This week’s interviewee is Mouna Zaylah, the Manager of the Cultural Development Program with Information and Cultural Exchange, (ICE).  ICE’s purpose is to work with communities and creative producers in Western Sydney to create media, art and culture. Mouna has worked on a range of initiatives in Western Sydney producing cultural events, performance and screen based projects with artists, communities and organizations and has over 17 years experience as an arts manager.

As producer of the ultimate collaboration during this year’s Sydney Festival, Mouna Zaylah discusses the process of mixing East London with West Sydney.

Interview by Rebecca Rossmann

What was the inspiration for the collaboration? Whose idea was it?

The inspiration for the project came about from prior discussions between two of the artists involved in East London West Sydney, MC Trey and Jonzi D. MC Trey, a Fijian Australian hip hop artist, travelled to the UK where she met Jonzi D. Together they discussed the hip hop industry and the emerging hip hop scene in West Sydney. They also discussed the connection between West Sydney and East London and the similarities between the people and their experiences. MC Trey was intrigued with Jonzi D as a performer and vice versa. Jonzi D expressed interest in coming out to West Sydney and doing something here – the idea for East London West Sydney formed.

How did you develop the ELWS collaboration?

MC Trey came back from the UK and pitched the idea of West Sydney artists collaborating with East London artists to our organisation, ICE, and we jumped on board immediately.  We then looked at ways we could fund it, what other artists could be involved, and the details of the project.  We (ICE) took the lead and found that we connected well with the British Council in Australia.  We pitched the idea to them and they were also willing to take a risk on the project.

In consultation with the British Council in Sydney, Jonzi D, MC Trey, and ICE we selected a diverse team of artists that we wanted to bring to together to devise a piece of work.

What were some of the challenges from this collaboration?

There were many challenges when it came to getting ELWS off the ground.  In a short period of time we had to figure out how to get the artists together, negotiate contracts, and explain the project to them.  The project depended heavily upon trust as 95% of the crew did not know each other. The artists needed to trust us and each other with their personal stories, and we needed to make sure we were providing enough resources and emotional support to allow the artists to create something powerful.

Funding is always a challenge.  We (ICE) had never worked with Sydney Festival before. It was a big challenge trying to pitch and negotiate the terms with Sydney Festival, as well as trying to secure funds from other bodies. Fortunately the British council was very helpful; they supported this project and trusted us to manage it.

Time was another challenge, as we feel that we didn’t have enough of it.

The only disappointing aspect of this collaboration is that we only had one week of performances, that’s only because we couldn’t afford it to keep it running. It would be really disappointing if we couldn’t put it back together in the future

Were there any surprises that came from this collaboration? Things you didn’t count on in the process of creating ELWS?

There were many surprises in the collaboration. In particular, I think the artists were surprised to find out they had so much in common. All of the artists were open and willing to share their ideas, and work with the other team members on pieces they had written. It surprised me that the artists had included and incorporated so much of their own stories and experience’s into the project. I think it takes a lot of guts to get up and share your stories and then perform them with the other performers.

Interested in further reading on creative collaborations? Links below: