Leaning into Dangerous Conversations
On the back of the inaugural NSW Regional Futures Symposium in Western Sydney, Dubbo-based artist Kim V. Goldsmith asks what bold actions are needed to ensure creatives play a
role in the future of the regions — regions we choose to live and work in.
What does your future look like in your region? This was the question put to delegates from
across New South Wales at the inaugural Regional Futures Symposium, held in Western
Sydney in late July.
Regional Futures has been an 18-month project initiated by the NSW Regional Arts Network,
funded by the State Government through Create NSW. It charged 30 artists from across 15
regional arts development organisations to explore the future of their regions in whatever
way made sense to them. I was one of those artists, working in a cross-region conversation
between Orana Arts and Arts Mid North Coast, with an eye on the impact of renewable
energy developments on human and more-than-human communities. (For more information about the lead up to the event, see my previous post on the Mona blog).
Other artists took on social inequality, housing, domestic violence, notions of ‘home’,
impacts of climate change on people with disability, the need for change, connection and
traditional knowledges, and shared hopes for the future. The resulting artworks are as
diverse as the regions and our communities.
With the works installed at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre for exhibition until 24
September, the opportunity to create conversations around them was the focus of the
Regional Futures Symposium on 22 July. Keen to break out of our echo chambers, those of
us who fed ideas into the planning of the event, wanted to include other sectors, decision-
makers and influencers who are important to the future of the regions — educators,
farmers, scientists, economists, renewable energy and health advocates, and governments.
This was a chance to bring creatives to the table.
The keynote speech was given by South Coast-based opera and festival director, Lindy
Hume AM, drawing on her PhD thesis 'A Bigger Picture – towards a landscape-oriented arts
practice'. Murmurs of agreement could be heard from the tiers of the arts centre theatre as
Hume talked of the need for paradigm-shifting actions to inspire change. That’s what the shift in orientation from portrait to landscape is all about — creating a more expansive
The risk of these events is that they're navel gazing exercises. Too many of us have seen the excitement build at the end of thought-provoking events only to see no follow-up and no
One of the tag lines of Regional Futures was to be bold. So, as an artist with an emotionally vested interest in the future of the regions, what bold actions was I looking for?
I’ll refer to elements of Lindy Hume’s address that I connected with from my own
experiences to explain what bold actions might look like. Firstly, the creative life must be
more meaningful, have purpose, and sound structural underpinnings. That doesn’t mean
works can’t be beautiful or ‘artful’, or that we stop playing in our practices or practising our
craft, but it means we must understand more about the context in which we sit in our
practice, consciously connecting with the wider world, and contributing to it beyond the
bubble that can so often isolate us. We are, and must be, part of a global conversation.
This point leads to the need for ‘expressly articulated’ collaborations and co-creations. Not
every creative practice is or needs to be socially or community-engaged, but there’s a
growing need for this type of art. We know the arts can be a powerful medium for
communicating complex ideas, for well-being and learning, and creating a sense of identity.
However, those we work with need more agency. As a creative project, Regional Futures has
been a great example of this — the artists within our regional communities have created
and presented a powerful collection of hopes, fears and challenges in an exhibition,
provoking discussion within and beyond our regional communities about how to move
forward. It's been a stage to bring new voices to the fore.
Hume said: “Many of the biggest ideas are coming from the smallest communities.” Using
her own experience, she believes living in regional Australia is no longer a bar to global
ambition. I think on this as I write this post from a studio on the Isle of Skye in Scotland,
where I'm reflecting on my process-driven, enquiry-based environmental practice of the last
five years, that has taken me thousands of kilometres across NSW to the north of Iceland
and back, and now Scotland. In that time, the work created in my studio on Wiradjuri
Country near Dubbo has been published and presented in England, Wales, Iceland, France,
and the USA. Yet, it’s always a thrill to be published and shown at home, in Australia. After
all, it’s the landscapes, communities, ecosystems, and stories of inland Regional NSW that
inspire my practice.
The title of the exhibition at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre that I’m part of, and the
symposium, is Artists in Volatile Landscapes. As it suggests, we live in volatile times, and one
might argue that bold actions are long overdue.
As well as being on a panel discussing different acts of listening, I sat in on other symposium
panel sessions and roundtables, each tackling issues we’re well familiar with. These included
how we play a role in adapting to change and preparing for the future, facilitating healing,
well-being and a sense of belonging, and the recalibration needed to recognise
interdependency between regions — rural and metropolitan. On this last point, a session on
the regional/ city divide made the point that it’s time to dismantle the terminology of ‘regional’ and ‘city’, as it’s not binary and ultimately not useful. Blacktown’s Arts and
Cultural Development manager, Alicia Talbot said: “Connection to place can carry you across
Country.” Most of us would agree. In keeping with the theme of bold actions, Talbot also
added there was a real opportunity at this point to do something different.
Orana Arts’ executive director, Alicia Leggett played a key role on the Regional Arts Network
steering committee for Regional Futures and she says the post-event feedback from the
other regional arts development organisations, Create NSW, and artists outside of the
Regional Future’s collective has been extremely positive. Regional Futures creative director, Narelle Vogel agrees, adding what we heard on the day was artists have an important role to play in the future of our communities and our economy, especially as we move towards a post carbon world. “Post-event survey responses have reported the immense value art and artists bring to discussions about the future, through important first-hand insights into a rapidly changing environment. Now is the perfect time for these conversations as the NSW State Government develops the NSW Arts, Culture and Creative Industry Policy.”
Southern Tablelands Arts executive director, Rose Marin said during the symposium:
“Art is a safe place to have dangerous conversations…not to turn our back on things, but to lean in.”
From where I sit, taking bold action, having these conversations, and leaning is more important than ever.
Regional Futures: Artists in Volatile Landscapes is showing at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre until 24 September. The catalogue of works showcasing artists and their concepts can be downloaded from the Regional Futures website.
Kim V. Goldsmith is an interdisciplinary artist and writer who has an interest in sound, field recording, social ecology, and storytelling. She is based near Dubbo on Wiradjuri Country.