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Regional Art Stories An Insight to Artlands Victoria | Q&A with Artlands Creative Producer Ros Abercrombie

There is just over three months until Artlands Victoria and we can’t wait! Although the full program hasn’t been announced, can you give us an idea of what sort of experience attendees can expect? And what some of the themes and issues that will be addressed are?

My first meeting for Artlands Victoria was with Rodney and Barbara from the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. We met early for breakfast in what is now one of my favourite cafes in Bendigo. Rodney had two books on the table, a copy of the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan and a beautiful coffee table book on Dja Dja Wurrung Country. We chatted, and when we wrapped up Rodney suggested that we meet again when I had had a chance to read the books.

I read the books that day, and then re-read the country plan several times. It became so clear to me that Trent Nelson’s (Chairperson of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) Welcome in the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan was exactly what I understood Artlands Victoria to be all about.

“Dja Dja Wurrung People learned much from land and shared their knowledge, traded resources and exchanged gifts with neighbouring clans and mobs during times of ceremony and gathering together to mark special times.” Trent Nelson, Chair Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation. Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan 2014 -2034

Over several weeks we chatted, and I floated the idea that Artlands Victoria be embedded and work alongside the Dja Dja Wurrung country plan and adopt the tagline:

‘sharing knowledge, trading resources, exchanging gifts at a time of ceremony and gathering’

This has set both the framework and the tone for all the decisions and programming that has followed. Artlands Victoria will be presented as an integrated conference and cultural program; it is designed as a multi-art, cross industry and intergenerational event. It aims to combine a curated program of exhibitions, dance, music and theatre, alongside works in progress, explorations, and commissioned projects with an engaged speakers program.

Can you tell us more about this framework and how it will inform the Artlands program?

The Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan presents a clear commentary on people, place and their interactions. In consultation with the Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation we have been supported to align the framework for Artlands Victoria alongside the nine goals outlined in the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan. This provides a wonderful framework to reinterpret the context of arts policy and practice. The Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation will present the opening keynote that will define the framework for the four days that we gather.

The nine goals:

  1. People | Djaara (our people)
  2. Practice and Process | Cultural Practices and Customs
  3. Cross Industries | Cultural Heritage
  4. Place | Bush Tucker
  5. Exchange | Rivers and Waterways
  6. Creative Risk | Land
  7. Leadership |Self Determination
  8. Sustainability | Traditional Owner Economy
  9. Advocacy | Joint Management

The Artlands framework engages across disciplines to promote critical reflection on practice and to encourage agenda-setting discussions. It connects arts and regional industries and provides a place for cultural exchange.

The themes explore the dynamic relations between people and place, understanding distinctiveness and the uniqueness of how and where work is created and experienced. It supports creative leadership that is reflective but also generative, both as a social and cultural system and as a human capacity, and is advocating a model that is socially, creatively, financially, environmentally and artistically sustainable.

A graphic illustration of the framework can be found on the Artlands website.

We love the projects that are happening as part of Artlands – for example Crafting the Merch, The Cultural Pharmacy and the vending machine project. Can you tell us about some of these projects and why they are so important to the overall Artlands experience?

This framework further connects arts and regional industries that exemplify growth, productivity and innovation in a regional context, curating a conversation that actively positions the arts, cultural experience, health and wellbeing on national platform.

The feature projects are designed to support contemporary artistic process, practice and experiences and provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary sharing and facilitating cross-industry partnerships in a highly visible way. Each project has an industry link and is directly woven into the speakers program.

Artlands coincides with Mental Health Week and we are committed to making this connection. The Cultural Pharmacy is an ambitious cross-disciplinary site-specific installation in the Conservatory in Rosalind Park, Bendigo. The project brings together yandot installation artist Darryl Cordell with Castlemaine-based performance ensemble Such as they are and the Kyneton based writer and author of ‘The Arts Apothecary’ – Jill Rivers. Participants can attend the Cultural Pharmacy to obtain a ‘cultural prescription’, an arts or cultural activity or experience that engages with Bendigo’s arts and cultural offerings. Supported by VicHealth the project encourages interconnections between arts, health and wellbeingand will be open for delegates and general public.

