Article categories: Issue 62
March 10th, 2010

During 2006 there have and will be at least three noteworthy events that demonstrate the continually developing significance and importance of Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs) in Australia’s cultural community and beyond.

Artist Run Initiative - Downtown Art Space

In January this year, the Gang Festival was held in Sydney. Bringing together over 16 Australian and Indonesian ARIs, showcasing the outcomes of months of cross cultural artistic exchange between Australia and Indonesia. In March, the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts 2006 Artists’ Week program will host a day of workshops, where artists involved in ARIs from across Australia will provide emerging arts practitioners and students with practical advice on the groundwork needed to set up an ARI (D.I.Y ARI), and strategies for initiating self managed publications (Word Up). Following closely on the heels of the workshops, the 2006 Next Wave Festival (15 March – 2 April), will host The Containers Village, which will showcase the work of 35 artists groups from all Commonwealth countries.

Victoria’s biennial youth arts festival, Next Wave has been actively engaging with ARIs for the past few festivals. The Containers Project, first staged in Federation Square as part of Next Wave 2004, was an attempt to create a visual dialogue between the highly visible and imposing ‘official’ institutions of art and the hidden, back-alley ARIs. Half a dozen ARIs from across Australia were given a shipping container in which to exhibit, creating a highly visible and approachable gallery.

Staging the Festival to coincide with this year’s Commonwealth Games has widened its scope considerably, not to mention funding opportunities, allowing 35 international artist groups from around the Commonwealth to converge in Melbourne for The Containers Village project. This time the 20 ft shipping containers will be packed and stacked to create an enticing maze of creativity filling a huge warehouse space in Melbourne’s docklands.[1]

James Dodd, one of the presenters at the Artists’ Week Workshop D.I.Y ARI in Adelaide, is also coordinator for the The Containers Village’s companion program, Initiative Frontiers. James’ brief is to encourage the exchange of ideas and information while fostering relationships between these artists from diverse cultures and experiences. A series of structured and unstructured forums and events focused on ARIs will address issues such as long-term outcomes and alternative incomes.

Melbourne based artist James Dodd has been involved with more than his fair share of ARIs since his days as a uni student in Adelaide during the late 90s. Since moving to Melbourne, James has been involved with Kings ARI, which was the first venue to have dedicated space for showing video works. Kings presents a number of curated projects, and exhibitions proposed by artists and curators. Although they try to be objective about what is selected for exhibition, James admits it can be tricky to qualify the quality of work. The importance of ARIs like Kings is that they “provide a space where artists can experiment without commercial pressure. That support and encouragement builds confidence in artists”, explains James.[2]

Ali Crosby’s introduction to the world of ARI’s was not quite the expected route for a young Sydney artist. She encountered the Taring Padi artist’s collective while travelling in Indonesia, and was inspired to become involved in the local ARI scene on her return to Sydney. So it’s no real surprise to learn that Ali was Festival Director of the recent Gang Festival in Sydney. Following six months of exchange visits and collaborations between ARIs in Indonesia and Sydney, the Gang Festival presented a two-week program of low cost and free events throughout inner city Chippendale & Surry Hills during January 2006. Run entirely by artists, the festival was not about trying to replicate gallery spaces but was focused on creating opportunities to build networks and collaborations between artists and ARIs. “We’re really interested in collaborating between Indonesia and Australia and ARIs seems like the best way to do it, keeping it open ended.”3

Before the festival, artists from Australia visited Indonesia to live and work with local artists run groups. Indonesian artists came to Sydney as part of the Festival and are already planning more events. The Festival attracted some funding from the Australia Council but many artists were so enthusiastic that they funded their own visits.

One of the key factors in the exchanges has been the education for Australian artists on the importance of ‘working together’. As Ali explains, “They’re [the Indonesian artists] amazing in terms of resourcefulness. The only way they can survive is by sharing resources.” Ali also believes that the ‘collectiveness’ of Indonesian artists is driven by a political literacy that isn’t generally found in Australia. “The Indonesian artists are very clear about why they make art which is sometimes less so in Sydney. In Sydney you get artists and activists which crossover a bit but not as much, whereas in Indonesia there were a lot of artists involved in bringing down Suharto.”

The Gang Festival and projects within the upcoming Next Wave festival are just two examples of the many broader ARI activities that are happening this year, and demonstrate to emerging practitioners, the positive and proactive outcomes of working together for a collective, cultural and/or critical outcome. For artists interested, the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts Artists’ Week Workshops offer a great opportunity to get the practical information needed to start working as an ARI team and/or to start working on D.I.Y publications.

While ARI’s are generally considered as simply casual student/emerging ventures, several of Australia’s most respected and successful arts and cultural industry personnel have participated in ARI’s in one form or another, not to mention the number of well known artists who have started their career exhibiting in ARIs.

And despite their challenges, many artists feel that the positives of participating in an ARI far outweigh the negatives. As Ali sums up, “I feel it’s worthwhile as there’s no bureaucracies to deal with. It’s more time consuming but it’s clearer and more direct.”

Tamara Baillie
Tamara Baillie is an artist and administrator, currently coordinating the Mobile Journeys exhibition as part of Media State, during the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts 2006. She is also part of new media/shadow puppet collective Plato’s Cave, who were part of ANAT’s Surface Tension project.

Mimi Kelly
Mimi Kelly is an Artistic Director for the ARI DOWNTOWN ART SPACE. A practicing artist and curator, Mimi recently co-curated the Adelaide Bank Festival of Arts 2006 Artists Week opening party + performance night.

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[2] Telephone interview with James Dodd, 31st Jan 2006

[3] Telephone interview with Alexandra Crosby, 31st Jan 2006

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