If you’ve moved to Canberra recently you’re probably becoming familiar with the pitying looks of friends from back home as they groan “but there’s nothing to do there”. There is a perception that Canberra is culturally backward and stagnant, cut off from the places where “things happen”. This couldn’t be further from the truth – Canberra’s arts and culture scene is thriving, supported by unique infrastructure such as the Canberra Glassworks and the ANU School of Art and Design, and amazing funding opportunities that just aren’t available in bigger cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra’s arts sector may be smaller than those found in other parts of the country, but far from being a limitation, this has actually created a tight-knit community of art-makers, art-appreciators and creative types of all creeds.
Admittedly, however, Canberra’s art scene can be inaccessible. A byproduct of the closeness of the community is that as a newcomer to the city or to the arts, you might feel like an outsider when attending art venues or events. There are plenty of ways to appreciate the great art Canberra has to offer, whether by paying a visit to the National Gallery’s impressive standing collection, checking out Enlighten, or even seeing an exhibition at the ANU SoAD Gallery right here on campus. However, none of these options give you access to the beating heart of Canberra’s art scene; they don’t allow you to meet people who share your passion, see art being made and make it yourself, be a part of something exciting and innovative. If you want to not just look at, but get involved in the arts ecosystem, a great opportunity is coming up on March 16th – New Acton’s Art, Not Apart festival.
Festival Producer David Caffrey has described Art, Not Apart as a “reflection of local culture … like holding a mirror up to Canberra”. What he didn’t say, but holds true in my experience, is that the best part is that you can see yourself in that mirror, taking part in local culture. Art, Not Apart is essentially an anything-goes, all-singing-all-dancing crash-course in Canberra’s arts and culture scene. Participating in the festival last year showed me just how much an urban precinct can come to life. Every available space – from art gallery to community garden to lecture hall to private apartment – hosts boundary-pushing works. The focus is on performance, installation and interactive art, but many of the works featured defy these categories because they involve new and previously unimagined forms of art-making. This year Art, Not Apart looks set to deliver another indefatigably unorthodox program. The upshot of all this boundary-pushing and line-blurring is that Art, Not Apart isn’t too preoccupied with defining what’s art and what’s not; ultimately it’s about bringing people together – and this is an attitude we can all adopt to feel more connected to the community that makes Canberra a great place to live.
When I moved to Canberra to start my undergraduate degree it meant leaving a great community of young artists in Sydney, and at first it seemed impossible to replicate that network in a new city which is so decentralised and bureaucratic. If you’re new (or not so new) to Canberra, it can feel like a place that takes itself pretty seriously – but I promise, you get out what you put in. So get out there, let your hair down, and get involved with the creative life of the city!