Will Ballarat people really support an all-night event? The prevailing mythology here is that Ballarat is a little conservative and stuck in the past, unable to handle anything remotely out-there or risky.
My career as a Ballarat artist has been defined by well-meaning local community leaders telling me, time and time again, that Ballarat audiences always prefer the conservative. Yet White Night has proven that Ballarat is out there: a community poised to take on creative risks, ready to go on artful adventures throughout its historic urban landscape, and willing to celebrate the unknown.
The experiment of White Night has been a triumph. On Monday the inevitable question was asked, many times over: Can Ballarat host White Night again? Samantha McIntosh must surely have 10 March 2018 pencilled into her diary, and there is merit in having that discussion.
However, I have an altogether different proposal. Let’s not ‘buy in’ another existing event like White Night. Instead, let’s harness the momentum we’ve created, and channel it into building unique events that strengthen our existing creative and artistic framework?
Our artistic ecology includes First Nations artists, established artists of international renown, musicians, poets, writers, celebrated galleries, two biennales – and, most importantly, a community of young emerging artists who inhabit our Arts Academy in Camp Street. The sum of these parts is an untapped reservoir of new creative energy, ready to burst with new possibility.
Our challenge is to unite and dream big. Together we can ask how best to commission and create epic and bold new work for our community. Our existing festivals and events can take the energy of White Night and speak to new possibilities. White Night has injected Ballarat with a sense of what is possible. By closing down Sturt and Lydiard streets, many local residents felt enabled to experience art. The galleries were full and the streets were ignited.
Residents from Wendouree and Sebastopol, and from well out of town, came into Ballarat, again turning another prevailing myth on its head and proving that our entire community will engage in free public art.
But the highlight of the evening were the works by local artists. Works by Kim Anderson, Beth Lamont, Christine Tammer, Erin McCuskey and the Pitcha Makin Fellas were all exceptional offerings and a reminder of the depth of our artistic community.
Buying in events can provide a much-needed short-term boost to tourism, local business, and to our arts community. But now it’s time for us to unite and design large-scale visions of creativity. Events that test our ingenuity and creativity, at scale. Events that cement our place as a creative hothouse renowned across the globe.
We need our own White Night. This means moving beyond the known buildings and spaces of Sturt and Lydiard Street, and into the unknown and under-explored of our community. To reimagine Armstrong Street; to create a large-scale work across Soldiers Hill; to reimagine Lake Wendouree as the biggest art gallery in Australia.
The Arts Academy at Fed Uni is ready for this sort of creative conversation. With over 300 training artists in Camp Street, we’re asking what can we do to harness all of this energy? Let’s put forward a positive narrative that places Ballarat at the centre of creative new works, a place renowned for training emerging artists, and a community ready and willing to take on the creative challenges.
Bryce Ives is the Director of the Arts Academy Ballarat & Gippsland Centre of Art and Design.
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