Photo: Broadsheet

arts interview was invited by 2012’s Vivid Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) to host a panel discussion about networking in the arts. We invited four diverse panelists to talk about the development of their network and the role of networking from their professional perspective.

Eliza Muldoon, Director

Lisa Havilah is the Director of Carriageworks, Redfern and previously held the position of Director at Campbelltown Arts Centre- a pioneering role that shaped the way in which institutions engage with cultural diversity and communities. Lisa was assistant director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Liverpool Regional Museum between 1998 and 2004 and co-director of Project Contemporary Art Space in Wollongong between 1995 and 1998.

How important is it to locate and work with artists that are in the region that you are working in?

I have worked a lot in Western Sydney and whenever you are commissioning and producing contemporary art it is very important to consider the context of where you are working. Particularly the local context- we certainly did that in Campbelltown. On the other hand it’s very important to provide a national and international context for that very localised practice. So we always try to have a combination, a mix, of local, national and international perspectives in our programming.

In Redfern, at Carriageworks, we really look at the history, the context and the identity of Redfern. We engage artists that look at both contemporary Redfern and engage the history of Redfern.

How do you find those local artists? Do they find you?

I think when you are based in an institution you sometimes have to work hard to get outside those institutions to locate artists. When you are in such institutions there is a lot of information coming at you, all the time. You actually have to take the time to go and look at a lot of work- not just work that is easy to get to or easy to access. That actually takes a fair bit of commitment and investment. You need to look at what is happening locally on a range of levels. You have to look at local arts practice but you also have to engage with local ideas and consider what is happening across a range of disciplines.

How do you develop and maintain your relationships with artists once you’ve found them?

The relationships between artists, curators and producers are really critical, though I consider the work that I do to be artist led. A lot of the work I do at the institutions that I’m part of is to set up structures and environments that allow artists to lead the practice.

What factors influence an ongoing relationship? What makes you want to keep working with someone?

I have worked with some artists for many, many years. I think that has come about when we as an institution or I as a curator or producer have been able to deliver on the ambition of the artist and the artist, in turn, has been able to deliver on the expectation that we as an institution have placed back on them. That ongoing delivery and outcome over a long period of time allows the ambition levels to increase.

Does personality come into it?

Well, you always want to work with people that you like. I find that I want to have some sort of connection with the artist and their work. It’s easier to support them if you have empathy and investment in what they want to achieve.

How do you first identify people that you could or should get to know?

You look for the people that you want to work with you or alternatively people that you need something from, like the government. An example of this occurred when I was at an artist run initiative. We wanted money from the local council so we simply rang up the Mayor’s office and asked to meet him and then we asked him for money. You can’t be scared of knocking on their door and making contact. It’s certainly better to do that, ensuring that it is professional, rather than ask them at a social outing or situation.

It’s worth remembering that people want to help other people. You just need to understand their priorities and their policies and relate that to what your doing. It took some time to convince Campbelltown Council to invest in contemporary art but we came to understand that through contemporary art programs we could deliver whole sections of their social plan. It was important to talk about it within a broader local government context.

Finally, compulsory volunteering in the arts remains contentious, how important has volunteering been in developing your own network?

I think it’s the most important thing. I started in an artist run initiative and basically volunteered full time for three and a half years. I think that experience provided a whole range of professional opportunities that have served me throughout my whole career. I think it’s critical to make that investment.

These responses were recorded as part of the panel discussion Who You Know: Building Networks in the Arts at The Museum of Contemporary Art on June 9th 2012 .An event in partnership with arts interview and VIVID Sydney.

Original panel discussion chaired and transcribed by Eliza Muldoon