Struggles and silver linings for the arts
Artists and arts organisations have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. What’s the fallout and how will they rebuild their livelihoods?
coronation o'clock is ancestral as our City Campus stands. And I'd like to pay respects to elder's past and present, acknowledging them as the traditional custodians of knowledge for this place, and as we tune in from across Sydney and further afield. I extend that respect to the places that this event rages. So, as you can see everyone's on our screen. Bear with us if we have any technical problems, and send through your questions. We'll have some time at the end for q&a after we've gotten through our questions here, and we'll have some time to put them to the panel. So let's begin. My first question is for sharing. Sharing you recently wrote about the closure of carriage works and your personal relationship to carriage works. Of course, we know how to expand into voluntary administration in early May and its future still uncertain. Could you tell us a little bit about how, how that's been for you as an independent artist and also what its closure means for the state of the arts generally in New South Wales.
Thanks, Ellen. Oh, hi, everyone. Give you a bit of background to my relationship with carried works, which prompted my article in the conversation. So I'm an artist in residence there. I've been there for over one year.
Should I do some padding in the
It's like the dog walker arrived at the exact moment.
So I've been there with a whole group of artists working in the studio. It's called the clothing store. And I've also been in exhibiting artists fair last year, as part of a The event called the National and I'm commissioned by carriage works and performance space to I would have worked done a project this year at the end of the year, which has been postponed. So when when we heard that character x had gone into voluntary administration, I think we're all very, very shocked, very kind of upset, disappointed disbelief, I think other words and I think largely because it is a major institution in New South Wales. It's a rare institution. It's not like if I think of the three major institutions in Sydney, we've got the art gallery in New South Wales DMCA and carriage works. They also very, very different purposes. And carried works is one of those venues. It's a multi arts form. venue doesn't hinge on a private on a institutional collection or any collection for that matter. And it supports artists in really diverse ways and supports, I think the creative industries in general. So you can see that they have events like Sydney festival, vivid Fashion Week, etc. There. So I think for the arts community, it was yet another indicator covered or not covered of the lack of support for the Arts in New South Wales. When we saw our Victorian counterparts receiving funding, in addition to funding that was previously allocated to arts Victoria, you know, we were hoping I guess for a similar support to be announced by the New South Wales government, which was What was announced instead was that the arts minister john Howard had stepped down, no arts minister had taken his place and still hasn't with Gladys barigye clay in the Premier, being an interim arts minister, and I don't imagine that she would have a lot of time to spend thinking about state of the Arts in New South Wales during Cova, given a huge responsibility. So, you know, carried works has kind of been left in a particular situation, which I think is not just due to COVID. And they were previous issues there. But I think when you look at what carrier networks is asking for, by way of, you know, assistance and financial assistance, it's just such a small amount of money. And, and I think, you know, what, to allow carried works to kind of have to
force itself into voluntary
administration and then to kind of Bandy about ideas around the Opera House and whatnot. It kind of, I think, signals something that all arts workers, artists, curators, directors of institutions already know about Arts in New South Wales and in Sydney and that is usually it is geared towards tourism being some sort of spectacle. There is very little interest in developing a rich, critical, rigorous, diverse, and culture which is what we desire, not vivid lights festival. And I think that that conversation like if anything, the carriage work situation needs to kind of instigate a really, you know, open discussion about what the arts are in New South Wales, which is far more than ballet and the Opera House
That's a great, well rounded response. Sure. And thank you for
your thoughts there. And I think we haven't
been given a lot of reason to expect the situation will improve. With regard to state support. Though there are holes from across all of the industries from all federal support from all local support. I think you're echoing a lot of people's concerns at the moment. And I wanted to lay that into a question for Emily which is about the life of an independent practitioner is time, Emily, you have an independent curatorial practice, which focuses on storytelling through the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, including a main recent project and outside the City of Sydney Harbour walk, which looks amazing. Could you tell us a bit about what impact lockdown has had on that that project and just how you've been nothing During this time with
as an independent practitioner,
a incredibly difficult time as an independent curator, I have lost the majority of my projects with museums and galleries in particular. And unfortunately, that work cannot be compensated through job cable or drug saver and with limited permanent employment opportunities within the art sector already. I think my experience has been quite a common experience from many people working within the arts. You know, the visual arts sector relies on independent arts workers to provide fresh ideas and perspectives and exhibitions to museums and galleries and to bolster their work force which is also quite limited. It was our exhibitions that were the first to be canceled, and I think it's important To recognize that when opportunities are given to curators and creative producers, inevitably, these opportunities also benefit and support the work of artists and creative practitioners and that ecology. Fortunately, I've been able to continue my work with the harbor walk, I'll be at with a few less resources. And I think this is largely due to the fact that this work exists outside of museums and galleries and in the public space. And with the current emphasis on federal and state governments on building an infrastructure to support the economy, I think were surprisingly in a good position to continue doing the important work that we're doing, which is sharing First Nations stories spoken by First Nations people in the public space. And I found that our ability to keep tenue with consultation and engagement with the community, which is, you know, the foundation of everything we do was severely limited as so many of our elders were at risk during this period of COVID with their underlying health issues, and I think it's important to acknowledge that the inextricable connection between Aboriginal Health and arts and culture however, interestingly, I saw a change in the way Australians thought about public space and storytelling. I observed the sense of longing from people, for public spaces for the environment, for nature for the kind of sensorial experience of what it means to be on country, you know, to dip your feet into the water to be barefoot on grass to heat waves crashing on the harbor, for sure. You know, and that's it. A longing is something where as First Nations people feel every single day, whether it's the country we're on or from the country we're from. So it's quite beautiful. To see that emotion reflected in people, you know that we're limited from accessing our public spaces, but we longed for them, nonetheless. And I think that has really shown me the importance of a project like the harbour walk, a curated series of stories, public art interpretation along a nine kilometer stretch of Sydney Harbour. Also, coinciding with black lives matter. It's about all Australians, seeing what we see what we hear what we feel when we're on country and having a greater understanding for what we do. So I think with the closure of museums and galleries as a physical space dedicated to arts experiences, I think it's highlighted the necessity and important Fighting public spaces.
Thank you so much really, I love the idea that there's this
communal sense of longing for, for being in public space that you can frame for us as being through a First Nations land. And I really look forward to seeing that
work come about and
those those stories being told.
And the idea of the arts being an ecology that's really independent, you know, that,
that everyone's relying on each other for their practice to exist and to be heard. I think that's become so obvious through this crisis. And I think, Deborah, I wanted to ask you for a perspective from the literary world, because you have have many hats, so You're an author, you're an editor of subtly, and you lecturer in creative writing. at UPS, I wanted to get your perspective on how lockdown has impacted the Australian literary community. Especially in the wake of the recent loss of multi year funding for so many of the literary journals through the Israeli Council. We often think of writers as being quite solitary. But of course, they also need, you know, spaces to talk and to think as well. Would you give us a bit of insight about that?
Yeah, thanks, Eleanor. Just before I respond, can I can I just say, Emily, thank you for making those comments about particularly about longing, which I've found really moving. And already I'm thinking about the implications of that, for me in my own personal practice, so thank you very much. Really, really thoughtful and thought provoking response there. Um, so with writers, of course, we have some practical challenges, as well as some artistic and creative challenges and I think we might come to the artistic creative challenges a little bit later. The practical challenges are really interesting because of course writers are used to working on their own, they're used to working in isolation. They used to working in their pajamas, some of them so a lot of lockdown feels very normal for writers. writers, of course, are also like so many creative practitioners to very, very low incomes.
