ARI Paying Attention?

Words Lucinda Davison
Photos Matthew Venables

Sydney’s city streets appear quieter in the wake of the controversial lock out laws. The sparkle of a 24 hour city with a vibrant nightlife appears to be receding, a sense of vivacious community dwindling.

But, in pockets around the city, the lights stay strong.

The sparking lights of Sydney’s night life seem – rather than fading into that good night – to be lighting up independent art spaces across the city as they are rebuilding a scattered sense of community, fun and play.

This sense of playfulness is vital to maintain in Australia’s most populous city, but, with restrictions on particular venues within it, there is a fear that the community will become fragmented, dislocated and disengaged.

In an effort to create new avenues for creative participation, the City of Sydney’s Creative City Cultural Policy and Action Plan 2014-2024, proposes an expansion in the “number and range of creative participation opportunities available through the City’s community spaces” which include the activation of “empty space” in the city.

Support for this cultural infrastructure includes “cultural venues for audience of spectatorship” which specifically include artist-run galleries or exhibition spaces.

This is significant.

Within the City’s action plan, one of the founding principles is that “cultural and creative activity contribute(s) to many community concerns and priorities including… social, behavioural… objectives through catalysing civic participation”. Despite the sense of fragmentation after the lock out laws, additional support for cultural infrastructure – and specifically artist led spaces – offers the means to rebuild and reactivate a sense of community in Sydney.

Artist Run Initiatives, ARI’s, are established by artists and maintain a vital and important balance in Australia’s arts ecology. They provide an independent rostrum for artists to experiment with and develop their practice. The flexibility of their operations, with their significant contributions to social infrastructure, nestle ARI’s firmly in the intersection of culture, community, urban planning and business.

Are ARI’s the key to shaping stronger future communities? Where does Australia’s independent arts sector fit in with the cultural flourishing of our cities?

Contributing to Vivid Ideas 2016, We Run This, co-presented by 107 Projects and the National Association for the Visual Arts, will explore just this.

This conference will be equal parts discussion and celebration, as representatives from ARI’s from Sydney, Wollongong, Launceston, Alice Springs and Canberra explore the unique and significant contributions ARI’s make to the social infrastructure and built environment.

Discussions such as these demonstrate the exciting glow of lights that surround the profound opportunities ARI’s enable for our cities and for our communities.

As we are told about the lights in Sydney are going out, independent art spaces are here turning on bold, bright lights for new a direction in our cities.

We Run This is a conversation for artists, administrators, policy makers, and anyone interested in building stronger, socially engaged communities. It will be held on May 27 at Giant Dwarf Theatre, Redfern. Join the discussion.

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