Some of Perth’s farthest-flung suburbs are homes to flourishing arts scenes. Rania Ghandour explains why you should dive in.
A question for you, dear readers. When was the last time you participated in an arts event?
Now take away the events that took place in the CBD, Northbridge, Perth’s inner suburbs or Fremantle. Traditionally the arts in Perth have been focused on these hubs, but a rich world of arts activity is taking place throughout our sprawling metropolitan area.
Unsurprisingly, people in the outer suburbs want the same thing from the arts as those who live closer to the CBD. Mundaring Arts Centre Director Jenny Haynes believes that while everybody seeks a sense of excitement from the arts, it’s not limited to just one thing.
“People want to be involved in something that will spark their joy and imagination but also help them build skills and make connections,” she says.
A path to better mental health
The recent Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre report, Creativity at the Crossroads? The creative industries in Western Australia, found attendance at performing arts has a significant association with better mental health. Relative to the average index of mental health, the results show that attendance at performing arts improves mental health by about 1.5%.
The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA Executive Director Shelagh Magadza goes further, saying that while attendance at arts events is important, active participation has been shown to be the most impactful way to improve mental health.
“It’s by going to see things, yes, but it’s doing craft locally, it’s joining a local choir, it’s engaging in art that reflects one’s own cultural practices,” she says. “Community arts projects benefit all kinds of people, of all ages.”
The BCEC report also found that ticket costs, distance and accessibility are the main reasons for not attending arts and cultural events.
Breaking down barriers to participation: Mundaring and Midland Junction Arts Centres
Haynes believes one of the responsibilities of venues and local government is to remove barriers to participation by providing platforms for engaging at a local level. “The value of community arts is to present art through an accessible window,” she says. “It is to provide the opportunity to build participation from a young age and take people along through the arts, have them involved actively through their lifetime.”
Haynes manages the Mundaring and Midland Junction Arts Centres, where programming includes exhibitions, workshops, performance and community engagement – the commonality is sharing and telling local stories.
By focusing on programming that resonates with locals and by building important partnerships, audiences and participation have increased.
“The numbers are up, interest is up,” Haynes says. “This has been building over several years, but COVID-19 hasn’t seen a decrease, with audiences up around 10%.”
Partnerships that Mundaring and Midland Junction Arts Centres have built include the Aboriginal Arts Hub of Western Australia (AACHWA), which has offices in the Midland Junction Arts Centre (MJAC), and independent artists Whiskey & Boots.
AACHWA Chief Executive Officer Chad Creighton says the partnership with MJAC has been particularly valuable to AACHWA’s Aboriginal Arts Worker Internship program. Last year this group of regional arts workers met with MJAC curator Melissa McGrath to bring their perspective to the exhibition “Yoowalkoorl – Come On, Come Here”.
“The interns felt the work of artists from the regional Aboriginal arts centres should be placed around the walls of the room and the Noongar artists should be in the centre, signifying that this is their country and we are guests here,” Creighton says. “This program is all about two-way learning, with mob coming from the regions to Perth to learn from these experts, but then we, [the Perth-based arts workers], also benefit from their expertise.”
Bringing arts to the people and people to the arts: Whiskey & Boots
Independent artists Georgia King and Mark Storen, of Whiskey & Boots, have presented their show Mama Stitch in Midland as part of the 2021 Perth Festival, Albany, Bunbury, Joondalup, Kalamunda and Gosnells. Mama Stitch sees Whiskey & Boots work with people from a place – a suburb or a town – to tell stories of people in that community.
For King and Storen, the place always informs the work, so it’s a new experience each time. This brings benefits to audiences and to the performers.
“Being part of Perth Festival in Midland gave us an opportunity to engage with a Perth suburb and community that might not always engage with or be given voice in a festival of this scale,” they say.
“Because we share stories from a diverse cross-section of the community, that is, real stories from real people, they are more likely to attend and bring their family and friends.
“Conversely we found there were audiences who came to Midland for the first time because it was a Perth Festival show and experienced a part of their city they might not ordinarily go to, including the Midland Junction Arts Centre which hosts amazing work from the community and beyond.
“They then attended subsequent versions of Mama Stitch in Gosnells and Kalamunda after their experience of seeing Mama Stitch in Midland, listening to new stories from multiple suburbs which we think is great.”
For Whiskey & Boots, the key to developing trust and relationships within the places they visit is spending time there.
“Our residency for Mama Stitch has us set up in the community for five weeks so we can build relationships and really honour the stories shared from the community,” they say.
Funding for outer metropolitan arts has been a focus for the State Government. A Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries (DLGSC) spokesperson says one example is the piloting of the Outer Metropolitan Arts Support Program in 2020, aimed at creating partnerships between local government and arts or community organisations to increase participation in, and access to, high quality arts and culture in Perth’s outer metropolitan communities.
“There are projects currently underway in eight local government areas, which are the Cities of Wanneroo, Swan, Kalamunda, Armadale, Kwinana and Rockingham, and Shires of Serpentine-Jarrahdale and Mundaring,” they say.
The rewards of participation: CHORUS by Annette Carmichael Projects
One of the works underway in the City of Kwinana is a partnership with Community Arts Network and Annette Carmichael Projects called CHORUS, a community dance project led by a team of professional dancers, that connects and unites women and non-binary people from all walks of life against violence. First Nations and culturally and linguistically diverse people are encouraged to take part.
City of Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams says the opportunity to not only view CHORUS as an audience member but contribute and participate as a maker and performer in the overall project is empowering and brings communities together.
“This project builds on the community’s resilience and cohesiveness to raise awareness of domestic violence and its impacts,” she says.
“The story was presented to the Noongar Elders group who were supportive and encouraged participation from their communities.
“Elders and community members were excited about the upcoming taster workshops in Kwinana and supported the overall storyline, given the opportunity for participation and celebration of this performance by the wider community in Kwinana.”
Workshops are being held across the metropolitan area and the project will culminate in a performance at the Koorliny Arts Centre in Kwinana in May 2022.
Koorliny Arts Centre General Manager Kate McIntosh says people want experiences that provide an outlet for creativity and expression and help them connect with others.
“And that’s what we’re here for – to provide those outlets and opportunities for reflection, inspiration, growth, connection and encouragement.”
Previous participants in CHORUS echo these sentiments. “Being back in a creative space with other women has been both healing and empowering,” one says.
“CHORUS has taught me a different sort of activism. That there is space and value for all of it. That it can sit alongside my angry and loud action and that art and dance can empower and change too.”
This is just a snapshot of some of the vibrant artistic activity taking place in Perth’s outer suburbs. Suffice to say there is something happening all the time, beyond the CBD and beyond the traditional arts companies and festivals.
And with restrictions on interstate and international travel still in place, there has never been a better time to go exploring in our own backyard.
Register for CHORUS taster workshops throughout October here.
Pictured top is emerging WA singer Bonnie Staude, who was a cast member in the 2021 production of Annette Carmichael’s ‘CHORUS’. Photo: Nic Duncan
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