writers often asked to do things for nothing. writers are often enlisted to support charity causes, for instance, and generally, and I think creative practitioners are included in this too. Generally, you know, writers want to respond, they want to help, but they really know they shouldn't be giving away their art for nothing. And this sort of brings us to one of the big challenges at the moment. You mentioned my mom involvement in suddenly and suddenly has recently suffered from a huge loss of financial support from the Australian Council. Now, suddenly, he's not alone. Like many of the major literary journals in this country, it has relied for a long time on support from the Australian Council, and suddenly is Australia's oldest, longest, continuously published literary magazine last year, we celebrated our 80th year. And it's also played a very important role, not just as an academic journal, but as a place for supporting new and emerging writers. And that really cannot be the importance of that. Can't be overstated. In a country like Australia, where writers really really need all the support they can get. Not that Australia is not a really supportive reading culture. In fact it is Australia has really, really high involvement and very active and supportive Raiders, but it's still a relatively small population. So I guess the problem for riders at the moment is, is coping with the double whammy of having those sorts of
And then, with locked down having all the ancillary things that writers do so Brad is very, very rarely make money from what they do in terms of their writing. But what they do do is make run make money from attending literary festivals, running workshops. giving talks, all sorts of things that of course have now been cancelled, put on hold or shifted online. My own situation is probably a little bit less typical because, well, I actually do regard myself as a full time writer. But that's, that's the evening and the weekend job. The other full time job, of course, is my role at UTSA as an associate professor in creative writing. But I'd still remember what it's like being a full time creative practitioner and precariousness of that existence with no holiday pay, no sick pay no superannuation, and just having to scrounge for work when we can. If I'd had all my, my literary events just taken away from me it It could have impacted really badly on me. Now some writers of creative people responding creative ways, and some writers have been amazing in throwing themselves into this strange new world. And some writers who, for example, have having had all their gigs canceled, having the launch of their new book canceled, have just shifted to a weekly online book club chat situation. That of course means being your own PR person, your own agent, your own manager, everything. But that is not actually providing much of an income, I suspect, but is that it is bringing in a lot of interest from people. So I've noticed that the the online events that I've been joining, either as a participant or as an observer have been very, very well attended. And I think people and this goes back to what Shireen and Emily have already said, people are hungry, they are really hungry for content. They're really hungry to be to be kept in touch and they're hungry to be in nourished by the sorts of things that creative practitioners can provide them.
Thank you, Deborah, I think that's such an important point is that, you know, we, we use the arts to know and to tell stories and just because we can't be in the same places doesn't mean we don't we, we lose that that desire. And I think someone like the Sydney Film Festival has really stepped up to, to feel that and to figure out a way to deliver our festival in a totally new way. Lay my next questions for you. And you know, it's been incredible to say that the Sydney Film Festival has so rapidly moved to a digital model for the following lockdown and just from now you can start viewing online online programs
Could you tell us a bit how About how you managed to retool the delivery model so quickly. And whether you think that's going to be a long term strategy for audiences to experience the festival, the films, the filmmakers, and the second part of my question is, how do you anticipate a move to digital impacting the ongoing accessibility of the festival? So I'm thinking about people with a disability people with in regional and remote areas who might not be able to attend in person.
Okay, um, thank you for that question. And I'll keep them separate because they, they lost a lot to answering both those questions. But I think to Deborah's point that people went from their workplace from their practices in into their home immediately and onto the screen. So here we are on screen world. So just a note from the future. Which is really positive. We opened our 10 day Film Festival today, but many other film, international film festivals around the world and in Australia are also going online. And we're finding larger audiences than we have in cinemas, which is a good thing. It's different. It doesn't replace what we do in cinemas. But for instance, CPH docks in Copenhagen, which is one of the most important documentary festivals in the industry. were two days from opening and they had to close. Then they went online, spent two days crashing, found a platform that was secure. And they have about 100,000 attendances a year and they had just over that this time, and in Australia recently the South African Film Festival screen to more people than they normally would. And that's partly a technical glitch, which has enabled that because whilst you're, you're getting the rights to screen films in your city, with an online world, you can geo block a country. It's really interesting. We're using a platform called chip 72 from New Zealand and they provide this platform to Europe come, I think, the Toronto International Film Festival, we're using them so everywhere else around the world and International Film Festival geo blocks a country, whereas the state system in Australia did everyone's head in. So what happened with the Sydney Film Festival is we screen over 400 Films over 12 days and have about 180,000 attendances. So two months before the festival. Our scenario planning said that if we went ahead with a festival, where there was no public meetings over 500 people, we would lose over a million dollars, which we've got small reserves, but it would be madness to do that. So we knew our trigger point was that 500 rule which that came in place in mid March, so we made the decision to cancel the festival and within a week Everybody was at home. So my company and board and the film industry, we're all on zoom together. One of the things we decided as the Sydney Film Festival is, we knew they were great storytellers and curatorial services