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Regional Art Stories Q&A with our new Executive Director, Ros Abercrombie

Firstly, what drew you to Regional Arts Australia and the role of Executive Director?

Throughout my 20 years working in the arts and creative industries I have been impressed and inspired by the amazing depth, variety, and quality of work being produced and presented across rural, regional and remote Australia. Over the last few years particularly, I have had the opportunity to have many amazing conversations; locally, nationally and internationally. It has become more and more apparent to me that regional arts are thriving and there is a want and need to connect and exchange. I was excited by the opportunity this to keep pushing boundaries and opening future connections and opportunities. I see immense potential for ongoing exchange, learning, advocacy and creativity.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role?

As an Executive Director I am excited to facilitate further cross–cultural and intergenerational connections across the arts and creative industries in rural, regional and remote Australia. Working creatively and collaboratively I am looking forward to work across advocacy, partnerships and practice to support long-term regional sustainability and engage new models and generate dialogue between the rural and regional communities in which Regional Arts Australia works.

My current and previous roles have taught me about leadership as engagement, the process of change as a facilitator to generate capacity both internally and externally and this has been a key learning. This position presents the opportunity to build capacity through strengthening artists and communities, encouraging participation, building relationships and connecting the corporate, private and public sectors through, with and by the arts. 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 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.

What is on your to-do list in the coming months?

My vision is to provide engaging platforms for social inclusion, creativity and accessible cultural experiences. I am committed to excellence and will advocate for regional arts as viable business models affirming its professionalism and capacity and building support.

Before we know it, we will have a federal election. It is a key delivery of Regional Arts Australia to let politicians know that the Regional Arts Fund (RAF) should be increased. The RAF is an extensive national program and is one of the most successful funding programs supporting arts and culture. Between 2012 and 2016 the Regional Arts Fund supported 1,458 projects; 3,979,899 participants; 843 professional development opportunities; 1,943 artists and arts workers and 3,105 partnerships. In 2008 the RAF fund was halved and high on my to do list is to advocate to have that restored to $22.5 million in 2020. Increasing funding to the RAF will enable more support, better outcomes and stronger communities across all of Australia.

I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and RAA’s member organisations to map the national narrative of regional practice and support regional artists and organisations to continue to make and present work. I am really looking forward to getting out and about and experiencing as much as possible.

You recently finished up as Director and Creative Producer of Artlands Victoria. What were your key takeaways from the conversations, presentations and discussions at Artlands?

Artlands Victoria was presented as a new framework, one that was built side by side with the first nations peoples. In consultation with the Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation I was supported to align Artlands Victoria alongside the nine goals outlined in the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan 2014-2034. This provided a framework to reinterpret the context of arts policy, practice and cultural exchange. This approach generated significant conversation during and post the event as a new benchmark for conferences and gatherings. Upon reflection, this exemplified an approach that was embedded in respect, was deeply collaborative, ethically positioned and unapologetically ambitious and is one that I am keen to champion at all levels of government, business and community.

Artlands as a forum showcases new thinkers that influence the way we engage with regional arts and to exchange the latest trends, case studies and projects and to set future directions for the sector. Through sharing knowledge, expertise, insights and innovation on best practice and artistic process we can champion innovative research and new ideas into regional cultural practice and position the conversation to be continued.

And now, tell us a bit about yourself

Originally from London, I currently live in Victoria on Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri land with my partner, our old blind dog and ancient cat. I have an academic background in Social Anthropology and work as a cross disciplinary arts leader specialising in Creative Direction & Strategic Arts Management.

My practice of integrated design brings together emerging, established and community artists to stimulate dialogue and create works in accessible environments. My programming always focuses on history and traditions while also considering current trends and interests. I consider arts spaces as a cultural landscape - as more than the physical place, and my work draws on weaving programmatic connections and curating links geographically, artistically, culturally and metaphorically. I curate programs for the spaces in-between, crafting unique contemporary experiences.

Like most people I enjoy family time and my garden. I have a passion for apples and am growing three varieties of trees in my backyard orchard, although only one has fruited. I tried to graft a heritage variety this last season but had resounding failure.

I recently discovered the joy of swimming and although so very English in my lack to swimming skill or style I try and swim a couple of times a week, I have decided its good for my soul and I can get a but grumpy if I don’t make the time.!

You travel a lot, all across Australia – what do you like to do while travelling? Any great podcast/audio book or music recommendations?

I’m actually not a great traveller and get a bit motion sick so I find it hard to read or work on a plane or train. I recently purchased some wireless noise cancelling headphones … they are wonderful I can listen to a podcast or watch a movie. I am considering learning either a language and or trying to teach myself the piano and am looking into audio books that may push that along from a thought bubble to actual learning.

I do like the odd podcast and enjoy BBC radio 4 ‘women’s hour’ and ‘thinking allowed’. I also find classical music is increasingly my go to and listen to ABC classic and composer of the week!

And if you’re travelling for pleasure, where is your favourite place in Australia to go on a holiday?

There are so many, I realised recently I have been living in Australia for 18 years and before that spend many years traveling in Australia and Aotearoa as a ‘wwoofer’ (willing workers on organic farms) and as a volunteer with the Conservation Trust.

If I’m pushed I’d say, northern NSW for a beach holiday, Hobart for a weekend food and wine escape and Cooktown (Far North Queensland) for a complete get away.

Finally what is the best arts experience that you have had in the last year?

Also tricky as I am lucky enough to see some wonderful art. I’m going to run with three different experiences;

Last year I was attending the Biennale of Sydney and was visiting Cockatoo Island and installed in one of the large warehouses was Suzann Lacy’s work ‘Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope’. This work was so beautifully installed and the video’s with the people of Pendle and the Brierfield Mill so captivating I stood and watched each screen one by one. Then a little later in different location on the island there was another installation that displayed further information on this project and presented a large wall mounted timeline, in the bottom corner of the timeline I noticed a few logos, one being ‘super slow way’. I couldn’t believe it as I had been chatting with the Creative People and Places and Super Slow Way in the UK for months and had invited them to deliver a keynote and workshop at Artlands Victoria. That was a pivotal moment for me. Being so taken by a work and then realising that this project from the canal’s of Pennine Lancashire was being presented in at international Biennale and we were going to be talking about it at a regional arts gathering in Bendigo.

Also presented at Artlands Victoria was Rosalind Cripps performance seminar ‘Dirt’ it was extraordinary and a highlight on some many levels.

And finally, a few weeks ago I went to Dance House to see ‘Dancing Queens’ and unbeknown to me found myself participating in a waacking class!