Fiona Lee, The Board (detail), 2009, CAST, North Hobart, Tasmania

28 September 2010


The Regional Arts Australia biennial national conference, Junction 2010, took place in Launceston, Tasmania, 26-29 August 2010. With the themes of Footprints, Threads, Resilience, Momentum, the conference aimed to bring together ‘artists, art workers, volunteers, policy makers and those passionate to learn how the arts connect communities to a vibrant future…’, as the Junction organisers put it.
Princess Theatre stage for keynote speakers 2010
Tea-towel upholstered chairs by Sue Hall

The demographic of the regional arts  – including artists but heavy on facilitation and governance – reflected the ‘deficit thinking’ identified by Kieran Finnane in an article for Art Monthly Australia (#231, July 2010), reflecting on the previous RAA conference, Alice Springs 2008, and a provocation to the Launceston event.  Finnane identifies the framing of the RAA conference through ‘social amelioration … with the majority of the work under consideration being community arts projects’. This, Finnane argues, presents the view of regional life always being in deficit, and the apparently easy conflation of regional arts with community arts, which ‘sells short the variety, depth and dynamism of art, artists and audiences in non-metropolitan Australia.’ There is no denying by Kinnane that there is excellence in arts practice in the regions: there are plenty of examples from Tasmania alone of regionally-based artists who work on a national and international level – Philip Wolfhagen, Troy Ruffels, Kit Hiller, Raymond Arnold, to name just a very few.
Sonja Hindrum (and many volunteers) Pleiades, felted balls
Civic Square, Launceston, 2010
At Junction 2010 the program almost certainly shared many similarities with that of Alice Springs (which I did not attend). The keynotes, however, were decidedly global in outlook. In the presentations by Francois Matarosso and Ernesto Sirolli the most local, community-based projects were conceived and presented within the context of being a part of a web of communities within regions which all held an equal place in their contribution to a globalised environment. Even Jane Bennett viewed her dairy farm and cheese business in blip-on-the-map Elizabeth Town and its venture into arts entrepreneurship through global connections, rather than the restricting  comparisons of a deficit frame. At a secondary level, this globalism was couched in terms of collaborations, a key defining element of contemporaneity (perhaps too often read as only manifested in an urban context) in arts practice.
Community art? Knitting swathed columns on Launceston Town Hall 2010

The Junction Arts Festival associated with the conference was where you found the artists – hundreds of them, and many, perhaps the majority, not participating in the conference itself. Out on the streets the buzz was palpable, indeed it was more of a throb if you ventured to the Junc Room – a circus tent erected in Civic Square – for a night of music and performance and quite a few wines. This evident split between practicing artists (emerging, established, amateur) and arts business (the policy makes and facilitators) may be worth considering by arts organisations in managing any future deficit thinking.

Civic Square, with Junc Room (the big tent), Wild Willow Cafe, Cart de Clarendon (with teapot)
Ross Byers (creator of the Cart) on right, talking to Sonja Hindrum (Pleiades)
Kinnance was reflecting on a conference held two years ago, and there have been shifts in broader government policy since then which are beginning to impact on the regional (and metropolitan) arts. The most pervasive of these is ‘social inclusion’, which will almost certainly seem a continuation of the deficit thinking Kinnane identifies, if with a shift in focus and the imposition of a more directed metropolitan-framed funding model impacting on its implementation. Ironically perhaps, the rhetoric of social inclusion enforces deficit thinking in the arts, by enshrining the arts as solutions to problems of social exclusion in health, law and order, town planning, environmental amenity – the list is endless. When in deficit, or identified as excluded, roll out an art project. It will be fascinating to see how the next conference, in Goolwa 2012, addresses the imposition of deficit (through the rhetoric of social inclusion) and the practice of community through the identification and, occasionally, enforcing of identity through exclusion.
(Disclaimer: I was involved with Junction 2010 at a committee level – but with no input on program content – and as a full-fee-paying delegate).
MADE (Mature Age Dance Experience) performing PANE
Jessups Retrovision window, Charles Street, Launceston 2010

Engaged audience for PANE
MADE performing in Jessups Retravision window, Launceston 2010

And on the final day, with the weather clearing to spread some late winter sunshine:

Four views of The Zero Project, Kings Park, Launceston 2010
Eko Prowato (Indonesia) in collaboration with Ralf Haertel (Tasmania)
Created with zero material budget.

Kings Park, Launceston, Tasmania, August 2010

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