In March 2015, Canberra will welcome the latest independent literary festival in Australia. Some five years after the last readers and writers festival held by the ACT Writers Centre, Noted is an initiative of You Are Here (also featured as a part of our Festivals Q&A series last year) describes itself as Canberra’s first-ever experimental festival of words.
Here, we connect with Ashley Thomson, one of the producers of the festival, which also includes Farz Edraki, Lucy Nelson, Duncan Felton, Yasmin Masri, Chiara Grassia, Andrew Galan and Zoya Patel in its curatorial and production team. The program runs from 20-22 March in various venues in Canberra.
What does your festival see as the role of the arts in supporting (or otherwise) diverse representations of Australian culture?
I hesitate to say anything too definitive. Noted is less than eight months old, from genesis to its first-ever incarnation; the simple fact that it’s happening in a few days’ time is remarkable. What we (our team of seven producers and one sub-curator) see as the role of the arts in supporting diverse representations of Australian culture is something we haven’t had the chance to answer to one another in any ironclad way. That said, I suppose we see it as a responsibility, because that is how we have (almost unthinkingly) approached it throughout. Without having set out to make a statement, we have, by default, programmed diversity (in gender, sexuality and culture) into Noted at every level.
Can you give us a brief overview of the festival and what it offers Asian Australian audiences in terms of programming?
Noted will take place over three days, Friday to Sunday, 20 to 22 March 2015, and it has three “streams” of events: live, digital and professional development. The live events are what they sound like. They’re on the ground, in bars, venues and cafes, and they’re entertaining, unpredictable and experimental. The digital events are purely online, and are all accessible via our website. They include Skype poetry, an agony aunt, and a Twitter story, among other things. The professional development events are our most conventional (by far), and they include a series of free workshops and open Q&A sessions.
What our programming offers to Asian Australian audiences is, I suppose, what it offers to all audiences. This year, we’re stoked to have artists like Niki Aken and Tasnim Hossein on board, but it’s just lucky they came to us during our open call-out for submissions! Otherwise we would have missed them. The thought of what we can achieve in the year to come, with all the extra time to plan — it’s exciting as hell. And programming with a view to representing and promoting Asian Australians, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ Australians and others, would be just a portion of that. For now, it must aim simply to achieve something sustainable and (not to belabour our branding) notable.
Do you actively seek representation from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or other historically marginalised groups in your programming committees/board/staff/volunteer teams?
We haven’t actively sought representation from historically marginalised groups in our first year, except in one instance. We approached Canberran Indigenous Australian writing group Us Mob, and arranged for them to conduct a writing workshop. As I said before, in our first year, our submissions process was an open call-out. We considered handpicking artists and organisations with whom we wanted to work, but were wary of appearing cliquey, an accusation that’s levelled at festivals and events a little too often in Canberra. Our wariness paid off. Our open call-out turned up a fantastic array of CALD artists. Next year we hope to initiate some sort of quota system, whereby we continue our open call-out, but set aside a percentage of the program for us to incorporate all the groups, and answer to all the concerns, that become known to us in this first year.
Have you ever solicited or received feedback from CALD or other historically marginalised groups in terms of your festival?
2015 being the first year Noted has ever been staged, we have not yet had the pleasure of seeking feedback from anyone! But we have artist and attendee questionnaires all drafted and ready to go. We can’t wait to hear what people say, and the truer the criticism the better.