online. And it wasn't our specialty. We were about premiering films. And the other thing that was really important about our festival, it's not just for the audience, it's for the filmmakers. So what was really important to us were the official competitions, which are the documentary competition, short film, and the official competition. So we decided that we would go ahead with a limited edition, so a very tight program, and that we wouldn't be telling people what to watch on Netflix or YouTube or anything. So we then decided, we got the technology through shift 72. We got the filmmakers approval and participation and we launched our festivals, so today we've exceeded the attendance for our Australian documentary and European women film program that we would have had in real time in the cinema. So yes, we're getting to a larger audience. It's still primarily in Sydney. But it's it's it's an interesting change. But the business model is the thing that will stop us pursuing this, because filmmakers make most of their money in theatrical release, then they sell for broadcast rights, and then they go to a video on demand or if they're lucky enough, they get a Netflix purchase. So where we're doing an online premiere, which is at the skinny end of the income for film, so it's not a great advantage to the film or even the Sydney Film Festival to be doing this. The other difference that we've implemented is that where we have as many filmmakers as we can afford to attend the film festival that's possibly 180 This time round, everybody has cell filled introductions. They've all done the most amazing q&a with journalists and editors and our programmers that are screened after the film. And then we'll also be showing live panels on different topics through the festival. So there's a really rich environment of engagement with the filmmakers. So there there are things that will probably take into our festival next year. But the ability to get theatrical release is what the film industry absolutely relies on, it will, you know, it won't work. So on that point, we had about half of our program in place. So when we shut down the industry shut down production as well. And many of the films we were trying to get internationally or we'd secured will hold over to 2021 because they can't go straight to video on demand that would just be depth to them. So I would imagine next year's program will be a mix. have what we would have had this year and what can go into production for next year.
The the accessibility that this online virtual world provides is really exciting. We started with screen New South Wales a couple of years ago a program called screen ability when new screen New South Wales we're commissioning filmmakers who identify as having a disability to make short films and we were premiering them and we're also doing them in the most accessible versions we put, which as we are hiring commercial cinemas isn't exactly perfect. So this ability to have a program which is really accessible is fantastic, and also to communities in regional Australia because although we do a traveling Film Festival to Queensland Northern Territory in New South Wales, and we would just do to increase by five centers in New South Wales many of the films We screen navigate to regional centers. So we've got a vastly bigger program than our traveling Film Festival program in Australia. So I would hope there'll be some sort of hybrid model that helps the filmmakers survive and get the shared experience of seeing their films in cinemas, but also that there's an interest that grows and is really nurtured in regional Australia.
That's such a, that's such a good point. I love that the that we are becoming more confident in a digital world. And that's also creating a desire for more digital content that's created to that context rather than simply being transported or translated into a new platform.
My next question is for the panel, but particularly for for Deborah and Shane.
What role should be playing at the moment and what role do artists should be playing in helping society understand the world as it is, and whether there's examples from your own practice something that you're working on,
that you could share with it's
like to go first Deborah, um,
well, I'll step in, if you like,
just on an aspect for my own personal practice, I'll step in there and be completely Frank. I've been creatively I've been completely crippled by the COVID-19 classes. And partly it's because I've had very little time because shifting to online teaching has involved a huge amount of work and the rather cruzi semester I was planning to have turned out to be some weeks. I was Working three times harder than I normally would, converting my, you know, teaching materials to be a good online product not just to be online to be something of quality. But the other reason and and much more important than that is this weird sense of disconnection. And it is weird because writers are, like other creative practitioners, the people who are here to respond to a crisis, and this is a real crisis. But I have found that working on a contemporary novel as I am at the moment or not working on it. I should be to be a real challenge because the question for me is, how do I keep writing a contemporary novel that doesn't reference the current crisis, but how can I incorporate any reference to the current crisis and not seem opportunistic, not seem to be be using a trick, not seem to be glib. And most of all, how can I do it in a way that's thoughtful and reflective, because I find I need time to reflect on something as important as, you know, a national and international pandemic. And the only thing I can think of that was a little bit similar was, of course, the September 11 crisis, which again, was a huge shock to the entire world. And I remember talking to other writers at the time, and we all were expressing a similar feeling, which is that we knew it was important and we knew we had to respond to it, but we just couldn't respond to it at that time. And in speaking with other writers at the moment, I've found that what I'm feeling is quite similar. And one one writer expressed it to me a month or so ago was saying that, she said I need a blank canvas. On which my imagination will project itself and out there. It's far from being a blank canvas at the moment. And, of course, it's it's almost like what's happening out there is a fiction. And particularly with the antics of someone like Donald Trump, it seems to be more of a fictional world every day than a real world. And it's like our imaginations of having to compete with that failing to compete with that. And I know this will change. We just need time to be able to process it. So be interesting to see what your point of view is Shireman in terms of this in your field. You're having similar challenges.
