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What is the point of this whole You Are Here thing?

By blind - 8 March 2011 12

you are here

This is a note from one of the peeps behind the upcoming You Are Here, taking over vacant shopfronts and found venues in the Canberra CBD from this Thursday 10 until Sunday 20 March to present a battery of music, theatre, visual arts and performance events. I’m writing to ask for your thoughts and input on a question which has been burning a hole in my head from the inside over the last few weeks: Why has this thing gathered so much momentum so quickly?

Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra Robyn Archer called me in for a meeting in mid-November to outline to me an idea for a pilot series of arts and cultural events in March 2011. That meeting was the very first time I’d even heard of URBANcITY / You Are Here.

At that point the initiative was almost entirely conceptual – we were discussing an idea rather than an actual series. Given that the opening event of the series was barely three months away (gazing ominously at me from the other side of summer) and the series did not yet exist in any tangible form, I would normally assume the project was doomed, and back carefully away. The Centenary’s proposal, however, did not seem doomed. Even with such breathtakingly short timelines, I had the strange feeling that this idea might actually come into being.

Several features of the URBANcITY / You Are Here proposal stood out for me:

1. It was a good idea. Put artists in vacant shopfronts. Do it. The idea’s as old as the hills, invented and reinvented independently by artists all over the world – I guess because it works. In this instance, I believe it was the Centenary’s Youth Advisory Committee that put the notion forward – for which, thank you dudes.

2. The Centenary of Canberra Unit did not just come up with a good idea and then sit around mulling over what a good idea they’d had – they moved on it. Really, really fast. Within a fortnight of my first meeting about the project, the Centenary managed to secure the support of Canberra CBD Limited for the project.

You are here

On 29 November, approximately 100 days before the first event, I signed up as Creative Producer for the You Are Here initiative. Myself, Assistant Producer Yolande Norris and Technical Coordinator Anthony Arblaster had a total of 100 days to curate, produce and promote an 11-day series of arts and cultural events in shopfronts and found venues around the Canberra CBD? Not feasible. Especially considering we had no shopfronts.

That’s where the fascinating thing kicks in. See, from our very first meetings with property managers (to ask whether we might be allowed to inhabit their empty outlets this March to stuff them to the gills with creative energy), there was a sense that we didn’t need to explain what we were doing – they already understood, they approved and they wanted to support it. Same with the artists – given incredibly vague briefs and no time to plan or prepare, they came back with extraordinary concepts for events and performances that respond perfectly to the venues and spaces we are occupying. Part of this is thanks to the Centenary and Canberra CBD Limited, who have provided this project with very strong foundations in a very short time. But the response of artists and stakeholders to You Are Here goes far beyond polite encouragement – people have contributed serious energy, time and resources to help us deliver an extraordinary 11 days of activity.

Now as we start to deal with the public, I’m finding the same thing. People don’t need the idea of You Are Here explained to them – they grasp it instinctively, and while I’m trying to outline some exciting new idea for dispersing small-scale performances throughout the city or whatever, they’ve already moved on to the next idea. And the idea after that. And then they stop me mid-sentence and ask a question that makes it clear how behind the eight-ball I am.

you are here

What I want to know is: How is this possible? And what does it mean?

At the end of spring, there was no such thing as You Are Here. Now it’s hurtling towards us like headlights in the fog, and it’s well and truly beyond anyone’s abilities to stop – I’m not even sure we could slow it down. It doesn’t feel like something we created – more like we somehow flicked a switch in Canberra’s genetic code, and suddenly this thing begins to emerge – something we’ve always seen but never really noticed, just part of the background that our eyes slide over – now suddenly it’s taking on shape, colour, mass and speed, and it’s huge and fast and it’s right on top of us.

What is it about You Are Here that people are responding to? Where has this momentum come from? Is this initiative a good thing for Canberra, and if so, why?

Some input and advice would be extremely valuable at this point, because this feels like it could be a pretty cool opportunity for our city and I don’t want it to slip through my hands without even realising it was there.

What’s Your opinion?


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12 Responses to
What is the point of this whole You Are Here thing?
Nicolej 2:27 pm 13 Mar 11

There are so many people getting into this festival! It is awesome to see. The Carpark Festival yesterday in the Melbourne Building laneway was so lovely and chilled out. It was so cool to see people out enjoying some of the events that You Are Here have on.

I think if you want to be included you can be. You just have to get out there and make yourself part of things. And so many people have done this. Not just those in vintage clothes and who speak funny. I mean who doesn’t like a coffee on a sunny sleepy Canberra afternoon with great music and happy people around, just enjoying things?

MurrayRuise 9:11 pm 08 Mar 11

I think it sounds pretty good, I’ll be hopefully making it into civic a few times next week to check out a few things. I like that everything is pretty close together and there’s things happening almost all the time, I like that I’ll be able to just drift around. I guess that’s the good thing about using all these empty shops? (also good that they won’t be empty for a week or so). I just like the idea of things being on.

blind 8:49 pm 08 Mar 11

Keijidosha said :

The self-congratulatory remark was aimed at comments I’ve read that celebrate the success of the event before it has been held. I mean no disrespect to those who have toiled to make this event a reality, because without those people nothing would happen and we’d be stuck in a very grey city. I just think the pats on the back can wait until after the event has been run, measured, and deemed a success.

