Days before artists, arts administrators, council workers and community members gathered in Wagga Wagga for Artstate 2020, the NSW government announced its plans to defund Regional Arts NSW. This announcement came just shy of the 75th birthday for the peak body and support agency for arts and cultural development in regional NSW. It has been a tough year recovering from the devastation of last summer’s bushfires, not to mention the shifts in routine brought about by pandemic. This announcement is now another thing to consider for artists and cultural workers in the Riverina region and many more around the state. Funding, fires and pandemic all considered, Artstate was determined to excite with a program full of talks, exhibitions, workshops and performances built in connection to the themes of ‘walking together,’ ‘shaping tomorrow’ and celebrating excellence in regional arts.
After sanitising, signing in and filing in through one door, we gathered in Wagga Wagga’s Civic Theatre for opening night. Wiradjuri Elders welcomed us with a video ceremony conceived by Jonathan Jones, featuring Uncle Stan Grant Sr. explaining the true meaning of the name Wagga Wagga (place of dancing and celebrations) which the city officially adopted in August 2019. It was formerly interpreted as the place of many crows. The ceremony concluded with dancer Joel Bray, bringing this history to life in a piece performed under moonlight. Joel twisted and curled their body around the stage, wringing out any collective anxieties built up over the last months spent leaning into ‘the new normal.’ The preceding formalities and funding announcements from visiting arts ministers were rendered a distant memory after experiencing the ceremony and remembering what it is like to feel things together again. This was a foreword to what would be a weekend full of that renewed feeling, and questions about what it means to be a regional artist.
Joel Bray, Man Dancing, performance at the opening ceremony of Artstate 2020. photograph: Jack of Hearts Studio, Courtesy Regional Arts NSW
Kate R. Allman has spent a good chunk of 2020 learning how to take better care of her houseplants. She was born and raised in South-eastern North Carolina (USA) and currently lives, works and rests on Wiradjuri Country (Wagga Wagga, NSW). She is a Librarian, Curator and writer.
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