” will be a dead giveaway. Ideas will be discussed and many approaches, implications, budgets and benefits will be considered. I welcome suggestions from all involved and when working with young people I consider it essential to involve them in the creative process as far as practicable.

Why is it important to engage children and young people in the arts? What are some recurring challenges that are characteristic of that process and how do you suggest people overcome them?
Participation in the arts is clearly essential for all young people. Children are driven by imagination and creativity, this is how they find their identity and their place in the world. Through the arts they can express this in the most powerful way.
Children’s choirs certainly contribute to the development of the child, but I would say they are also a unique gift to the world. Young voices are as remarkable and beautiful as they are transient.
They are not simply children practicing to be good adult choirs, but artists able to perform at a professional level within an ensemble that is as valid as, say, a string quartet.
The greatest challenge (and joy) is that, no sooner have you created a great ensemble that it vanishes and the process starts anew.

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Australia Council Dance Award – Stephen Page Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I am always so humbled when recognised for my creative professional being and I truly believe I have one of the most fortunate and privileged position in our arts industry. This prestigious award reaffirms the importance of our culture and our dance stories. Thank you must go to all the incredible artists who have worked by my side over the years - my brothers, my Bangarra family who are with me every day in the studio, and the many cultural consultants we have collaborated with along the way. 

What are you currently working on?
We’re currently working on Bennelong, a full-length work that explores the life of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora from the Port Jackson area in Sydney. With extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy, Bennelong led his community to survive a clash of cultures, and left a legacy that reverberates through contemporary life. The work will premiere in June at the Sydney Opera House. 

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
Stay curious in your hunger for cultural understanding. Be open to all experiences. Don’t underestimate traditional family values and respect for elders –always look, learn and listen, they are the keepers of all wisdom. This connection will keep you grounded and strong. 

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
Preserving culture, preserving knowledge and maintaining the integrity of our traditions. Family gatherings in my younger years were spent with cousins that came off Country, and they were all great storytellers. I knew straight away that I wanted to be in the arts because my family were great storytellers: we always celebrated our culture at home through music, dance and song. These experiences gave me strength, power, values and the principles that ground work I create today. 
My brother David was also a huge inspiration – the memories of watching him as a young pop star still stir the creative fire in me today. David introduced me to the great joy of performing and its power to influence and educate. 

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
I want to create stories that empower who we are as people. When you know you have a responsibility in the performing arts to caretake traditional stories that are entrusted to you, your process must be mindful and collaborative. There is a unique balance needed when converging contemporary expression with traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories- the integrity of the story must be maintained, while also generating a connection with wide audience. Our works have an intimate lifecycle that evolve over years. Pieces of the puzzle are gathered from the land, communities, elders and our dancers: the heart and soul of my work. There are also a diverse number of clans of Indigenous people who have supported and nurtured Bangarra’s ideas, concepts and vision over the years.

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Australia Council Emerging & Experimental Arts Award - Madeleine Flynn Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
For me, this award is an extraordinary marking of public value in a private act. When I found out I had been given this award, I burst into tears. Tears of gratitude, tears of relief. Tears of surprise. Awards in life are rare beasts: and make me think about all the people who have got me to here-artists, family, peers, people and audiences who have brought their attention/expertise to art. As partners in life and art, Tim and I take risks together. This awards gives a moment for us to celebrate this. It also means we can fix the roof which is suffering with climate change related water management issues.

What are you currently working on?
Three month time frame…
Presenting... Between 8 and 9: new work with CMO and Sichuan Conservatory for AsiaTOPA
Acoustic Life of Sheds with Big Hart, Ten Days on the Island
The megaphone project at The Substation
Five Short Blasts Shoreham for Brighton Festival UK
New work for Theatre der Welt, Hamburg (program not released yet…)
Weekly Ticket, the artist at the station.
Developing…
New work with Korean collaborators at ArtsHouse/Playking...The Man who walks to the Sea
New work with Jodee Mundy, Jen Hector and Rhian Hinkley,
Bang, Crunch, Shriek, Whimper: the sound of existential risk. Live Umbrella Finland and the Scott
Polar Research Institute...
And other developments which cannot yet be revealed!
Parenting a young person in Year 12, last year of school.

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
While I don’t think of art as a career, I do think of art as an unfolding act.
And to my teenage self I say: Compliance is not necessary. And again, compliance is not necessary.
That strange bit is the bit that will help you flourish. Don’t be afraid of it.
To my younger adult self I say: You know those senses of things you have? You can bring them in to being.
What I know now: Art is made by teams of people, creating temporary communities. Your activist self, and art self can be entwined. Experimental arts practice is an international ecology, with an urgent task, whose time is now.