I think COVID and the lockdown.
It has it. I don't think it's changed necessarily what I think arts role is Or its value, but it's certainly amplified and exaggerated. You know, the, the need the need, or it's shown, I think at least I said this to my students in the first few weeks I said I, here we are, this is this, if we if we try and look at this from a kind of positive perspective, you know, usually, as artists as creators, as art students, as design students, as photographers, we sit and we observe these events which are going on somewhere else to other people. And when we make our work, we make it quite unconsciously from that perspective. And here we are part of something that is global, that is collective where we're being asked to
in a way that is for the collective goal. And, you know, how how is it that we create in that context? And I think that if you look at the Sydney Binali, the current Sydney Binali that just got relaunched after locked down. You know, it's curated by Brooke. Andrew. It's the first First Nations Binali and when it when everything had to close because of locked down, I remember thinking, Oh, why, why this finale? You know, and interestingly, when it's reopened, it's reopened at a time that it seems like it's no accident. It's against the background of Black Lives Matter. And somehow, you know, against that backdrop that the anally is invested with even more, you know, I guess, need rigor for that part of I think what art does and This is what I this is what I would like to see happen, you know, in terms of the way governments support and govern the rhetoric around Culture and the Arts is that what art does is that it kind of it's reparative. It helps us like in times like this, this is when we turn to reading novels, this is when I want to go out and dance. This is when I want to be with other people. And artists make up for other people. We don't make it to put it under our bed. We want I think, first and foremost, to share what we do with others. And whether that be a kind of sharing of an aesthetic experience a physical experience
and natural experience.
fundamentally at the heart of creating new create for others. You don't
create just yourself.
And I think that arts gonna have a huge, you know, creativity in general has a huge role to play in helping us deal with trauma in helping us come together in helping us critique. Yeah. And you know, I think that these are the kinds of conversations that you never see.
ambitions to create that third space, we may have you and may with two different opinions, but we can speak to a shared experience and a shared humanity. And that's what it is, you know, it's the narrative of our humanity, and it's considering the value of that. I think the way COVID will impact programming Being very kind of practical ways as well, you know, a reliance on loans from regional collections as opposed to looking internationally or even just you know, nationally. So an increase of exhibition and exposure of Australian artists, particularly contemporary Australian artists, I hope we see an increasing commission and investment in Australian artists. This notion that we've been so reliant upon with our major institutions of the big blockbuster that comes at the end of the year where it grabs everyone who hasn't been to a gallery previously increased our numbers, boosts our value to the government that will no longer be happening. We need to change the way we consider our metrics of valuing impact upon audiences. So I think that will be really interesting. And I think, as a sector, the government has become complacent due to the generosity and reliance upon philanthropy. And I can't think of any other employment sector where this is an expectation. It's capitalizing on the passion and commitment of arts workers, artists and audiences to the arts and I fear should we not address this we will end up with the system much like the US. We're only a small portion of our population can afford to be part of the arts. I think during the lockdown, many galleries have focus their energies towards an online presence and engagement with audiences. And this is seen incredibly creative results like how doors do it program, which has been extraordinary. But as Australia begins to open up, and we focus back on opening up our physical cultural spaces, I think there'll be an expectation to make maintain this digital platform which has brought so many wonderful opportunities and access at the same time as running these physical spaces. And with limited staff and house and house operations. I think that's going to be very difficult. I was surprised to say that a recent study by Australian council found that only 22% of audiences are comfortable going to cultural events when restrictions are lifted. Yeah, you know, this is going to completely change the way we work. And I think, again, from my own personal experiences, I think public space will become a greater opportunity for artists, curators and audiences to access those cultural events with greater security existing within council state budgets around building an infrastructure. For me personally, this is becoming a more viable and sustainable way of curating Storytelling, I think we'll see more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary practices that don't necessarily define themselves within visual arts. And as First Nations people, artists and practitioners, this is something we've always done. And that resilience is showing in these moments of uncertainty. So I think we're going to be seeing greater bravery and risk within the works that we take.
