A panel of prominent Adelaide-based creatives grapple with the uncomfortable question facing many South Australian artists: Should I stay or should I go?
With art and culture front of mind during Mad March, it was an opportune time to reflect on the lives and livelihoods of our artists and creative people. The forum Should I Stay or Should I Go? held at The Palais on Wednesday, March 6, asked: is it possible to have a sustainable creative career in South Australia?
Presented by Arts Industry Council of SA (AICSA) in partnership with Adelaide Festival, it featured speakers from across the creative industries spectrum: games, design, performing and visual arts. Chaired by Chris Drummond, artistic director of Brink Productions, the forum – featuring panelists Paul Vasileff (Paolo Sebastian), Jascha Boyce (Gravity and Other Myths), Jennifer Greer Holmes (independent producer), Dan Thorlsand (Mighty Kingdom) and Ali Gumillya Baker (visual artist) – investigated the pros and cons of living and working in the Festival State.
The support of family is why fashion designer Paul Vasileff, founder of the label Paolo Sebastian, remains in SA. “From when I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to start my own label and run it from South Australia,” he told the forum.
As a young designer, Vasileff was told that there was no fashion industry in SA and he would have to move interstate or overseas. Yet, he has flourished and acknowledges that social media and the internet are integral to running a successful fashion business from Adelaide. “My early runway shows went viral on Instagram and Pinterest and I started getting orders from interstate and overseas. We do consultations and fittings over Skype, and clients travel to Adelaide.”
Physical theatre company Gravity and Other Myths is enjoying phenomenal success with international touring for most of the year. While the company is passionate about remaining in SA, performer and founding member Jascha Boyce was concerned at the lack of rehearsal and performance spaces. “We have to travel interstate now to develop our work. We have access to more spaces, collaborators and trainers outside of Adelaide,” Boyce said.
Jennifer Greer Holmes believes there is great creative energy in SA, but she is concerned about audiences. “The arts sector is small and interconnected,” she said. “Being isolated from the eastern states and rest of world makes us truly innovative, but we are facing a real downturn in audience numbers. Our city is made up of one of the oldest populations in Australia – people are literally dying in their seats.”
Greer Holmes is concerned about the narratives and messaging in SA. “We’ve been fed a lie. Our government likes to tell us we are a small city and use that as a justification for not doing a whole lot of things that a capital city should have. I’ve been to smaller cities like Tel Aviv and Rotterdam that have much better infrastructure.”
Dan Thorsland, general manager of digital games company Mighty Kingdom, believes that SA is held back by entrenched conservatism. Originally from New York and based in Adelaide for 17 years, he gave the forum some NY attitude, telling the audience that “it’s way too comfortable here”.
“We’ve [SA] got our money from defence. We have to flip it over. We are governed by people who want to maintain the status quo.” To rousing applause, Thorsland continued: “We advertised 18 jobs and had 400 applications, young grads want to come here in droves. Our sector has to fight arm in arm to prove that being an artist is a successful and valuable career and a fundamental part of this community.”
Another perspective was offered by visual artist Ali Gumillya Baker, who questioned the nature of place and movement across country. “It is an interesting question, should I stay or should I go?, because for Aboriginal people, where to go? I’m Mirning and privileged to be raised by Aboriginal community and I’m on Kaurna country, Tarndanyangga, place of the Red Kangaroo.”
From a floating pontoon, on the still waters of Karrawirra Parri, Baker reminded the audience that we have to have a wide focus. “I don’t think there is anywhere we can go because we are on a little planet, and, at a point, we need to think collectively about being human together in this colonised space.”
For many artists, being based in South Australia is affordable and supportive. It is a great place to call home. However, there is a sense of urgency that change is needed, that we cannot be complacent and we need visionary and progressive leadership on cultural and environmental issues.
To have a career in the arts or creative industries is, for many practitioners, a full-time commitment requiring development, creation and investment that extends way beyond March. As audiences and a community, we must support and appreciate our artists, not just in March, but every month of the year.
Julianne Pierce is the executive officer of Arts Industry Council of SA
This article is part of a series from creative industry leaders presented in collaboration with AICSA