By Alysha Herrmann, April 2015
I’m entering a new project this year. A project that I’ve been dreaming about and incubating since 2008. It’s a project that is pretty close to my heart. And it’s got me thinking a lot about what Community Arts and Cultural Development actually is to me. How do I define CACD? Why do I do it?
I love art. I love art for art’s sake. For joy and beauty and provocation. I love being an audience member for all kinds of art works and experiences. But there is a lot of art that I enjoy as an audience member that I have no interest in making as an artist. CACD practice is my chosen way of working and for me CACD is a really particular way of working that is more than art for art’s sake.
This new project I’m entering is called Manifold Portrait and it’s very much about artists being in conversation with community – specifically the community that resides in Manifold Crescent, Berri – a conversation that creates something that neither the artists or the community would produce alone.
It’s a conversation exploring local stories of place, resilience, hope, connection and frustration through the creation of artistic ‘things’. Songs. Poems. Theatre. Photographs. Film. Projection. Sculptures. Moments. Experiences. I don’t yet know exactly what those things will be. Part of this kind of work is creating a frame, a concept, an idea, an invitation and then going with your gut and following the energy as the conversation develops. That means being ready to change direction, to make and accept new offers and to share control for the end point. That can be scary and risky and why I think CACD isn’t for every artist.
The more and more I’ve reflected on my ‘why’ as an artist over the last little while, I’ve come to the (probably fluid) conclusion that CACD practice is inherently political (for me).
When I say that, I don’t mean that every project I do has explicitly political content, what I mean is that CACD practice itself is a political action. It’s a political action in the way that it provides space and voice directly to communities and individuals to speak their truths, their stories. For me personally as a practitioner I’m especially interested in working with people who feel they don’t have voice, or that their voice is stifled or that they don’t know how to use their voice. I’m interested in these communities because I’ve been one of those people. As a teenage mother and highschool drop out I was one of those people who others spoke for and whose life choices were viewed as a ‘social problem’ to be debated and decided and solved.
So for me as an artist there is something inherently political about CACD in the action of making space for a community to speak with their own voice in a way that people outside of their community will pay attention to.
CACD work is exciting and joyful and scary and it doesn’t always change the world or solve anything at all, but it does always open conversations and I believe has a role to play in cumulatively redistributing power. I don’t know yet what stories the community of Manifold Portrait will share because we’re right a the beginning of our conversation. I’m scared but excited. You can follow Manifold Portrait at http://manifoldportrait.wordpress.com and maybe we’ll see you there sometime.
Alysha shared the 2015 Australia Council for the Arts Kirk Robson Award with Alyson Evans.
Alysha Herrmann is a proud parent, regional artist and advocate using performance and civic action to inspire individuals and communities to connect, reclaim and reinterpret their personal stories. Along the path less travelled, Alysha has been a high school drop out, teenage mum, single parent, waitress, sewing machinist, blogger, dishwasher, community facilitator, speaker and many other things in between.
As an artist and artsworker Alysha is a writer, theatre maker and cultural producer and the current Creative Producer of ExpressWay Arts. Alysha has won numerous awards for her work using the arts to interrogate and explore community concerns and aspirations including most recently the 2015 Kirk Robson Award, 2014 Channel 9 Young Achiever Arts Award and was named by SA Life as one of SA’s fastest rising stars under 30 in 2014.
Alysha wrote about her journey into the arts as a voiceless teen for Griffith Review’s Cultural Solutions edition which you can find here: https://griffithreview.com/articles/not-for-me/