See but this is what I’m interested in: How do you rate the success of something like You Are Here? I mean obviously the government and sponsors have formal KPIs that this thing is supposed to hit, but those targets are fairly broad and unhelpful – audience numbers are a pretty meaningless measure of success for niche arts events. And no matter how artistically rewarding the You Are Here team (and their friends) think the program is, their opinion is irrelevant. This is a festival for the city, not for a bunch of artists to sit around and stroke each other’s egos. But at the same time, it’s an experimental arts festival – no matter how you package it, it’s not going to appeal to everyone in Canberra and it’s not meant to. Given that, how do you measure something like this and what deems it a success?

No matter what, at the other end of these ten days, people are going to have made up their minds whether You Are Here was a waste of time and money, or a worthwhile addition to the Canberra scene. What I want to know is, what will they base that decision on?

Keijidosha 2:41 pm 08 Mar 11

Ohhhh lawdy! I didn’t mean for my comment to come across as a dig at anyone. I was only trying to make the point that the marketing for the event has been obscure – as if it was deliberately targetting an audience that I can’t identify with. As I said though, it might be that i’m too square to get it. That’s cool though, I’ll stick to the creative arts I find accessible.

The self-congratulatory remark was aimed at comments I’ve read that celebrate the success of the event before it has been held. I mean no disrespect to those who have toiled to make this event a reality, because without those people nothing would happen and we’d be stuck in a very grey city. I just think the pats on the back can wait until after the event has been run, measured, and deemed a success.

FWIW I didn’t label anyone associated with You Are Here as ‘hipsters’.

johnboy 1:51 pm 08 Mar 11

Pretty sure they’re after everyone who likes art, theatre, music, and the collision of all three.

Self identify away there.

Diggety 1:42 pm 08 Mar 11

simonleeds said :

Diggety said :

blind, sorry, reading all that is beneath me since it was not in a leather bound hard cover.

All I want to know is, do I need vintage clothes to attend?

This comment is typical of many hater comments on recent YouAreHere posts. First the commenter states that he doesn’t understand the article, and accuses Blind of writing in supposed hipster-speak, with the supposed intention of making the commenter feel culturally and artistically inadequate. Then comes the spectacular hipster-joke.

Keijidosha’s comment about how the promotion of the festival has been too vague and aloof may well be valid, but how does that give him or anyone else a license to fill the comment board with crap hipster jokes? If Blind had used his article to flaunt the superior characteristics of hipsters, or to make stereotypical jokes about public servants, then maybe such jibes would be warranted. As things stand, Diggety & Keijidosha come across more like internet posers, flaunting their cultural mastery over hipsters by being able to define them as all wearing “vintage clothes”, trying to be ‘edgy’ etc. grow up.

simonleeds, please don’t get so easily upset.

By the way, I was (ultimately) serious; is this event for everyone? That question has not been answered, and you didn’t even try. Will all walks of Canberra feel welcome, or is it sub-culture exclusive. Is it suitable for a family?

See, I imagine the organisers would like it to be a success. And on that basis, the organisers may like to appeal to a certain demographic. But at the very least, potential attendees should be informed if they’re likely to feel welcome.

Stop being so precious!

P.S. You write like a David Attenborough narrative.

simonleeds 12:41 pm 08 Mar 11

Diggety said :

blind, sorry, reading all that is beneath me since it was not in a leather bound hard cover.

All I want to know is, do I need vintage clothes to attend?

This comment is typical of many hater comments on recent YouAreHere posts. First the commenter states that he doesn’t understand the article, and accuses Blind of writing in supposed hipster-speak, with the supposed intention of making the commenter feel culturally and artistically inadequate. Then comes the spectacular hipster-joke.

Keijidosha’s comment about how the promotion of the festival has been too vague and aloof may well be valid, but how does that give him or anyone else a license to fill the comment board with crap hipster jokes? If Blind had used his article to flaunt the superior characteristics of hipsters, or to make stereotypical jokes about public servants, then maybe such jibes would be warranted. As things stand, Diggety & Keijidosha come across more like internet posers, flaunting their cultural mastery over hipsters by being able to define them as all wearing “vintage clothes”, trying to be ‘edgy’ etc. grow up.

Nicolej 11:35 am 08 Mar 11

This festival has gained so much momentum so fast and that is awesome! Canberra is such a creative city but I think it’s just not great at communicating where events are held or what is happening. There are lots of great festivals in Canberra and great events and ideas going on but most people seem to only hear of them after the fact. Making YouAreHere hugely accessible on the internet – through sites such as twitter, flickr, facebook, blogs – as well as a website means that the people who are likely to want to come are hearing about it. And thus success.

Should be a fabulous festival! Will see you all there!

Diggety 11:18 am 08 Mar 11

blind, sorry, reading all that is beneath me since it was not in a leather bound hard cover.

All I want to know is, do I need vintage clothes to attend?

Nickamc 10:43 am 08 Mar 11

I feel as though the proof is in the pudding with these sorts of events; in that attendance is required at a handful of events to really gauge the true intent and motives of the production.

But really, isn’t this all just part of building a momentum towards centenary celebrations in 2013? I’m glad that there’s some people out there making a push to celebrate art in the region, which can tend to get overlooked in various histories of the Canberra region.

DonnyBoy 10:38 am 08 Mar 11

tl;dr

Keijidosha 9:30 am 08 Mar 11

I have no doubt that this concept has its merits, but the way in which it is promoted comes across to me as exclusionary. The vagueness and aloof attitude appears both intentional and self-congratulatory.

Or maybe I’m just easily confused by this ‘edgy’ art scene.

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