Can artists and big business work together?

Date: 20/10/2009

An innovative Western Sydney project which creates new ways for artists, businesses and communities to collaborate will be explored at a forum at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney tomorrow.

The Art of Engagement Symposium brings speakers from Europe and the Americas together with Australian business and art world figures to explore the possibilities for contemporary visual artists to move beyond their studios and galleries to work with corporate organisations and local communities.

The Symposium will start by examining the success of the first three years of the C3West initiative, a collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Casula Powerhouse, Penrith Visual and Performing Arts and Campbelltown Arts Centre.

Researchers from the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Cultural Research have been examining C3West, supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Projects grant.

"The Symposium will contextualise C3West by showcasing other international projects which involve artists using public spaces in new ways," says Associate Professor Elaine Lally, who was the Chief Investigator for C3West at the University of Western Sydney.

"The role of the artist and the role of cultural institutions are changing. Artists and galleries are involved in bringing arts-based creativity to a wider constituency than ever before, and finding new ways to engage with communities."

One of the C3West projects is Brisbane-based artist Craig Walsh's collaboration with Penrith Panthers. Early in the 2008 NRL season, Walsh and photographer Josh Raymond snapped Penrith Panthers' players and fans at home games, minutes after the final whistle blew.

The result was the 2008 MCA exhibition Heads Up!, which features 17 large scale portraits of the faces of players and fans after a losing game.The photographs are startlingly intimate.

"They've faced up to the cameras and presented themselves with dignity," says Mr Walsh.

"And a certain pride, which is based around Panthers and a football team and its relationship to fans; a willingness to contribute in any way they can to that."

Associate Professor Lally says C3West has been a great showcase for the impact contemporary visual artists can have in helping businesses and communities find new perspectives on some of society's most pressing issues.

"One of the projects in C3West involved the Melbourne artist Ash Keating creating an installation that was formed from three truck loads of waste diverted from landfill," says Associate Professor Lally.

"The installation went up overnight between the Council Chambers and the Westfield in Penrith city centre. People were just blown away - they woke up to find a very familiar space completely transformed."

"We spoke to local residents about what they thought. There were a few 'modern art is a pile of rubbish!' responses, and there were also people who thought it was absolutely fantastic and said it really made them think about the amount of material we're sending to landfill."

"By intervening in a public place many people pass every day, the artist cleverly challenged preconceptions of waste and consumerism. This certainly stimulated community participation in debates about how disposable objects have become in our society."

Associate Professor Lally says projects like C3West are emerging around the world as businesses and grassroots organisations seek new ideas for connecting with local communities.

"All over the world people are looking at new ways of creatively approaching problems, and Australia is well placed to tap into this movement and make the most of its talented artists," says Associate Professor Lally.

Other UWS investigators from the Centre for Cultural Research for the C3West Project include Professor Kay Anderson, Professor Ien Ang, Ms Michelle Kelly and Mr Phillip Mar.

Speakers at tomorrow's forum include:

French visual artist Sylvie Blocher.

Michael Krichman, the US Executive Director of acclaimed San Diego/Tijuana arts festival inSite.

Karin Becker, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Stockholm University.

Frank Panucci, Director of Community Partnerships at the Australian Council for the Arts.

The Symposium starts at 9am at the Harbour Terrace at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.



Media Officer

Mark Smith
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