Alysha Herrmann takes art to heart

Ruby Award winning creative producer and theatre maker Alysha Herrmann exemplifies the importance of being exposed to arts programs. As a single mother in the Riverland she reluctantly participated in a Riverland Youth Theatre and Vitalstatistix program and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

At this year’s Ruby Awards, Alysha Herrmann (who won the Geoff Crowhurst Memorial Award for individual contribution to community cultural development) delivered a moving acceptance speech. Herrmann, who for the last four-and-a-half years has been ExpressWay Arts’ creative producer, didn’t expect to win and was unprepared (even dropping an expletive when she accepted the award) for her speech but she passionately described how a community arts program changed her perception of the arts, which she thought were a waste of time, especially for someone like her.

“I was invited to be part of this community art project and I was like, ‘What, it doesn’t sound like my thing at all, why would I do that?’” Herrmann tells The Adelaide Review.

“I hadn’t had much exposure to the arts as a young person other than through school and all of my experiences there had been quite negative. I thought, ‘Oh well, the arts is a big waste of time. It’s a big waste of money. It’s just this luxury thing that people do as a hobby, it doesn’t mean anything.’ I had quite negative ideas about what that was and what it meant.”

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Herrmann says one of the reasons the experience was so powerful was that it put her in a situation she had never imagined herself to be in.

“I had zero self-esteem,” she says. “I was in some pretty awful situations and it just shifted my thinking enough to go, ‘Actually, my life could be different’. That was incredibly powerful but it also exposed me to some incredible artists. Some of the artists involved in that first project were Finegan Kruckemeyer (playwright), Sophie Hyde and Bryan Mason (Closer Productions) — incredible artists.”

It wasn’t just the artistic exposure. Of the five teenage parents involved in that project, which resulted in the production Random Mothers, Herrmann is still close friends with three of the participants.

“It creates bonds as well,” she says.

After that, Herrmann was determined to mirror her experience for other people. She moved to Ballarat to study acting but had to return to the Riverland for family reasons. Back home, she got involved in the arts as a volunteer, as well as an artist, and wrote a piece produced by Urban Myth.

“As a young artist living in the regions, I had a lot of support from Carclew,” she says. “I received funding from the project and development grants, and I also had a creative writing mentorship to work with Caleb Lewis [playwright], so I had a couple of engagements with Carclew as an artist. Then they advertised the position of creative producer at ExpressWay Arts and that’s what brought us to Adelaide.”

ExpressWay Arts is an initiative of Carclew and the City of Onkaparinga to nurture young artistic leaders in the south. Herrmann is about to move back to the country for a new role with Country Arts SA and Carclew.

“Carclew and the City of Onkaparinga have made an ongoing commitment to that group [ExpressWay Arts] because they are ready to take off, they are taking off, and the older part of that cohort is turning 18 this year. One of the boys applied for funding himself and got a grant and ran a six-week comedy series. He applied for the grant, he co-ordinated the venue, he organised the facilitator — with some mentoring — but he did all the work. Another one of the guys just applied for some funding for a small project next year. They’re really taking it on, they’re taking that ownership, and they’re making it happen. When you get to work with people over a period of time, you see how they’ve grown and changed. It’s pretty special.”

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Herrmann says she is returning to the country because she has a “long-term commitment to the regions”.

“I’m excited about people living in regional communities telling their own stories in their own way and being able to really delve deep into that. Often the way models work when it comes to regional arts is that the art all gets made in the city and then tours. I’m much more interested in: what can we make in regional communities that’s really exciting and vibrant and actually shakes things up a little bit? How can we bring work from the regions to the city instead of the other way?

“We don’t often realise the amazing thinkers, doers and creators out in the regional communities. On a professional level, I’m really passionate about making sure they get that opportunity but on a personal level, when I think about it who I am, who I want to be and where I want to invest, I want to be in the regions. And most of my family is there as well, which doesn’t hurt.”

Photography: Sia Duff

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