News & Insights

Welcome to Season one, 2019

Arts House Artistic Director Emily Sexton’s speech at the launch of Season One 2019

13 December 2018


Thanks Kaye, and I too would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the people of the Kulin Nations, to Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung peoples joining us today, and all Aboriginal and First Nations people here in this room, their elders, past, present and emerging.

So it’s been nearly six months since I started in this role. Like so many of you, my relationship to this space goes a lot deeper. And I really believe that a lot of what is specific to this particular Artistic Director position is the way it must hold the lineage of artists’ practice; what this particular work by that particular artist means at this time, within a larger ecology that we hope is as diverse and wild as possible. Nonetheless, these first months I have spent a lot of time listening, trying to keep those outsider eyes on, and then synthesising what I know of this space and its history with what I understand of our community, of contemporary practice, and what is interesting and radical and needed, now.

And what of it?

There are advantages of having been in this city for a while, and for a lot of people in this room – my practice has unfolded in parallel to yours. So I am not discovering urgent issues. I am not enamoured by laneways. I am not championing neglected fights. Almost the opposite: most of the things I am hungry to make happen here aren’t new at all. They are changes artists have been pointing towards for some time. In so many ways it is time to just walk the walk.

It is time to empower First Nations artists and producers to decision making and leadership positions, and place them at the core of our work.

It’s time for artists whose work I have loved, nurtured, adored and seen over more than a decade in this city to now embark on new levels of scale, depth or impact.

It’s time to look at new and shared curatorial models.

It’s time we all implement those access plans.

It’s time for work that exists across multiple platforms, that goes to new public spaces where people already are, across digital and the real world.

It’s time to make space for new people, and know that it doesn’t mean we the privileged become irrelevant – but only, that our role will change.

For a lot of reasons, but mostly because we are trusted to do so, Arts House is the perfect place to try all of these things.

We are in an interesting moment, as the nation’s creative capital. There is absolutely no question that if you want to be an artist, this is the place. There’s work here. There’s a functional state government here. There’s a city government that’s ambitious, that respects artists, that has deeply embedded programs designed to make space for artists in the city, that strives to place artistic practice at the start of their work. And yet, the body blow dealt to the Australia Council – now three years ago – that crisis mentality still lingers. And the spectre of becoming smug, or resting on our laurels, is real.

So because of that crisis, or maybe in spite of it, I feel like in this city, right now, there’s a build-up of pressure that can only be released via some really huge, new, bold things happening. People seem ready for change. We are ready to move through and shake off that crisis mentality. As a leader within this context I must be ready to do that, and create support structures for artists to do that too.

So that’s a long list of jobs to do. Not all of them are reflected in Season One, but some are. And for that I need to note the gorgeous, incredible work of some other people: of Angharad Wynne Jones and Catherine Jones, on whose giant shoulders we all stand. Of my favourite person ever, Josh Wright. Of the smartest producing team I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, Tara Prowse, Oli Anderson and Sarah Rowbottam. Of Claire and Daen and Anita, our brave marketing crew – Claire there’s hitting the ground running and then there’s you, a jetstream. Of our production team, Tony and Blair and Luke, the best in the business – you are what sets us apart. To our Administration Ninjas – Will, Trudy and Leah – for keeping all the balls in the air. Of the whole wonderful Arts House team, led with a glint and a steady hand by Brian Horder.

But back to Season One. An important thing to note: we are shifting to three seasons in 2019. It’s something to try; it allows us flexibility and responsiveness. So tonight we’re talking about January to April.

All of our Season One artists are truly exceptional and I am so proud to share them with you all. I want to point to some highlights within the context of change that I’ve mentioned:

– In an epic Dance Massive program featuring 15 shows, I’m proud that four of these are led by First Nations artists, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers appearing in a number of other works. We’re delighted to present Joel Bray’s Biladurang, DubaiKunghaMiyalk’s Same but Different, featuring five First Nations female choreographers and artists, Marrugeku’s Le Dernier Appel / The Last Cry and Thomas ES Kelly’s CO_EX_EN

– I’m delighted that with Midsumma Festival, we’ve invited darcy t gunk to curate the public program for BODY, featuring some incredible trans, gender diverse and intersex artists

– In Spectral, a meeting of light and sound, it’s fantastic to see some awesomely talented female sound artists present alongside homeboy Robin Fox, including Hanna Chetwin, Kusum Normoyle, Jannah Quill and Meaghan Streader

– In 2019 we introduce Makeshift. Makeshift is paid, three-day workshops, and regular gatherings. It’s professional development by artists, for artists and is designed to ensure that established, extraordinary artists in this city are sustained and fed over a long and fruitful career. There will be nine of these throughout the year. For our first Makeshift Gathering, Samira Farah and Areej Nur will pick up a conversation about the barriers that prevent artists and curators from different backgrounds making the impact they need, and want

– In 2019, the ambitious five-year project Refuge turns its mighty investigative eye to the theme of Displacement. We’re excited to be working closely with Latai Taumoepeau, Vicki Couzens, Uncle Larry Walsh and others on the curatorial direction of this project, ahead of its full unleashing in September.

This is just the start, but I feel good about it as a beginning. There’s much more to do. One of the things I always loved about how Angharad directed this place was that even though the program was curated, literally thousands of artists each year would understand Arts House to be their home. It’s important to me that continues, so please do talk to us about what you want this space to be – we are committed to listening and committed to try.

So tonight, we will start as we mean to go on. The artists curated tonight are showing us the way. Let’s make love, let’s cast a spell, let’s make some resolutions, let’s be generous and give each other things, let’s dance, let’s remember the past while embracing the new, and let’s dive into the unknown together.