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?

I am a voracious reader, as a child it was a refuge, as an adult it is both a refuge and a way to climb mountains. As a child growing up in regional Australia in the 70s, I was both desperately eager for the world beyond me, and intimately bound to my physical place. These tensions generated energy for me, and have continued to. I have had a series of teachers/collaborative relationships with artists and other people in other industries that provoke me to consider possible and impossible changes. My partnership with Tim Humphrey is both private and public, and I am deeply grateful for this and our three children.

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?

Each work has a trajectory of oppositions- imaginative flashes, and muddy trudges. And each work has its own particular set of processes that emerge as the form develops, so this is a difficult question to answer. Generally, the development of ideas into form requires trust, invitation, site, other minds, quiet time, loud time, stumbles, mistakes, all held on a substrata of risk. Which floats above the ground. Possibly this is a description of impractical process.

The projects you’ve worked on feature such a rich array of collaborators including older people and people who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Why is diversity essential in experimental art forms? What sort of impact have you seen diversity have on the growth/strength/health of experimental arts?

As an artist concerned with the experiment of listening, I am continually asking myself two questions. Who is not heard, and what I have not heard yet? These questions directly address considerations of who is there, and what are we doing together. By definition these questions bring into arts’ orbit considerations of form, comrades, collaborators, and culture. The experimental act in art is a hopeful one, one that continually pushes at the limits of what is possible and for who. Diversity needs to be embodied in the experimental act. Diversity of thought, of form, of body, of sense, of culture. I feel in experimental art we are making the future, and I want that future to be as expansive, generous, strange, thoughtful and radical as possible.

Image credit: Pier Carthew

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Australia Council Visual Arts Award – Susan Cohn Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I am thrilled and honoured! Artists work hard to get recognition for their work. This award coming from the Australia Council for the Arts is a powerful acknowledgement that goes beyond the support of friends and colleagues, my gallery director, and the range of public galleries and private collectors that collect my work and help keep me going.

What are you currently working on?
I am working on my next exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery for September this year.
I am also developing an international project about the meaning in jewellery with David Pledger, artist and director which will take me to Copenhagen later this year. And I am in the process of resolving the next stage of the Golden Record into outer space project with artist, Willoh S Weiland

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
Don't get downhearted when things don’t go as you might wish, just maintain your belief in yourself and the work you make – keep on keeping on creating.

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
Colleagues around the world who do great work. Going to galleries and events whenever I can to see what’s happening.I also have always had great admiration for the late Louise Bourgeois who, despite ongoing negative reaction to her work she persisted in making work to a great old age – I’d like to do the same. 

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
In practical terms my ideas arrive out of ‘life’ experiences – the political environment the world is experiencing and its often terrible impacts affect my thinking continuously.

Image credit: Keira Leike

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Australia Council Theatre Award – Rosemary Myers Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I feel enormously proud and also humbled especially when I think about the breadth of amazing theatre artists across this country. Because the award recognises sustained contribution it prompts many memories so I am experiencing some happy nostalgia.

What are you currently working on?
At Windmill we have lots on the go. Right at his moment I am working with Matthew Whittet and Jonathon Oxlade on the film adaptation of our play School Dance, and we are also in the early stages of developing a new theatre work. Later in the year I am very excited to be directing Atlantis, a new play by Lally Katz, for Belvoir. 

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self? 
Never apologise for being ambitious.

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
I like to generate some content and then play with ideas on the floor very early in the development. For me the theatre can’t exist purely on the page, it has to be embodied. This way the work itself can start to lead you. It is a back and forward balance between craft and pure imagination. 

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work
So many artists inspire me from Bjork to Spike Jonze. The greatest influence on my younger self was David Bowie. When I was growing up, he powerfully represented a world view and way of being so beyond my own suburban experience, it truly blew my mind. The most direct influence on my own work has been my artistic collaborators. For me the exhilaration of making theatre is seeing the ideas ideas grow and evolve in the creative dialogue. I collaborate with some awesomely inventive people.
I also have two very lovely and talented sons. Our shared passion is the performing arts. Deep down, I know they think I’m funny even if they are too cool to show it.

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Ros Bower Award (Community Arts and Cultural Development) – Steve Mayer-Miller Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I was really moved. In community arts and cultural development you spend a lot of energy behind the scenes developing the capacity of others to step into the spotlight. So this kind of national recognition particularly from my peers put a big smile on my face. I am deeply honoured . The award also made me reflect on all of those wonderful people from so many different communities particularly on the margins who have supported me for over 35 years. I think it will also put a smile on their face. And finally to the many young people who I have mentored over the years, I hope this award will inspire them to continue in their practice of community arts and cultural development.

What are you currently working on?
Last night I was in the middle of editing a short film called 'When Brenden met Hiroe' . It tells the story of a photographer who is deaf/blind from Mackay who wants to meet up with a photographer who is blind from Japan. I've just discovered the joy and challenges involved in creating audio descriptions of film for a blind audience.
Next week we begin our creative development on the 'Meetings with Remarkable People' cross cultural theatre project which explores stories from the elderly residents of Leper colonies on Oshima Island in Japan and Fantome Island in Queensland
At the end of this month I return again to Oshima Island in Japan to continue talking with the residents about their lives.
I'm currently writing a book that will be launched in June to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Crossroad Arts.
Our core work of making arts accessible to people with a disability will continue in Mackay with our multi art workshop program.
In Western Queensland we will continue our programs with aged care centres and hospitals in Longreach and Winton.
In August I will be working on developing more cross cultural CACD programs between Australia and Japan particularly in the lead up to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

What is the best piece of career advice you would give to your younger self?
I've always though of it as more than just a career. Ladders and 5 year plans kept perpetually collapsing under me. But of course I guess 35 years in this profession tells others that I am at least persistent.
It's been more like a garden than a series of ladders - one plant at a time between weeding.
Strategic plans are all well and good but at the end of the day you need to keep your eyes on what is around you in the moment. It still comes down to working with people and their circumstances, their hopes and dreams . And there is no blueprint plan for that. Listening is perhaps your greatest skill.
So young Steve, remain genuine and keep working in the moment, but always keep your eye on what happens after the curtain comes down. You may have believed once that the experience of being in the production was going to change people's lives forever. People go back to their homes and their families and they've got to get up the next morning and look for a job and deal with people who treat them differently because of their race, gender, religion or disability. But never forget that art is powerful and it can plant a seed. And it can inspire enough people to question and take that next step, and help build change, no matter how small it may feel at the time.

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
The simple moments of working in a bare space and watching someone, who does not regard themselves as an artist, create something new...something that was not there yesterday... a newspaper is shaped into a puppet and the person tells you a story from their life. ".....when my mother forgot to pick me up from the railway station." Conjuring something out of seemingly nothing is a kind of magic that still gives me goosebumps.

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
Until I walk into a room and meet the people I'm working with I'm never really sure of where to start. Often it does not start with ideas or talking. I bring balls, rope, paper, anything that we can play with. And it's out of that sense of play, that ideas, and relationships begin to form and you are creating a kind of small society. Often I'm working in environments where the English spoken language is not used. Recently in Japan I facilitated a workshop in photography for blind people. The day before I went to the markets to buy fruit, vegetables and flowers. The first hour of that workshop was spent using all our sensory devices, except our eyes, to explore the world around us. Out of that exercise came stories that were profound...one man took his shoe off and smelt the leather. He then shared with us his memory of the day he went blind. He remembered the colour of that shoe as one of his last recollections before he went blind. Halfway through some of these workshops I have my heart in my mouth, not sure of where we are heading and my plans can often change in response to the interactions with the participants. Luck comes into it.
Nikon gave us 10 SLR's for the day and Konica Minolta provided their staff, 3D printers and workshop space. An exhibition of 30 photographs and 2 films occurred a month later in Sendai.