So why do you think, Oh, it's so many interesting points that you brought up Emily and my backgrounds. I have a regional home and down south coast, but I ran Sydney downs company worked at Sydney Opera House. So across all of the performing arts as well as cinema, and the thing that's really exciting is there is research that galleries are necessary in regional Australia and when there was the regional arts grants. Round last year came up. There's a fantastic Stick gallery in vegan that wanted to expand the community wanted to expand it came, I think top of all of the the assessment from the assessment panel, and it didn't get funded. There's something number 72 on the list, nothing to do with visual arts, but just to a general point of what is going to happen in the future. What will people come to? How will they come together? I see that COVID-19 in the context of we've been ripped by droughts, fires. And when we came to back to work in February to start programming our film festival. We usually don't see marked trends of Zeitgeist of themes and this notion, maybe our programmer will never give us a publicity line of what are all the films focused on. He did this year. The films that we were curating were about the breakdown of government, and the betrayal of government all across the world. These were in documentaries feature films, shorts, comedy You name it, it was it was a theme that was going through films. So those films are still there, and they will come out next year. And if enough production is remounted, then I'm sure as Deborah said, some of the themes of the new films will have to be impacted by what everybody's just lived through. But again, I suppose I'm more of a Pollyanna optimist on people getting together quickly. I think shared experiences is in everybody's DNA. And there's there's also an element of risk taking that people will have to come back and to share films in cinema with filmmakers, to go to galleries to go to theater. And one thing that I will say on the weekend, there's also a personal prioritizing of what you want to do in your own lifetime. The marches that went out in Sydney around town hall, around the Black Lives Matters. I think was Saturday, they that was more important than COVID and catching something that that was about black death in custody. So I know I really admire Australia council research, but the performing arts are looking to get back in big, big venues 2000 seat venues in September. And I'm just hoping that research isn't true that you know, everybody will go. And certainly, you know, I'm really excited about what our Australian filmmakers will produce for next year because, yes, they're not getting any surprising help or or from state or federal government. But they're inventive, and they're agile. And we will have their stories to share and we will share them in person because it makes a difference. You don't you're not moved. The conversation is different if you're not there in a cinema and I'll just finish that with the fact that 10 years ago when I started at the film festival, everybody had started the conversation of cinemas dead, everybody's going to watch it on online, you don't need to go to a cinema. It's all going to die. And the same story it comes up in a different language every year. During that time, we've almost doubled our audience and our cinemas from 300 to 2000. There is an average of 70% attendance across all of the films, all of the screenings. So individuals don't agree with staying at home and watching things by themselves. They want to watch things together. They want to experience culture and stories and debate and confrontation together. So as I say, I might be a bit overly optimistic, but it just makes sense to me.
This article is based on, and contains excerpts from, Art after lockdown.
What has helped you through the coronavirus lockdown?
Netflix? Online concerts? Music and comedy via social media? Virtual tours of galleries and museums? Books?
Without doubt, the creative industries have sustained many of us through these uncertain times – often for free. Now though, experts and practitioners are looking at how the arts will emerge from this economic challenge, and how the pandemic has changed the way we live and think about ourselves, our communities and the future.
In a Life after Lockdown webinar, moderated by UTS Art assistant curator Eleanor Zeichner, four arts experts shared their insights and experiences.
Artist Dr Cherine Fahd, Director of Photography at UTS, said the uncertain future of Sydney’s Carriageworks is an indicator of the lack of support for the arts in NSW.
