[pictured above – Michael Sollis and Ali Clinch behind the scenes of filming Create Curious]
Well, what a year. Bushfires, floods, hail, COVID-19 – I think we’re all just about ready to just scrap 2020 all together. Industries of all sorts have suffered greatly, jobs have been lost, incomes dissipated, literally overnight.
Of all those affected, the arts and entertainment industries have been some of the hardest hit. People don’t realise how much the arts are depended upon for providing social cohesion, community, entertainment, generating discussion and critical thought, just to name some amazing benefits, until they just… stop.
When the first cases of COVID began to emerge in Australia, we were all pretty complacent, let’s be honest. I confess that I texted my dad something along the lines of “stupid coronavirus hype” towards the beginning of March.
Within days though, I realised the enormity of what we were all about to face. In the days that followed, events, classes, programs, arts centres, theatres, and festivals, one by one, were cancelled. The city, and the rest of the world, effectively shutdown within a matter of weeks.
It was during this time that I received a group message on Facebook from the wonderful Michael Sollis (composer and arts educator) asking his immediate arts contacts what they thought about reviving the somewhat dormant Canberra Artists Action Group (CAAG). The response was quick and positive from the arts community; a resounding “yes”.
Forming in late 2016 as an arts community response to funding cuts to the 2016 ACT Government Arts Project Funding, CAAG has served as a platform for artists to have a voice around the issues directly impacting the sector. For much of 2018-19, the group largely went quiet, save for the occasional post on the Facebook group.
Then COVID happened. And since mid-March, artists of all disciplines have been meeting up to three times a week online (via Zoom) to keep across information and situations affecting people working in the arts in Canberra and across Australia.
Topics of discussion have included: the rollout of Government payments including JobKeeper and JobSeeker and the eligibility of artists in these schemes; the impact of COVID-19 on the general well-being; how specific disciplines are managing throughout this period; the value of the arts on Australian culture; sharing information about arts-specific grants and funding opportunities, just to name a few things. The social connection and industry support of the group, I’m sure many would agree, has been invaluable during this time.
The group have also just launched their Create Curious initiative which is a series of digital episodes where different ACT artists guide the Canberra community through an interactive creative experience. The pilot episode was launched on ABC Radio on 17 June with Ali Clinch – actor, mother, carer, and wife based in Queanbeyan – guiding listeners through documenting and creating from the ordinary and everyday.
With the hugely successful pilot launched, a full video series is now in production in collaboration with Tuggeranong Arts Centre, Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centre, and Belconnen Arts Centre.
For any artist or member of the community who wishes to engage in the ongoing conversation about the ACT Arts Sector, please join the Facebook group facebook.com/groups/CanberraArtsActionGroup/
General community meetings happen every Wednesday at 12:30pm via Zoom – the link is available via the Facebook group. We welcome those from all backgrounds in this conversation. If you’re not on Facebook but interested in joining the conversation, please email BMA at firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom details.