So, I’m charged with the job of wrapping up Where It’s At – a conversational convergence of independent dance artists who are part of what makes up the eclectic and industrious community inhabiting and orbiting Dancehouse. In case you missed it, we invited the dance community to come along and talk to us in an open and frank discussion about making and practising dance. Initially I thought that writing about this would be a pretty straight-forward task – I would be summing up this open session of consultation with over 40 local dance artists, directors, advocates and educators – creating a kind of wish-list perhaps. But now as I start to wade through the notes taken on the day, it suddenly feels a whole lot more complicated.
OK, so the need for space, time, advocacy and cash are all basic – nothing so complicated there, and they were probably the same needs 20 years ago when Dancehouse was first established. However, the particular angle or frame through which individual artists see these basic needs is where things start to diverge and artists practicing at different points in their careers add further flavour and diversity to this summation. It’s not just about what artists want but how they want it.
I have the space to flesh things out just a little by mentioning one interesting point of contention; that is, the question of how much artists should be expected (or expect themselves) to shape their projects and practice by the current, and long- standing climate of minimal funds and minimal producing support available to independent artists. I’m not so much talking about the conceptual ideas artists work with, but the format and logistical vehicles through which they can make things happen, make progress, make dance work.
On one hand, we have the perspective that could be phrased as “ There is very little money / there never will be / get on with it / do what you can” considering it more useful to adapt and be creative within what opportunity and infrastructure already exists”. On the other hand, we have something like “ Where is the money? / we must be fully supported / we cannot sell ourselves short”. These artists feel devalued by what they see as ‘hoop jumping’ and compromise. The increasing demand on artists to know it all (how to market their work: how to target audiences; how to build a 3-year plan for touring a show that hasn’t even been made yet) contributes to the high level of wear & tear on energy and confidence. It’s worth considering how these changes the way artists approach making work and does it allow less space for risk-taking and genuine discovery through a creative process? Quite possibly, but again there are many perspectives on this.
The most clear and resonant overarching point is that artists need a range of opportunities. They need opportunities in order to maintain momentum and purpose and to continue to grow in what they do. And they need opportunities that have a greater level of ‘follow through’. I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary here but it’s worth breaking it down to a list – maybe here’s a wish-list after all – of things that fall into the category of opportunity and pertain (without being exhaustive) to what dance artists want…
»take risks and fail and/or take risks and succeed
»increase and diversify the life of our dance works
»be supported by organisations beyond a one off season
»travel and mobilise our work
»participate in international and interstate exchange projects
» share information between artists across Australia – could we develop a platform to do so?
»increase critical discourse (let’s be brave!)
» gather as a community and cook up new ideas, stir up collective energy
» gain confidence in talking about our own work (it’s clear we firmly believe in the value of the work we do as contemporary artists so now we need to communicate that in our daily lives)
»support each other, counteract the competitive environment set up by all that grant writing stuff
»talk about money (let’s not deny it’s importance!)
»receive appropriate remuneration for our work
» discover new avenues for funding, discover new residencies
» have access to inexpensive or free studio space more often » have others advocate for our work and have producers to work with
» get the support we need to grow as artists (not as entrepreneurs!)
» have our work shown to larger/broader audiences
»bematchedwithorganisations/institutionsforpar tnerships (and have those places adapt to the artists needs as opposed to the artist fitting the mould)…
If the slice of dance community in attendance at Where It’s At is anything to go by, then it could be concluded that what dance artists DON’T want, is to stop creating dance work. It appears we have a very robust and pro-active dance community whom Dancehouse has an absolutely genuine desire to nurture. There will always be a level of self-organisation and self- reliance that is necessary for artists to survive this industry, but Dancehouse is here to be used as a tool for artists to build their ideas and thrive.
The wish-list above is not only what artists want, it’s also what Dancehouse wants for the artists.