Words by Rayannon Innes.
To write what you want.
To say, wear, travel, learn and eat where and when you want. To possess a sense of security. To live without fear.
It is these freedoms that we’re so fortunate to retain in our own little urban-coastal city that allows us to persistently produce exceptional artists, pushing their respected mediums and creative fields to new and compelling heights.
Local design wunderkind and sign-painting wizard – replacing wand with brush and ruler and magic fairy dust with gilding gold leaf… which is essentially the same substance either way you look at it – Brett Piva understands Newcastle’s league of creatives better than anyone could hope for. Having built an impressive reputation for bespoke branding and commercial design through his creative studio Pocket Design, Brett has been teaching his craft for hand-painted sign writing – and making some friends along the way.
Silversmiths, digital illustrators, abstract oil painters, leather craftsmen, textile designers – it is these connections made in his travels across Australia and abroad that has inspired the now three-year strong arts and design conference MAKEit MADEit. With the conference’s first year defined by a circle of forty or so chairs set up in their previous industrial west-end studio space armed with a basic projector, MAKEit MADEit has come a long way. Fast forward to last Saturday, where the side doors of the Newcastle Museum were swung open to a sold-out crowd of local and national design movers, shakers and makers.
A diverse line-up of six speakers led this year’s program: Venezuelan-born multi-disciplinary designer Nadia Hernandez, leatherworker and local small business-owner Geordie Malone, graphic and street artist Georgia Hill, once ‘foreigner’ now iconic Newcastle illustrator and mural artist Trevor Dickinson, Canberra-born gold and silversmith Alison Jackson, and abstract gestural painter Gregory Hodge hailing from Wollongong. Each artist (who I feel is best referred to as a ‘maker’ as the conference denotes), with engaging veracity, expressed their individual journeys working and living with their creative practice. From Trevor’s personal sense of communal belonging found through his tongue-in-cheek illustrations of iconic Newcastle architecture to Georgia’s grown realisation of her own stylistic direction in her typographic designs and the doors – and public space walls – that this would open for her, each speaker offered candid accounts of the realities of their creative professions. You needn’t be a design or arts-based practitioner to have connected with the overriding sentiments of each of these incredible, equal parts creative and equal parts daring human beings revealed through their life’s pursuits.
These sentiments relate to what I opened this piece with earlier. Ideas that in fact make reference to the political and creative approach artist Nadia Hernandez has made in her creative practice. Originating from a country that has witnessed numerous states of political unrest, Nadia dedicates herself to paying homage to her Venezuelan heritage in her art through the socio-political freedoms she is afforded living here in Australia.
The experience of fear is universal. Whether it be the fear in agreeing to take up a commission to construct a life size baby elephant in under a week (see above) or to call that family member that you haven’t spoken to in a worrying set of years, the feeling persists. It’s learning how to liberate yourself from that fear, to work past it, that invites your own freedom.
Many if not all of our artists walk a tightrope of risk and uncertainty. The fear of not knowing if your practice will return enough to make ends meet for yourself or your family can make one constantly reconsider their own purpose.
To combat this, a key opportunity the majority of today’s practicing artists and makers engage in – determining not only if their art can sustain the cost of living as an individual but the ability to continue pursuing in their creative projects as a whole – involves grant application. Government and arts organisation-led grants offer financial and often material support (in the case of studio and workspace residencies) to artists whose creative vision align with the social and cultural goals and intended outcomes of the particular arts body. Unfortunately, competition to attain such support is increasingly tight and the process of writing a proposal and effectively selling your creative vision can be challenging for the artist who may still be realising what that might be throughout their artistic experimentations and endeavours.
Fittingly, the maker talks were then followed by a Q&A addressing the topic of organisational and philanthropic support amid the current art landscape. After a decadent afternoon tea of coffee and fudgey Nutella-encased goodness courtesy of Newcastle icon and MAKEit MADEit sponsor Dougheads (life’s too short no to), a panel of artists, arts government and organisation representatives, curators, and campaign advocates gathered to take to the stage and share their insights on the issue.
A plethora of valuable information was shared by both panellists and creative audience members alike of which many agreed an ‘out of the box’ approach to all attempts at support sourcing is needed in today’s environment. Fortunately, crowd-funding opportunities like that advocated by Melbourne panellist Lili Nishiyama of Pozible offer a philanthropic niche that makers, with the right amount of social media marketing and story-telling finesse, can harness to their own self-prescribed benefit.
But with this said, as someone who would more readily describe themselves as an art-indulger than an art-maker, I think we as consumers of the creative and the curious have an integral role in all of this. Where increasingly inundated government boards and online facilitators continue to support our artists where and when they can, we too must continue to promote and nurture the invaluable role of the arts within our local and wider context. MAKEit MADEit is just one great example of a number of acts in doing just this.
And yes, admittedly some of us might not have quite the exact means to orchestrate an annual design conference, but small is still powerful. Follow that dressmaker on Instagram, buy that band’s t-shirt, read that zine with your morning coffee. Little things a lot go a long way.
The MAKEit MADEit conference 2017 was held on saturday 12 August, Newcastle Museum.
This piece was first published here.