Kumuwuki: what about the youth?

by Jane

 Young folk talking about the young style

Alysha Hermann is an artist from the Riverlands in South Australia. She is currently working for Country Arts SA in her local area, and her current artistic practice is in playwrighting, where she is doing a mentorship with Caleb Lewis and participating in the JUTE Theatre Company‘s Enter Stage Write Program.

She started talking by asking questions of the audience to get a feel for the different demographics: are you from a regional area? Is its population less than 50,000? Less than 5,000? Less than 500?

“I find it really interesting how diverse it is to be a regional artist and what it means to be from a regional area,” she said.

“There are regional communities which are absolutely thriving” she said, “and there are communities where there is lots of great arts stuff happening but it’s not connected to it’s wider community.”

Hermann spoke about how there is so much diversity in the ways young people have access to the arts, and her passion is for young people to have opportunities to be engaged with the arts: “the arts are a powerful agent for change.”

Responding to the program blurb saying “young people are communicating globally on digital platforms,” Hermann said “I think it’s a really dangerous assumption to think that young people are engaging internationally on digital platforms across the board.”

Not only are there still issues with the quality and access to internet connections in regional areas, she said, but “we’re using it to connect with our friends and family, who might only be in the next town over, but we don’t have public transport to go visit them.”

Hermann warned against assuming all young people have access to these technologies, because we can leave people out of the equation.

“We want our young people and our young artists to be awesome, and to have these opportunities, so we need to know how to talk to them.”

Hermann is very appreciative of these connections the online space can give her. Her mentorship runs mainly online, and this means she’s not required to live in the city. And by following organisations like ATYP, St Martin’s Youth Theatre and YPAA on twitter, Hermann gets a greater idea of what is happening on a national level.

This communication can exist online, but it also exists locally in communities. “It’s really important just to talk to each other. Actually talk. And talk about what people are doing and what it means for them and how you can support them as an individual, because everyone is so different.”

For older people in regional areas, Hermann offers this advice: “Be brave, and be vulnerable with them. Be really whole hearted. Open up your live and your practice to them.”

Sophie Lines works at the Vancouver Arts Centre with the City of Albany in Western Australia. Coming to speak after Hermann, Lines said she was heartened to see they were coming from such similar perspectives: “I’m really glad we can share it from different states and different town’s point of view.”

“I fell into the arts,” she said, when a family friend asked her to volunteer for the local arts centre. “I find the arts sector is really supportive for young people.” The struggles she faced in Vancouver as a young person trying to make a career were surrounding issues such as educational opportunities, employment opportunities, and access to public transport.

These are the issues which lead to young people feeling like they have to leave, like Lines moved to Perth after she couldn’t find employment in the arts in Albany more than two days a week.  “I want to be able to give young people the opportunity to make a choice whether they want to stay in their community or not. […] I think it should be up to young people when they do that. I think they should have the opportunity to make that decision.”

Lines has found many of the people in her community who work in the arts are people who have support in other areas – such as they are on a disability pension, or are retired – so they can work for free or a token fee.

“No matter how hard we try to get young people involved and to keep them in our communities,” she said, “there are other things involved and we need to have a say over those factors too.”

“In my community the 18-24 bracket is about half the state bracket. Everyone gets up and leaves, and they don’t come back until they have a family, or they don’t come back until they can buy some land. And that’s fine. But I didn’t want to do that. And I know others who didn’t want to do that.”

“As soon as I reached that point where I could move back to my community, I moved back and everyone had gone.”

On young people, she said, “Being young, and not being here for that long in life, I find young people are naturally quite innovative.” Technology, she said leads to “the fact that we live in such a different world than even the generation before us is an opportunity.”

For keeping young people in regional areas “It may not be based on what you can provide them in terms of an arts sector, but it’s really a whole life situation.”

Emily Atkins is the Education and Families Manager at Regional Arts Victoria, and she describes herself as “one of the lucky ones. I have always loved the arts […] and I was lucky enough to fall sideways into it from teaching.”

Talking on young people in the arts, Atkins said “The discussion started at RAV a few years ago now about pathways for regional Victorian young people into the arts industry. They were leaving their communities, but they we’re necessarily  equipped to find those opportunities.”

“A community with a dearth of young people is a lot less vibrant community.”

From these discussion, RAV set up the Creative Leadership Program, a nine-day program based in Melbourne taking young people from remote and regional Victoria and giving them an intensive education in working in the arts. The twelve participants met leaders from across the sector, including leaders at Arts Centre Melbourne, Malthouse Theatre, and the National Gallery of Victoria; they learnt the basics in finance, marketing, and project development; participated in a one day internship where they followed an executive around from an arts organisations; and concluded with them pitching project ideas to funding bodies and mentoring organisations.

“They were developing over those nine days the skills they could take back to their own communities.”

Speaking to these creative leaders before coming to the conference, Atkins said the key thoughts they had were they feel excluded from established arts organisations, partly because of age, and they would like the opportunity to do internships in their local area – paid or unpaid.

One creative leader was the creator of the Swan Hill Youth Theatre Ensemble (SHYTE), but they lost their members as they reached eighteen. She wouldn’t have left Swan Hill if it was offering the opportunities she wanted.

“Smart communities invest in their young people to stay, or to come back earlier, to invest in the vibrancy of their community. A smart community supports both professional arts practice, as well as arts enthusiasts.”

“The arts is about community. The arts is about the development of people, and of a society.”

As a special guest panelist there was Shaylee Kassulke, a Riverland Youth Theatre Company member from Loxton.

Kassulke presented to us a moving speech she gave to her high-school English class, about the lack of drama classes offered for year eleven and twelve students. She spoke about the pride the school holds in their excellence in spots, including six year twelve subjects based around physical education. The school has a huge cohort of students participating in the school musical, to the point where auditions will now be required, but year eleven and twelve students aren’t able to study the subject.

While Kassulke has been involved in the Riverland Youth Theatre and the Riverland Musical Society, some students don’t have this opportunity. And while some students go on a week long volleyball trip to Melbourne, she asked people to imagine what it could mean to take a drama class to the Adelaide Fringe.

Australia is viewed as a sporting nation in all parts of the world. Government help fun local sports, but arts training often happens at a high individual cost.

What happens if your dream is being an actress, a film director, or a drama teacher?

At the end of her speech, we were told that next year Loxton High School will be offering year eleven drama class.