Words To Make Art By

Back in 2015, Bek Berger, Dan Koop and I joined forces to pull off Convergence – a day-long space for independent artists to gather, converse, collaborate, and plan. We conceived of the day at a difficult moment for the arts in Australia; we were in the wake of potentially catastrophic funding cuts, and over the following months and years, more would be made to both the arts funding the Australia Council and state funding agencies would have to disseminate to artists, and operational funds for their own staff to be able to do their jobs. Alison Croggon, esteemed Australian arts writer estimated that between the 2013/14 and 2015/16 financial years, there was a 70% drop in funding for individual artists, and 72% drop for arts projects. There were further drastic cuts – in the 2015/16 organisational funding rounds, 50 small-to-medium organisations out of 178 nationwide were defunded, a reduction of 28%.

Beyond economic discussions, the arts community was lit up with – overdue – conversations around diversity, respect, and representation on our stages and on the walls of our galleries; a conversation the entirety of Australia needs to be having and one we can’t pretend we’re immune from (and one that voices other than mine speak to more expertly – here, here, and here, for starters).

But we found – Bek, Dan, and I – that at ostensibly arts community events, the conversations being had were dominated by representatives of larger organisations; forums were structured and curated to cater to their perspectives and independent artists were not prioritised, not heard, and not invited.

That’s fine, of course – not every conversation has to include everyone, and if you want to get stuff done, sometimes you need to close in the committee. But we found ourselves wanting to be in a different circle, with our independent peers. So we built Convergence.

By sheer coincidence, the day aligned with the nationwide protests against cuts to the arts, and as a group, we journeyed to the protests – building active political action into a day of discourse and workshop. The following year, Convergence 2016 unfolded; and just this past week, Convergence 2017 was spearheaded by Bek Berger, Esther Anatolitis, Izzy Roberts-Orr, and Julien Leyre. I followed the event online from my current base in NYC, and you can too – check out #convmelb.

As part of that twitter hashtag, a document came to light that I hadn’t looked over for at least a year – the ten key organising values that Bek, Dan and I articulated in one of our first planning sessions for Convergence; those we wanted to embody as facilitators, that we see as essential for the independent arts community in Australia, and that served as a guiding ideological framework for how the day was eventually structured and its content.

Take them. Use them. Here they are –

  1. INDEPENDENCE: the right to choose what you do, when you do it, in what context…and remain in creative control. Autonomy, responsibility, and self-organisational principles.
  2. COURAGE: speaking and acting with respect for and in spite of potential adversity – on your own behalf or others. Choosing to speak when you might otherwise be silent; choosing to listen when you might otherwise override.
  3. COMMUNITY; shared values and behaviours and hopes. We believe our power increases when we work together. Not homogeneity, not conformity; a Band of Thebes.
  4. DIFFERENCE AND DIVERSITY; in both art forms and artists – across spectrums of ability, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and the forms in which you practice. Mutual exchange between peoples and forms within this.
  5. LIVING WORK; Active, dynamic, fluid; across all its forms. Liveness and time.
  6. RIGOR AND PRECISION; Criticality and care. A commitment to self-interrogation. A lack of defensiveness.
  7. DISRUPTION; Opposing from within, intruding from without. The revelation of the unseen, the interjection of the unheard.
  8. QUICKNESS; working light, working fast. As independents, our strength is in being light and nimble and flexible. Planning for and working in the now.
  9. SUSTAINABILITY; of our peers, our resources, our environment, ourselves. Honouring, respecting and working within limitations. Taking breaks. Having a life outside of work. Taking care of yourself and others.
  10. TRANSPARENCY; above all things, having no secrets and telling no lies.