CuriousWorks yesterday warned a senate inquiry that changes to arts funding in the last federal budget could threaten the company’s grassroots community programs with young developing artists in western Sydney.
Executive Director Shakthi told the hearing in Parramatta that while the establishment of the proposed National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) could be seen by some as a new opportunity for high-profile art projects, funding it with cuts to the Australia Council budget was short-sighted and and threatened successful programs in underprivileged and culturally-diverse communities in Sydney’s west.
Shakthi explained that the kind of high-profile projects CuriousWorks was involved in with leading national and international arts companies stemmed from a community arts framework.
“To produce our high-profile artistic works, we have a long term, ongoing, grassroots arts program, where we nurture a new generation of storytellers from western Sydney,” Shakthi said.
“NPEA has stated it will not fund this kind of ongoing capacity building work. It is our ongoing funding from the Australia Council that supports this – and nothing else. We simply cannot do it without that stream of funding, which is now at risk. And if we cannot nurture the next generation of storytellers, then the larger arts institutions of this country and internationally lose their capacity to partner with companies like us and present modern, multicultural Australia to the world.”
Shakthi was supported at the hearing by CuriousWorks artist and cultural leader Guido Gonzalez who used himself as an example of what can be achieved by the community programs now under threat.
The former Chilean refugee from Cabramatta left school with the career advice to seek jobs as a cleaner. He joined the CuriousWorks grassroots programs and has gone on to make several successful films, including Riz which was selected for the 2015 Sydney Film Festival. He is now a leading mentor in our community programs for the next generation of artists following a similar path.
Curious? Read the full transcript of Shakthi's and Guido's presentations
I’m the founder and artistic director of CuriousWorks, a small to medium sized arts organisation based here in Western Sydney.
CuriousWorks is renowned for producing ambitious work that celebrates Australia’s untold stories. Two quick examples: we have a large scale play about a Sri Lankan Australian family in development with Belvoir Theatre, with what the incoming artistic director is calling some of the best writing he’s seen in a decade. We’re also currently producing a video art work with a number of Aboriginal Australian communities for large outdoor screens, through a commission from New York’s The Streaming Museum – through this exhibition our work will be seen by 1,000,000 people around the world – we are, in a way, acting as cultural ambassadors for Australia.
So on the surface, the announcement of the NPEA, and its aim to support new, ambitious work, could be seen as good thing for CuriousWorks. But ironically, its establishment could be the very thing that stops us in our tracks.
This is because the NPEA comes directly at the cost of the Australia Council’s ability to also support us.
CuriousWorks operates through a community arts framework. This means that in order to produce our artistic works, we have a long term, ongoing, grassroots arts program, where we nurture a new generation of storytellers from western Sydney. I’ll give you some statistics in this context. Between 2012 and 2014 we facilitated art with 1,300 people from working class, Aboriginal Australian and culturally diverse backgrounds. We spent over 20,000 contact hours with these Australians, the majority of them between 16 and 35 years of age, building their capacity for cultural, economic and social contributions to their community at an intense level.
The NPEA has stated it will not fund this kind of ongoing capacity building work. It is our ongoing funding from the Australia Council that supports this – and nothing else. We simply cannot do it without that stream of funding, which is now at risk. And if we cannot nurture the next generation of storytellers, then the larger arts institutions of this country and internationally lose their capacity to partner with companies like us and present modern, multicultural Australia to the world.
I am a cultural leader and digital artist, employed at CuriousWorks. I came to Australia as a Chilean asylum seeker, was in what was then called Villawood hostel as a boy, and grew up in Cabramatta.
I told my school teacher I wanted to be an artist; she told me that I might end up cleaning toilets.
I entered CuriousWorks’ grassroots program in 2010. After making many smaller works, in 2014 I co-wrote and directed Riz, a feature length work inspired by a story from my past. Riz debuted as an audiovisual work in Carriageworks’ 2014 program and then premiered at Sydney International Film Festival in 2015.
I’ve worked on many client jobs with CuriousWorks and the most memorable of these was going back to my school to teach digital media workshops.
I am now training the next generation of storytellers to come through the company, like Shakthi did for me. This is the CuriousWorks model at work, and it cannot continue if our Australia Council funding is lost due to the establishment of the NPEA.