Festival directorship as an art form?

johnboy 11 December 2008 6

Contrary to popular belief I don’t actually wake up cranky looking for targets to give a good kicking to.

But sometimes I have questions, and I find asking them here gets me further than official inquiries.

What has me asking questions is CityNews announcing that “the livewire” Nicole Canham has been named “Artist of the Year” at a CityNews ceremony with Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Ms Canham is a lovely person and absolutely deserving of sunshine and puppies. But for what artistic work has she received this honour?

    A graduate of the ANU School of Music and the Conservatoire Nationale de Region de Versailles, Canham, a livewire on the music scene, became director of the Canberra International Chamber Music Festival in late 2004 and steered the event from 2005 to 2007 then into its new stage as the Canberra International Music Festival this year.

    During her groundbreaking directorship, audience numbers have risen from 1800 to 17,000, including the 10,000 schoolchildren who packed into concerts this year [And presumably had no say in the matter]. The 2008 event saw eight world premieres and 14 Australian premiere performances and featured almost 80 events.

    A “left-of-field” thinker about classical music, Canham was responsible for proposing and commissioning “The Cat’s Cabaret”, which featured music inspired by the Australian-born film character Felix the Cat; performed with text and archival film at the Film and Sound Archive; “The Canberra Cantata” by Peter J. Casey; “Yes Ma’am”, a Mother’s Day concert by the New RMC Steamboat Stompers; the Young Composer competition and “The Keating Tangos”, combining music by Elena Kats-Chernin and words on leadership by four speakers. She negotiated national publicity through the ABC’s “Limelight” magazine, which has since been nominated in the 2008 Limelight Awards.

    As an individual artist, Canham led her group Clarity Clarinet Quartet, devised a music work about democracy for Quantum Leap Choreographic Ensemble, performed as a soloist with symphony, pops and opera orchestras and helped devise the theatre-clarinet work “6 Memos”.

So, with little to go on but the award conveyor’s summary, she mostly organises the artistic work of others?

It’s not exactly what I was thinking of when I heard we were going to have an “Artist of the Year”. How about you?

Jorian FTW next year on this basis?

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6 Responses to Festival directorship as an art form?
nc nc 12:34 am 29 May 09

I’ve just discovered these very interesting comments from johnboy et al on whether they felt I was worthy of the CityNews Artist of the Year award last year.

In 2008 I gave more than 80 concert performances, commissioned several new works and developed the following projects in Canberra –

The Six Memos with Clarity, at the Street Theatre as part of their Colliding Worlds series, Felix! music of Elena Kats-Chernin inspired by Vintage Felix the Cat cartoons from the 1920’s, …and the question is… a project about Democracy with Choreographer Skye Sewell and Quantum Leap Youth Dance for Old Parliament House. I also toured with Musica Viva in schools, commissioned several works from other composers for the festival and arranged through the festival not only performance opportunities for around 100 other artists, but also ensured that 10,000 school children saw a performance of music by living Australian composers.

I am a dedicated practicing artist as my performance activities in 2008 demonstrate, as well as an artist who cares that other performers have the opportunity to work. Hope that clears things up for you johnboy…

GB GB 3:57 pm 11 Dec 08

The Canberra International Music Festival is run by a non-profit community association, so its Director is not a public servant. It receives some funding from ACT taxes.

Nicole has done amazing work as a festival director – curated a great program, brought the festival up from tiny to huge. Definitely worth an award.

And she has also done great work as an individual artist – some of which is in the last paragraph. Maybe worth an award for that too.

But if they really did make the artist of the year award on the basis of the festival directing, I’m uncertain. The dreadful “Artsworker of the year” perhaps? Noting that the judging criteria don’t say you must have created an artistic work — rather, “honours the creativity and excellence of an outstanding Canberra artist in any art form …. who has, in the past 12 months, added lustre to the reputation of the national capital through inspiring art practice”

Curating a festival is definitely an artistic job which requires massive artistic input, creativity, excellence – certainly wouldn’t want a manager doing it! But is it ‘art practice’? I’m not sure.

But then, I’m not sure about the meaning of this award anyway. At least this year it is a slightly broader group making the decision, but given the very … variable … quality of arts reviewing in this town, a ‘circle’ of them would be a very uneven gathering, and not something I’d particularly trust to judge excellence across artforms.

Still, awards schmawards — she did a great job, good on her for getting an award, even if the label is a bit odd.

GB GB 2:48 pm 11 Dec 08

Thumper said :

So, a public servant has won Artist of the year.

What makes you think that?

Thumper Thumper 2:45 pm 11 Dec 08

So, a public servant has won Artist of the year.

astrojax astrojax 12:48 pm 11 Dec 08

prob’ly ’cause the storm water canal under wattle street artist is ‘anonymous’ and was unable to accept the gong…

to be fair, she did do her own work in the quartet etc while negotiating all this abc publicity and stuff. right-io!

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