Inspired by my visit to the Bendigo Sheep and Wool show in 2017, Crafting the Merch is a state-wide project showcasing wool craft from across Victoria. The project makes links with agriculture and partners with a thriving local industry the Bendigo woollen mills. Crafters from across Victoria have been provided with yellow Australian wool supplied by Bendigo Woollen Mills which they had to incorporate into their scarf design.

I have learnt to knit, albeit very badly, and am working on completing my first (and possibly only) scarf as part this project. We have over 500 scarfs already and the skill, talent and stories behind the patterns, techniques and their makers are truly amazing. This is one of those projects that has delivered beyond expectation and is so rewarding. On arrival at Artlands each delegate will receive one of these scarfs as a welcome gift; it should be a lovely way to commence the gathering.

The vending machine project is inspired by consumption and retail. An old vending machine has been lovingly restored by Ella’s (our Artlands Coordinator) dad, and the coin-turning handle and weight arms are back in working order awaiting specially commissioned small-scale handmade works from Foundry, an arts co-operative retail space in East Gippsland, Victoria.

Each of these projects respond to and embody the tag line, ‘sharing knowledge, trading resources and exchanging gifts’, and this curatorial approach is fundamental to all the projects being developed.

Having been so deeply involved in the planning and development of the event, what are you most looking forward to at Artlands Victoria?

I have learnt from many of my leadership roles that calculated, creative risk-taking can lead to exceptional and extraordinary results. I have grown to trust that artists and communities can respond, react, grow, challenge and celebrate in ways greater than you ever dreamt, and the capacity for empowerment through the arts is second to none.

Artlands presents an opportunity to generate partnerships and facilitate a gathering in some amazing venues, and imagined spaces for presentations, exhibitions, installations to be curated, dramaturged, choreographed and directed. I’m so looking forward to seeing these interactions and exchanges.

I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to work with so many regional artists and practitioners over the past year and I see my job to provide spaces in-between – to direct the unknown and least expected – that’s often the most exciting – I must leave space!

What are some of the challenges that you faced in putting together this ambitious event?

As with all my projects, the needs and wants of the host community are central to all of my development, programming, and decision-making processes. The relationship between the people, the place and the program is always at the heart of my program design. With Artlands being a three-tiered event; a national regional gathering, delivered at the state level by Regional Arts Victoria into the heart of central Victoria in the City of Greater Bendigo and Mount Alexander Shire region, it challenges my programming ethos as I am drawn across the local region and local artists whilst needing to connect in a Victorian context and engage within a national perspective.

The multiple layers of an event such as Artlands are certainly a challenge, however, simultaneously they create the ambitious framework and generate opportunities.

Can you tell us about your background Ros? You’ve done some incredible things, working on Shepparton Festival, Moomba and Taste Festival to name a few! How have these informed your approach to Artlands Victoria?

As a Festival Director and Creative Producer, I am committed to the concepts of collaboration as vital to building arts projects and event spaces and believe in the need to be innovative, accessible and founded in a practice that is multidisciplinary and participatory. A signature of my approach is to bring together emerging, established and community artists to stimulate dialogue and create works in accessible public environments. I consider art spaces as a cultural landscape to be more than their physical place and design programs for the spaces in-between – crafting unique contemporary experiences.

My approach is always tailored according to the nature of each unique project. My cross-disciplinary approach blends practical and academic experience and my programming always focuses on history and traditions and does so with a view towards current trends and interests. I believe that curated content provides the point of difference and this can be seen in my direction of the Shepparton Festival, Taste Festival (Hobart) and Moomba Festival. My direction of Artlands Victoria draws on these experiences in working through programmic connections and curating links geographically, artistically and metaphorically.

Finally, you’ve been spending a lot of time in Bendigo, any tips and suggestions for those visiting for the first time?

I am still discovering Bendigo and Castlemaine; there are so many wonderful places and offerings. The vineyards and orchards are amazing and the landscape stunning. I would allow some time to explore.

Thank you so much for your time and insight, Ros! 

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