Archives for posts with tag: Australia Council

Willow

Willow Neilson’s adventures as a Jazz saxophonist have taken him from Nimbin, to Armidale, Melbourne and the Sydney Conservatorium, to Jazz competitions from Brussels to Montreux and now to China thanks to Asialink /Australia-China Council funding. Willow chats to arts interview about the stresses of not only adjusting to life in China but also about juggling life as a professional musician.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

How would you describe what you do? Does Saxophonist or Jazz Musician adequately cover it?

Saxophonist and jazz musician covers part of it. These days we can’t just lock ourselves in a room practicing and then step out into gigs anymore. My career requires me to be a promoter/personal pr person, writer/blogger, teacher and then I have had stints being a tv host, voice over person, and am about to go train to be a yoga teacher.

I have a lot of interests and feel that in order to evolve as an artist these days I need to become more of a renaissance man, both in terms of my ability to make money- earning from a variety of skills other than just those associated with performing and teaching music, but also learning new skills such as multi media software applications and visual art concepts. All of these are centred around my primary passion- music- and it is my hope that all of them feed into one another. The playing is the fun part, dealing with all the other stuff is the drag.

What are the most stressful aspects of working the way you do? Do you find that being stressed affects your work?

Some people think that being a musician is all fun and messing around but many aspects of the job are stressful. Dealing with abusive personalities on the bandstand (whilst still having to smile), dealing with terrible sound teams, terrible agents and all manner of people that often seem hell bent on undermining the effectiveness of your performance is a constant hassle. In China we have a thing we call “hurry up and wait,” where an agent who knows nothing about music asks us to be at a performance 3 hours early, rushes us around only to then have to sit and wait for everyone else.

The unpredictability of freelancing is also a stressful factor, it is hard to turn down work as you never know when a dry patch will arise, sometimes I will work a series of 18 hour days including multiple shows and teaching. Finding the right balance is a constant juggle.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced developing a career as a musician? Did you ever consider studying something else or moving into another career?

In Australia the biggest challenge was simply not working enough. I went back to school to study education but hated it, not the teaching but all the other stuff around it. That’s why I live in China now. If I could find something reliable that I loved I would do it but music is my passion and as much as I would like to find something else I will have to make this work because it is all I have.

What strategies do you use to keep life in balance?

I like to meditate, exercise (a huge part of my life now) and have started praying a lot recently, I never thought I would get into that but it has really been making me feel good. I also have a group of people I meet with regularly where we talk about life etc. at great length.

Visiting my friend’s kids also helps to feel more grounded- kids know how to enjoy life effortlessly. Lately I have been playing chess with an 8 year old that trash talks when he takes your pieces. Good fun.

How did you find adjusting to life in China? Has moving to China changed the way you deal with stress and anxiety?

Life in China comes with positives and negatives. Positives are cheap massages, cheap cost of living, easy work and good food (although the produce is not so great but it is cooked well). The negatives are pollution, cultural differences and very different ways of handling issues, pollution and noise, noise, noise, traffic, traffic, traffic, chaos.

Learning the language is always fun, Chinese people are really supportive of others learning Chinese and life changes more positively as your language skills grow.

I think Shanghai is a bit of an emotional/spiritual accelerator. Whatever your issues it will magnify them and you will either fall into a frustrated heap or you will deal with what you need to deal with. China has made me change in more ways than I maybe am even aware of, one of them is I’ve learnt to not freak out, to just stay calm and if you have done what you need to do then let other people do the freaking out.

http://willowneilson.com/music/

Justin

Dr Justin O’Connor is a professor in the ARC Centre for Creativity and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology. In January, the Australia Council released his report entitled Arts and creative industries, which outlined the development of the creative industries in Australia and discussed the role of economics in arts and cultural policy debate. He spoke to arts interview about the report and his ideas of how the industry could move forward.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What implication do the differences between cultural industries, arts and creative industries have for the creation of industry policy in Australia?

The first problem is that nobody quite knows what creative industries are. Sounds great at first, but does not mention the word arts (that is always a good thing for economic policy makers). As we drilled down into what it meant, no one really knew. What areas of the economy aren’t creative? Are we saying medicine isn’t creative? We are saying creativity is an input into this particular sector of the economy, but it is also an input into many other sectors of the economy. What then is included? Consequently it is a challenge to develop industry policy when the industry itself is not defined.

The second element is that creative industries are defined increasingly in economic terms. All those who will read this will make arguments about the economic impacts of arts and culture. But policy makers are turning around and saying ‘if you are economically successful then let’s invest in this because of the economic returns’. In attempt to sell the whole idea of a thriving and growing sector it has also done a bit of damage to it.

In terms of cultural policy, was the last true attempt Keating’s Creative Nation?

Very much so. Remember that Creative Nation was not just about the economic aspects of culture and markets, the private sector was important too. It was also about a new Australia, a multicultural, forward looking country with an identity that would engage with the modern world. Creative industries have dropped all that and become the economic residue of these sorts of discussions.

According to the interviewees in the report, what are the weaknesses in the current Australian system?

One issue was the way in which the different systems, whether federal or state, could not handle the complexity of what practitioners were doing. Could not handle the fact that people were doing cultural things AND economic things. Those who were operating commercially were saying ‘people think I am commercial, but I am also doing it for artistic and cultural reasons’, and those in the subsidised sectors were saying ‘I also work in a very commercial space, using resources in an economically rational way.’ They felt caught on either side of the divide, either as a starving subsidised artist, or a commercial, hard-nosed, profit driven operator. In reality most fell right in the middle.

How has the report been received?

It is a think piece; it is meant to get people to review where we have come to. It has, however, touched on a desire for a bigger debate, questioning ‘What is the meaning of art and culture? Why do we do this? How can it be improved?’

I am hoping that it feeds into a growing concern that we are a bit rudderless, a bit directionless in this area. I think we have lost that moment, that Creative Nation moment, where we could link the economic aspects of culture with its wider implications for the identity and future of Australia.

You have said the challenge now facing the mainstream arts institutions is how to enter the policy debate without feeling the arts are threatened by the changes. What can be done to support this?

We have to encourage arts bodies to think about the broader picture. What shape should the Australia Council be? How can it best engage with the sector? It is not about abolishing, or suggesting they have done a terrible job; it is what kind of vision do we want for arts and culture in Australia and what role can the Australia Council play? The arts institutions have to think about engaging with the non-publically funded sectors, thinking about infrastructure funding, about engaging with more complex fields, things like small bar policy or how best to regulate or encourage private capital investment into the sector, how best to engage with urban planners and community policy makers.

If I was to write the report again I would be more forthright in the idea of critiquing economics. What is the economic? Most of it is just a myth, do we mean the financial markets? Do we mean the everyday economics of how people live? I would say it is a paper tiger, but it is a real tiger, suggesting there is an economy out there which is the ultimate arbiter of everything, but when you look closely it is actually smoke and mirrors.

Further reading on the politics of creative industries below: