Peter Brown reports on a recent webinar
In a world where collective experience of live performance has been severely restricted and being physically close with a stranger comes with the risk of infection, how do we navigate engagement?
Regional Arts Australia posed this question as the first in its Artlands Conversations series which kicked off with an all Tasmania panel online on Wednesday 2nd September 2020. The panel featured four prominent Tasmanian arts figures: Kelly Drummond Cawthorn, Creative Director of Second Echo Ensemble; Ruth Langford who draws upon the cultural knowledge of her Yorta Yorta mother and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to lead Nayri Niara, a Centre for the Arts of Healing; Lindy Hume, Artistic Director of Ten Days on the Island, Tasmania’s acclaimed biennial arts festival which broke new ground with its 10-day adventure over three weekends in the three regional heartlands of Tasmania during 2019; and Caroline Sharpen, Chief Executive Officer of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO). The panel was moderated by Kath Melbourne.
For each of the panellists the impact of COVID-19 on the operations of their respective arts organisations remains a vivid memory. Most can pinpoint the date things ‘blew up’ (a common phrase). Each of the speakers recognised early the fundamental change they were facing and the challenge confronting them to respond in ways that would allow them and their organisations to continue their arts practice. All mentioned a keen awareness of the need to overcome the isolation that was a key element of government and community responses to the pandemic. Not easy when your main business depends on social contact with audiences and engagement with communities.
For Catherine Sharpen and the TSO, the immediate response was ‘daily doses’ - short performances by TSO musicians broadcast online, which created an immediate alternative for the the musicians to maintain their performances and a strong demonstration by the orchestra of its commitment to remaining in touch with its audiences. Catherine remarked on the benefits to both musicians and the wider TSO community of this approach.
Kelly Drummond Cawthorn spoke of being initially overawed by the challenge of switching Second Echo Ensemble, a Hobart performance group which includes many performers with disability, from active expression through movement and dance in performance spaces to screen-based individual vignettes that mesh together into a cohesive work. Her brief description of a new conceptual work Second Echo has devised sounds very intriguing, as it explores the Ensembles’ response to new perspectives created by the ubiquitous experience of video that is now a major window of “looking in and looking out” for all of us under pandemic isolation.
Lindy Hume is looking forward to embracing the strengths of local communities in the next Ten Days on the Island festival due in 2021. The signature project will be the Tasmanian re-imagination of If These Halls Could Talk, a place-making, community-building project which originated in northern NSW by Arts Northern Rivers. Like her colleagues on the panel, Lindy’s reflection on the post COVID-19 festival experience is that it has destroyed the ‘shopping cart’ approach to selecting program components and has reinforced the value of an approach that values highly long term associations between festivals and artists. Lindy also stressed the important role that local governments can play “because they see the need for arts, particularly in these lock down times.”
For Ruth Langford the pandemic came on like winter, and initially encouraged a response that closed down and took on the form of a traditional hibernation. But drawing on its guiding principles -- Connection to Country, Culture and to the Sacred -- and taking inspiration from the seasons: “ if this is winter we know that spring will come” , Nayri Niara found new energy to privilege Aboriginal learning and experience as the foundation of a wellbeing experience. While the initial response to COVID was to shield elders from risk, the community soon found that there were real benefits for everyone if their knowledge and guidance was embraced in the community response to the challenges of the pandemic. A key message for all: “Self worth promotes immunity.”
This Artlands Conversation delivers a strong positive message: while old ways have been “blown up”, new approaches are possible. And all speakers agreed: the new ways have made things better!
For more information on future Artlands Conversations: https://conversationseries.artlands.com.au/program/sessions