Dianna Nixon always knew in her heart she belonged in the arts but, growing up on a sheep farm in regional Australia, couldn’t see how she would get there.
“There weren’t really clear pathways to careers in the arts for young people from the bush,” she says.
“There are still challenges today … but if people in the big cities can have careers in the arts, so can we.”
Having now been an artist for more than 40 years, Dianna is dedicated to helping regional artists on their own journeys.
To that end, she runs two businesses from her home office in Gunning in the Yass Valley, where she has been active as a practising artist, arts educator and arts advocate since 2004.
The first is the not-for-profit organisation Music Theatre Projects Ltd, established to nurture creative development and support live and recorded content production.
The organisation is on a mission to help build a sustainable arts and culture industry in the region by securing resources for a range of projects, cultivating the region’s unique creative voice and growing local employment opportunities for creatives and crew.
Currently in the works is a production pulling together the works of local playwright, the late Millicent Armstrong.
“Millicent lived on a property just out of Gunning. She came back from WW1 in France, became a settler in the region and wrote award-winning plays,” Dianna explains.
“Like a lot of country artists, she eventually dropped off the radar and her plays stopped being produced.
“I stumbled on her on Wikipedia. I have been exploring her, who she was and tracking down her plays. One local woman actually heard what I was doing and kindly gave me a book containing some of her plays.
“I am still putting together the pieces but I imagine she knew [Australian author] Miles Franklin and all those creatives who lived in this region, perhaps even Banjo Paterson.”
Drought and Other Plays by Millicent Armstrong will be designed to travel around and be shown in various country venues – sometimes on a stage, sometimes on a shearing competition stand, but always with the utmost professionalism.
“I want to prove it can be done from rural settings,” Dianna says.
“People in the regions travel regularly for cultural performances, they deserve high-quality shows staged more locally. And I do hope these productions will draw city folk out to us.”
Dianna also runs sole-trader business Wild Voices Music Theatre, which combines her project creation and presentation skills with her coaching and teaching work.
Her students range from those looking for personal development or a creative outlet to those pursuing a profession in the arts.
She has prepared students for tertiary studies and some have gone on to be cast in professional productions. One young man she voice trained was one of four cast in the Billy Elliot musical production.
“That was a big deal because they were not planning to cast outside of Sydney,” Dianna says.
She says even though there’s plenty more that could be done to build up the viability of the arts as a profession in places like the Yass Valley, COVID actually helped build the case for it.
“We’ve been forced to look at how we work,” she says.
“It means for people like me and other artists or businesses that can be run from home, you can live in a beautiful place like this … and why wouldn’t you? It’s a no-brainer.”
Dianna adds that there’s a level of connectivity among Valley communities that transcends the geographical distances, and for that reason the arts will always have a bright future in the region.
“Tallagandra Hill Winery are creating a following of their venue, putting on contemporary concerts there. Peter Crisp – he’s a glass artist, quite a famous one, and he has a concert venue on his property in Bowning,” she says. ”There’s the Gunning Focus Group, they do primarily classic concerts. Then you have Yass Music Club with its long history, and places like Yazzbar, Tootsie Gallery Cafe and all the other wineries, which are all amazing resources for local musicians.
“There are all these little connections between the different organisations, businesses and individuals that have something to bring to the table. Dotted all around here are people doing amazing things for creatives and the industry.”