International learnings… Louise Partos reflects on her 2017 travels

— by Kate Rendell

Artback NT EO, Louise Partos, talks local theatre contexts with Yoshiji Yokoyama from Shizuoka Performing Arts Centre, Japan, at the Performing Arts Market Seoul.

In 2017, Artback NT Executive Officer, Louise Partos, received a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts to investigate culturally diverse programming and community engagement strategies at key festivals in Canada and Singapore. The grant also enabled her to travel to Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan exploring potential new markets and opportunities for NT artists.

Here she reflects on the highlights, learnings and outcomes of this investigative journey:

There are many things I learnt from this professional development experience which will have lasting impact on both my personal and professional life. Ranging from small incremental learnings from meetings and encounters with people who spent valuable time with me, to significant strategic shake ups and reflections!

I realised how important it is to see how others do things. To not be absorbed in the day to day delivery of running an organisation but take the time to stop, consider, have conversations, learn and listen strategically.

One key learning I’ve taken away is that I need to be encouraging debate and difference and not be so frightened of or reluctant about change. I also believe that this experience has enabled me to see things about my own workplace and practice which were always there but that I was previously blind to. I am referring to both positive and negative aspects here.

Canada

In Canada I visited a variety of Festivals ranging from large scale international events such as the Montreal Jazz Festival to smaller community events such as the Adäka Cultural Festival, Whitehorse, Yukon, where hope and healing were the foundations of the event.

Closing ceremony, Adäka Cultural Festival produced by Yukon First Nations
Whitehorse, Canada

Travelling throughout the Yukon, I was particularly struck by the many similarities to issues faced within the Northern Territory such as both locations:

  • Servicing isolated communities
  • Responding to a diverse community base
  • Being reliant on Federal funding: 70-80% of funding comes from the Federal Government in both the Yukon and the Territory

However perhaps the bigger surprise was that we actually do many things better in Australia! For example, as highly flawed as many of our policies are, one also needs to look at the extraordinary benefits coming from Federal support for remote Indigenous art centres. In Canada there is almost no support for art and art making in remote Indigenous communities either in terms of assisting with advocacy and marketing, the creation of socially cohesive and healthy communities, or as a way of generating opportunities and income in isolated centres.

I returned from this inspiring trip even more passionate about the arts sector: in particular, the role of arts and festivals in creating healthy communities and in supporting diversity and creative pathways for communities.  Since my return I have been grappling with what this means for arts and cultural funding in the future in the Northern Territory. About how we need to work so much harder to emphasise the positive social and economic impact of the arts.

Asian connections

Louise Partos with delegates from Norway and Thailand at Performing Arts Market Seoul, South Korea.

In Hong Kong I visited the West Kowloon Cultural Precinct, in the midst of a typhoon no less (more connections with the Northern Territory!) and was astounded by the vision and the extent of infrastructure spending for the arts.

Singapore was a revelation with their emphasis on children and art and place and space – a much greater commitment to children than in Australia. It was cause for reflection on Artback NT’s audience development and programming for these demographics.

After attending the Performing Arts Markets (PAMS) in Seoul, South Korea, where I built new networks with arts workers from across the globe, I am now in a far better position to achieve outcomes for NT artists.

Internally this opportunity has definitely enabled me to further narrow down Asia focuses for Artback NT into the future. It has confirmed that Taiwan is absolutely the right direction for Artback NT – as there are great reciprocal opportunities for artists and arts organisations and a keen shared interest in and support of Indigenous artistic cultural exchange. If there was capacity for another focus country in the Asia Pacific region, Singapore would be the second priority.

However, since this trip I do not feel that Hong Kong or Korea are priority markets for us over the next few years. I believe that overall there is not a strong appreciation of First Nations work. There is much work still to be done here in terms of audience development and new markets.

Since returning to the NT, I have continued to liaise with Directors and buyers, and being able to pass on these details to artists and producers is like opening a door. It is the first step in negotiating cultural exchange, collaborations and, hopefully, touring outcomes into the future.

Louise Partos’ travel was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.