Thinking of some of Crossroad Arts projects could you talk a little about how the richness and quality of artistic content is improved by inclusivity and diversity - by building/making art with the community as well as for the community.Letters on Gordon Street was a play we developed last year with seniors in aged care centres and people from the disability community.
One of the stories centred on the correspondence in 1967 between a 20 year old conscript soldier on duty in Vietnam and his 17 year old girlfriend in Brisbane Australia. The letters were very personal. As the audience walked into the small intimate 50 seat auditorium, an 86 year old gentlemen was priming a large canvas with a blue wash. Seated next to him was a young painter called Mathew Deane. Mathew has Down Syndrome. The performers with a range of disabilities came onto the stage completed a warm up and the story began. When the play had finished the painting was complete. The 70 year old Vietnam ex-conscript got up from his seat in the audience and walked over to throw his arms around his son who had acted and danced moments in his mother and father's life.
During that hour something had happened in the audience that changed them. It had little to do with sophisticated lighting, comfortable seats or professionally trained actors. Something that they had witnessed together that was so private and intimate now became part of the shared moment. This was a performance sprig from their community that was genuine and it drew the audience into a heightened sense of awareness of other people's lives and the ambiguities of what it is to be human and what it is to be alive. It was raw theatre.
The audience stayed back in the foyer for a long time. People who had never met before were speaking to each other.
But we also took this piece of rich art to another level. After the 'curtain' had come down the audience were given an opportunity to write their own letters to the people in those aged care centres, who had inspired the play. The next day one of our artists travelled to two of the aged care centres and delivered over 40 letters to each of the rooms, with a flower accompanying each letter.
I had peek at some of them. Audience members were exchanging phone numbers and offering to visit these people, who they had never met before. In a world where today we are increasingly being told to be suspicious of strangers and people who are different from us, this moment of action reaffirmed Ros Bowers unwavering belief in cultural democracy and that art should be accessible by everyone.

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Kirk Robson Award (Community Arts and Cultural Development) - Ali Kadhim Q&A

What does winning the award mean to you?
I was very surprised to receive it, it's a blessing and I'm grateful, especially to the beautiful people who nominated me. There are so many people doing amazing work in the community, we don't do it for recognition, but of course recognition like this is such an honour. With or without this award I'd still be doing the same things.

What are you currently working on?
At the moment just a lot of training and learning in both movement and film. I've been coaching screen fighting and parkour to some NIDA actors for the past couple of years, great students. And also just making short videos to motivate people to go outside to play again. I say again because we all used to go outside to play but then something happened along the way.
In that regard I'm trying to connect with city councils to get them to recognise the growing need for quality outdoor fitness parks and movement playgrounds, there's an explosion of interest happening here and around the world and for some reason our councils are ignoring it. We have the solutions and ideas of the kinds of parks that are needed, parks that'll be accessible for people of all ages, all fitness levels, all movement styles, to use for free day or night. Parks that are challenging enough to make people want to come back to progress and learn more. There's so much space and money wasted on park models that have poor and limited success but for some reason are still being built. Adults can't use slides and kids outgrow them, then kids lose interest in playing completely and then wonder why they lack physical coordination when they're older. Kids slides of course have their place and are important, but if we don't create the proper spaces for everyone else to play, train, learn, then where can the rest go? Parks also bring people and communities together, a healthy community is a strong community. We're trying to keep that interest in play alive, it's one way to keep everyone feeling strong, happy, healthy, for today and for many generations to come, we're sure of it.

What is the best piece of career advice you would give your younger self?
Work on yourself everyday and take responsibility for what you want. Stay focused. Distractions and difficulty only increases the older we get, so if we keep getting sidetracked then we get nothing done. Discover what you want early, never pick too many things, don't try to be everything, you can't make your best work if your energy is all over the place. And remember that the world needs your contribution, so make time to make other people's live better, strong people always find time or a way to help.

What inspires you or has been the greatest influence of your work?
Perhaps my environment, that's been a big influence and still is. The neighbourhood is full of stories and struggles. On a movement level, if I grew up near the beach I'd probably be a surfer, if I grew up near a skatepark I'd be skating as we speak. But I grew up in the concrete jungle, where you have solid structures and limited opportunities, no equipment, only bricks, walls, rails. You have to either learn to make your own adventures and try to shape yourself by using what you have, or you can just stay home or hang on the corner and complain that there's no opportunities. 

Can you describe the practical process you use to develop ideas/concepts for your work?
In movement, new ideas are just a result of playing, moving, exploring. If you're moving then you're learning, you learn a lot about yourself in training. With filmmaking I just like to write. I write a lot. Reading and watching films is all part of the process too. I've got a few feature-length screenplays in the works. 

Why is creativity/the arts not just a decorative extra but survival strategy and a key to living well? (We were interested in your 3 key rules from the TedX forum you did).
We underestimate the value of the arts, it's like the last thing in most parents minds for their kids at school, but it impacts every one our lives in a big way. Our world would be very boring and lifeless without it, without new ideas, or new and different ways of moving and exploring. Every ancient culture had some form of art-making and expression, we need art, we need to be stimulated, or have our ideas expressed, it keeps us happy. If you're not living well then it could mean you're just disconnected from that side of yourself, who knows? Try moving and expressing yourself, there's only one way to find out!


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