Creating for a fossil fuel-free arts future

12 March 2021

The launch of Brink Festival this month by a group of passionate artists and community members opens the door for an important conversation about arts funding. Ara Jansen reports.

A gathering around a café table set the stage for an arts festival in Fremantle this month which organisers hope will ignite a conversation around how we use money from fossil fuel companies in the arts.

Brink is an artist-led festival running 25 – 29 March, founded on the principles of integrity, community and preservation. Together with the City of Fremantle a team of locals are curating the ethically funded event to celebrate diverse cultures, amplify fringe voices and support local artists.

Vivienne Glance, part of the Brink’s core organising team, says it “began with the simple ask that we stop fossil fuel sponsorship of the arts”, but they soon realised it was a much bigger issue.

“If we’re to effectively consider ethical sponsorship and ethical arts practice, then this is a sector-wide conversation and we must think about a transition plan towards sustainable funding sources and practices,” Glance says.

A woman with dark hair and a blue shirt smiles at the camera
Writer and performer Vivienne Glance is a key organiser of Brink Festival. Photo supplied

Brink is focused on presenting performance works without fossil fuel funding. It’s putting the values of those involved into practice and is a public event aimed at inspiring others to think about how to fund the arts without money from fossil fuel companies.

Brink’s key message is to blaze a path for artists aspiring to move away from a fossil-fuelled arts sector and towards a more responsible future. Treating artists fairly and refusing fossil fuels is at the heart of Brink. Their members envision a more sustainable, thriving local arts industry. They hope that by connecting artists, venues and audiences, they can show what an ethical festival looks like and reclaim the arts.

The team has also been gathering stories and listening to local artists and audiences through a long-term community survey designed to take the ethical temperature of artists and audiences. Initial responses from nearly 80 people suggest that respondents consider sustainable arts in WA to be very or extremely important and that they were very likely or likely to attend an ethical arts festival as part of the new normal.

An active member of the local arts community as a writer and performer working across poetry, prose, performance, science and spoken word, Glance is also part of the Fossil Fuel Free Arts Network (FFFAN). It’s wider and longer-term goal is to open this conversation across the arts sector and involve producers, creatives, funding bodies and audiences in finding the solution. They’d also like to include government departments, ethics and economic institutions and other public and private groups and companies interested in helping tackle the issue.

She understands it’s a big ask and a big issue to tackle, but the festival is the first step in starting the conversation.

Passionate that money doesn’t come before values, Glance says the group are not alone in asking these questions, particularly in the light of the number of arts organisations and festivals which enter into sponsorship and funding agreements with fossil fuel companies.

Currently, Woodside supports Fringe World, WA Symphony Orchestra, WA Ballet, Barking Gecko Theatre and Yirra Yaakin, FMG Fortescue is a principal partner of Black Swan State Theatre Company and the Tianqi Lithium Gallery is part of the new WA Museum Boola Bardip. BHP are a principal partner of AWESOME Arts, Rio Tinto a premium partner of CinefestOz and Perth Festival have Chevron as a community partner.

“We must consider a transition plan to work out how our industry can survive in a changing world, where the impacts of fossil fuel extraction or unethical practices do not diminish the arts,” she says. “Where buying a social license to operate through the arts sector is no longer something that goes unquestioned.”

FFFAN planned to begin last year but obviously it turned out not to be the right time. So they continued having conversations in the background and waited until things calmed a little.

Along with performer Adam Bennett and writer Tineke Van der Eecken, Glance began working on Brink in earnest in September and they have been both surprised and thrilled at the amount of support they’ve received.

“We are hoping that Brink is a small candle in the darkness that will help us see this is a way we can go. We must examine whether the arts really is a public handmaiden for corporations to hide behind. Companies buy a social license to operate by sponsoring an arts event.”

Glance says it’s also important to consider what would happen to a slew of arts organisations if the fortunes of these companies changed and the impact that would have on the industry.

“We also have to ask why a professional artist creating at a professional level can’t speak out against a fossil fuel company if they’re the sponsor of a festival. If they’re being gagged, that’s a serious issue. We need to have these conversations around climate and social justice.”

The Brink festival offers an interesting and varied program with something for everyone and is presented by artists with a social justice or environmental conscience. Eleven events across four days include theatre, music, comedy, dance, poetry, children’s theatre, interactive performance and storytelling.

On the Brink: Fundraiser kicks off the Festival on 21 March 2021. Photo supplied

The festival kicks off with “On the Brink: Fundraiser” at Mojo’s on March 21 with Cosmic Ostrich, Lemon Lime Bitters, Le Mezz Club & Mike Slade and DJ Pussymittens. Then the festival runs from March 25 – 29.  

Headlining is Richard Walley’s Six Seasons, a concert celebrating the six Noongar seasons through song. The song cycle features Richard Walley on didgeridoo, backed by vocalists and the Junkadelic Brass Band, followed by a “Junkadelic Dance Party” afterwards.

If life is not a dress rehearsal, directors Horst and Jennifer Kornberger invite you to take an active part in The Rehearsal, as you become part of the troupe and create a social sculpture. For the dancing queens and daddy cools amongst you, put on your best disco gear and join “Randa’s Disco Show” for an afternoon interactive show where you’ll learn the soul train.   

For families with children from three to eight, Chicken Licken is based on Ladybird early reading books and cooks up a tasty stew of barnyard adventure, comedy, puppetry and clowning.

Strictly for adults, join Fremantle storyteller and poet Jaya Penelope and guests at “Yaga’s Cauldron” for a lantern-lit evening of storytelling, poetry and music. 

“We’re not trying to be didactic with the festival. This is a festival of art and a lot of these artists speak for themselves. We hope that this starts a conversation because there’s a big shift in thinking and attitude which needs to happen.”

Brink runs 25 – 29 March 2021

Pictured top: Richard Walley (centre) with members of the Junkadelic Brass Band. Photo supplied

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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