Art Works Blog

Postcard from Fifth World Summit on Arts & Culture, Day 2

Melbourne, Australia

Text and photo by Jamie Bennett


Day two: “Wai palya?” is Pitjantjatjara for “G’day”

Day two of IFACCA’s conference began with a Pitjantjatjara language lesson from Trevor Jamieson. In addition to teaching the crowd how to greet one another, he also led us through the Pitjantjatjara version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Knees and Toes” (“Kata, ulpiri, muti, tjina”). Complete with the original choreography. There is a photo of Rocco participating, but he confiscated it before I could post.

After that, we began a day-long discussion of “place” with a keynote by Jacques Martial (actor and president of France’s Parc de la Villette). I found his discussion of the physical spaces within the Parc de la Villette fascinating. When he arrived, he found that the outdoor spaces were used by every kind of French citizen, describing the visitors “as a rainbow of seven colors.” But when he looked into the institutions in the Parc, “six of the seven colors disappeared from the rainbow.” So he began an investigation into why, and he realized that the Parc’s institutions needed to be more inclusive, both in terms of artistic content and also in terms of marketing materials. He realized that the photographs that the Parc used were photographs of audiences of a single color. He realized he needed to make some changes, so he changed both the range of art displayed, as well as the materials that were used to invite people in. Audiences changed, but they also decreased. At least at first.  Audiences are growing again, but I think this is an important lesson for anyone attempting institutional change: be ready to succeed. If you change an institution, it is not going to look the way it looked yesterday. In the arts, I think we are sometimes not prepared for success.

The “My Place” panel followed. Rocco talk about the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, Our Town, and ArtPlace. Pooja Sood spoke about KHOJ, her organization based in India that is dedicated to experimentation and intersections between the arts and every day citizens. (Pooja promised us a blog post to talk more about her work, so stay tuned.) And, finally, Lachlan McDonald talked about his work in integrating the arts and healthcare in Western Australia. It was interesting to see the resonances between the three presentations, and also the general agreement in the room about the crucial role that art has in shaping physical, social, and economic spaces. I believe that there is the potential for an international community of practice around “creative placemaking.”

In the afternoon, I went to a roundtable on the “indigenous Wisdom of Place.” Three artists---Treahna Hamm (of the Yorta Yorta and Wadi Wadi people), Vernon Ah Kee (of the Kukuk Yalanji, Ydindji, and Gugu Yimithirr people), and Tainui Stephens (Te Rarawa) presented. I realized that I was not fully prepared to participate in this discussion, as I was still new to many of the issues being discussed. Vernon Ah Kee spoke about the commodification of “Aboriginal Art” (his quotation marks). He posited that “Aboriginal art” was largely a construction of gallerists and art dealers, who forced the title of “artist” onto indigenous people and forced them to produce a certain kind of art without an understanding of what it means to be an artist and without a choice, ultimately. Having just been at the NEA’s Heritage Fellows celebrations, I find myself wrestling with the, perhaps false, dichotomies that many of us make between artists who work in indigenous traditions and those who work in so-called “high art” traditions. I don’t really have anything to say about it yet, as I am still in learning mode. But it makes me think of the differences between natural history museums (where the credit is usually given to a culture and a time period) and art museums (where credit is given to an individual, as if they were producing the work sui generis with no tradition). I have a feeling that this will be my meditation on the 15-hour plane ride back.

The afternoon was filled with site visits to various Melbourne destinations and then a performance of Back to Back Theatre’s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. For me, sadly, jet lag took over, and I missed both. But after a 4 hour nap, I am way palya (“all right”) now.

P.S.  Here is ABC’s (that’s the Australian Broadcasting Company’s) summary of the first day of IFACCA’s #artsummit.

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