“When we heard that Carriageworks had gone into voluntary administration, we were all very shocked and disappointed,” said Dr Fahd, artist in residence at The Clothing Store, Carriageworks.
The Carriageworks situation needs to instigate a really open discussion about what the arts are in NSW
She said Carriageworks’ situation – all but forced into voluntary administration only partly because of COVID-19, then mooted as an Opera House understudy – signalled “something that all arts workers, artists, curators and directors of institutions already know”. The arts in NSW and in Sydney are geared towards tourism and spectacle.
“If anything, the Carriageworks situation needs to instigate a really open discussion about what the arts are in NSW, which is far more than ballet and the Opera House,” Dr Fahd said.
Curator Emily McDaniel focuses on storytelling through the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and is curator of the City of Sydney’s nine-kilometre Harbour Walk (Eora Journey).
As an independent curator, McDaniel lost most of her projects, in particular with museums and galleries, almost overnight as the lockdown began. However, she has been able to continue her work with the Harbour Walk and made some important observations along the way.
I found this sense of longing from people for the environment and for nature – for the kind of sensorial experience of what it means to be on Country
“Interestingly, I saw a change in the way all Australians thought about public space and storytelling.
“I found this sense of longing from people for public spaces, for the environment and for nature – for the kind of sensorial experience of what it means to be on Country, you know, to dip your feet into the water, to be barefoot on grass, to hear waves crashing on the harbour foreshore.
“That sense of longing is something we as First Nations people feel every single day. Whether it's the Country we're on, or the Country we're from. So it was quite beautiful to see that emotion reflected in people … we were limited from accessing our public spaces but we longed for them.”
Associate Professor Debra Adelaide, a lecturer in creative writing at UTS and author of 17 books, offered a wry observation of the writer in lockdown – “used to working on their own, working in isolation, working in their pyjamas … and, like so many creative practitioners, for very, very low incomes”.
People are really hungry to be nourished by the sorts of things creative practitioners can provide
She said when all the ancillary money-making things – literary festivals, workshops, talks – were cancelled, paused or moved online, writers’ creativity was tested in new ways.
The launch of the new book morphed into a regular online book club, for example, providing scant income but generating huge interest.
“The online events I've been joining have been very well attended. People are really hungry to be nourished by the sorts of things creative practitioners can provide.”
Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small said her team had to make some urgent decisions when lockdown began in March. With the restrictions on large gatherings, the festival COVID-style became a limited edition.
SFF2020 kicked off with a tight program delivered wholly online – film screenings, filmed introductions, Q&A sessions, live panel discussions and the competitions – and a larger audience than usual.
“It's an interesting change but the business model is the thing that will stop us pursuing this. Filmmakers make most of their money in theatrical release, then they sell for broadcast rights and then they go to a video on demand or, if they're lucky enough, they get a Netflix purchase,” Small said.
The online film festival is an interesting change but the business model is the thing that will stop us pursuing this
The exciting upside, she said, is the accessibility this online virtual world provides, with commissions for filmmakers who identify as having a disability, and an expanded program accessible to communities in regional Australia.
Panellists agreed a creative response to the pandemic was important and complex.
Debra Adelaide: “The question for me is, how do I keep writing a contemporary novel that doesn't reference the current crisis? But how can I incorporate any reference to that current crisis, and not seem opportunistic? And how can I do it in a way that's thoughtful and reflective because I find I need time to reflect on something as important as a national and international pandemic.”
Cherine Fahd: “Art helps us in times like this – this is when we turn to reading novels, this is when I want to go out and dance. This is when I want to be with other people. Artists make art for other people, we don't make it to put it under our bed.”
Emily McDaniel: “From my own personal experiences, I think public space will become a great opportunity for artists, curators and audiences … a more viable and sustainable way of curating and storytelling. I think we're going to be seeing greater bravery and risk within the works that we make.”
Leigh Small: Droughts and fires were the warm-up act for the coronavirus pandemic, and new films in 2021 and beyond will reflect what everybody has just lived through.
The 67th Sydney Film Festival: Virtual Edition continues until June 21.