A concert showcasing local artists of diverse backgrounds will soon hit Melbourne’s Arts Centre on November 21st. Visible, in association with Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) has its heart very much on the music, but it’s also an event to pave the way for culturally diverse musicians into mainstream art.
“Our purpose is to promote multicultural arts and finding pathways into the arts,” says Anita Larkin, Project Officer at MAV. “So it’s not just about keeping multicultural arts outside of the mainstream like a fringe arts kind of thing, but getting multicultural arts into the mainstream.”
Events like Visible aid the artistic professional development of artists particularly from recent arrival and refugee communities. This year the ticketed event, hosted by John Safran, is largely focused on the music of several African countries with a line-up that includes Afro Habesha (Ethiopia), Afro Mandinko (West Africa) and Blak Roots, an Afro-Reggae act. However, the pre-show entertainment is a free event and will take place at the Arts Centre’s Smorgon Family Plaza with Akoma Beat and Kundalila.
“This year particularly, we are celebrating five years of the project, which we thought was pretty significant,” explains Larkin. “During that time, we’ve had over 300 artists through the program, so we thought it might be a good opportunity to pick out some of the highlights and also look at the different cultures that have come through.”
Another consideration in the curating process was to pick groups renowned for producing contemporary music with a traditional twist. “A lot of people think of African music as just tribal or traditional or drums, so we’re trying to break down those stereotypes. And all of the bands in the program are really very professional and trying to establish themselves as professional artists here.”
Aside from providing artists with a platform to showcase their music, Visible is also somewhat of a mentorship initiative. In 2005, MAV held consultations around Victoria to find out what barriers many of the artists felt they were facing in regards to gaining access into the arts. “A lot of things came up and we looked at ways at helping those people find pathways into the arts, and mentoring was one of the key things that came out,” explains Larkin.
Interestingly, many of the artists involved in the Visible program were famous in their respective home countries. However, having moved to a new country, they face the difficulty of building up a fan base from scratch, and finding support for their craft.
“For a lot of them, they’ve already got the skills, and the things they need to learn is not something you go to school for – it’s more just being shown the way,” says Larkin. “We looked at linking artists from the refugee communities with established professional artists who have made it here, and they helped them develop their performance skills and their music, they’ve helped them with recordings, and also social networks and professional networks.”
Visible will be a part of the umbrella initiative, Mix it Up!, which is a partnership between MAV and the Arts Centre established to celebrate Victoria’s diverse heritage. The initiative, which runs throughout the year at the Arts Centre, presents a range of programs including art exhibitions, music programs as well as inviting international acts from origins as diverse as Latin, Balkan and African backgrounds.
But like so many art initiatives, finding funds for events like Visible is one of the biggest challenges MAV face. The non-government, not-for-profit organisation, established in 1983, understands the importance of working with artists for long-term periods in order to achieve their goals.
“In Visible, usually we work with people over two to three years and provide a range of opportunities during that time, which they can use as a springboard,” says Larkin. “But the way funding works, mostly, it’s for one-off projects over a year. So, for us, it gets difficult trying to find money for a project that’s running longer term.”
The success of local Afrobeat and hip hop bands Diafrix, Public Opinion Afro Orchestra and Kimbaya – all ‘graduates’ of past Visible events – is testament of the commitment MAV has towards nurturing the contemporary rhythmic, dance-worthy world music Victoria has to offer.
Visible will be showing at Melbourne’s Arts Centre on November 21st
For more information on Visible, visit: http://events.theartscentre.com.au/