Lis Blake, Polyglot Theatre’s Community Collaborations Producer, recently returned from a weekend in Moree, working with colleagues Kate Kantor and Sue Giles in partnership with Beyond Empathy. The weekend was a part of a series of development workshops between the two organisations. It was about cultural exchange, connection, dreams and play.
“The mums and grandmas thought it was the best thing that ever happened here. The women who come today they gamblers, drinkers… but they come because they see people who know kids – they won’t come (otherwise). Now (with) computer screens, they (the kids) don’t answer you. Don’t look left or right. This is what they need. To do other thing(s).”
So this is what one of the Aunties told me after our first weekend up in Moree, working with Community Cultural Development and Arts Organisation Beyond Empathy. What was ‘this best thing that had ever happened?’ A simple, but huge weekend with community led by Polyglot Theatre, filled to the brim with art making. Each day, we set up on common park land within a different housing estate in Moree, NSW.
“We should have this as a park, build a permanent barbeque, do something like this once a month” says Auntie Paula.
In the shade of gums, on prickle-ridden grass, we established work stations with paint, pastels, charcoal, cardboard and tons of newspaper. Bored boys came on their bikes, stood at the edge of the park and looked in. Mums and Grandmas joined in or sat watching in the shade. Bigger kids brought little kids and jumped in immediately. There were no rules and no right or wrong… kids could come and go as they pleased. Kate and Sue set up a range of activities which kids could try or watch. Kids wrapped themselves in newspaper, made strong, free-standing, life-sized images of themselves, built cubby houses, made sculptures, painted and.. played and played and played. A three hour session turned into five and by the end of each day, dads had joined us, the community was out in force and we had huge installations of 3-D art work decorating the empty, run down spaces.
The project created possibilities and plans.
“If we had this again in four weeks, the kids who were really into it would come with a plan – really go for something – an idea,” says Auntie Paula.
Beyond Empathy work with communities over life times, aiming to create social change through art; they are now working alongside Aboriginal artists and film makers who they first worked with as kids 25 years ago. They invited Polyglot Theatre in as leaders in making installation art through child-centred practice. This is the second fantastic weekend of cultural exchange between our two companies, where we have shared practice, to see what is possible.
“Look forward don’t look back, that’s what my painting’s about,” says Auntie Val.
One of the major outcomes was for the local women artists to have an opportunity to lead their community in making art. These strong women are leaders in Moree; teaching in schools, employed in Aboriginal training and employment co-operatives and running the local Aboriginal art gallery. This weekend enabled them to head up painting and making workshops and through this to talk about their culture and traditions and remember with pride the freedom rides which came to Moree Pool fifty years ago, which began the campaign for better health, education and housing and an end to the exclusion of Indigenous people from public facilities.
Where to from here?
There are many great things on the horizon. For premiere this year, we’re building a new cubby installation for kids and led by kids, presented by Viva La Gong Festival in November. The installation will house new films about protection and safety, made by Beyond Empathy and the community in Illawarra.
Polyglot is maintaining relationships with the women artists in Moree, sharing practice, and supporting them as they run their own community arts workshops. The women will also visit Victorian schools, hosted by Polyglot as part of a collaborative cultural exchange.
Fundraising is also paramount. We are establishing partnerships between Moree and Shepparton for a huge community performance, celebrating Aussie Rules Football and Rugby with Rumbalara Football and Netball Club in Shepparton and the Boomerangs in Moree.
Award winning film maker Phil Crawford from Beyond Empathy, will also be joining us as mentor to emerging film makers as we embark on a four year film project in Collingwood, Victoria.
We are looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship between the two companies.