Image by Tiffany Parker

It has been a little over a week since I participated in a business workshop as part of the Birrang project to grow an indigenous dance presence in NSW.

I remember having an online chat with independent choreographer Kay Armstrong one night, as we were simultaneously navigating the (then) new Arts NSW  projects application form. I recall laughing out loud as she commented incredulously over the amount of paperwork involved.

“I thought I went through the dance door” she commiserated, “with plies, jumps, brushes and contractions. Nobody told me about KPIs, audience demographics, business plans and branding.”

When I make a work, it is the result of a compulsion to express an opinion. I am driven to illustrate something poignant and/or make people laugh out loud (I’m partial to humorous observation) in response to something they recognise, something I have carefully crafted. I love poetry, employ metaphor and enjoy an artistic and intellectual challenge.

I remember being stumped the first time somebody asked me who I made my work for, what the audience experience looked and felt like, and how I wanted to be perceived. Up until then this wasn’t given consideration.

Now it’s imperative to have a brand,  a work is referred to as a product, and artists are encouraged to identify and attract their audience by creating an online presence.

We must consider how easily to mount and remount a potential work, consider the overheads, the level of accessibility in relation to the general public, how big the theatre, and how intimate the experience.

I, like many others, must still aim to be an innovator, challenging the parameters of my artform, whilst working with integrity and, as an indigenous independent artist, in consultation with my community.

I am not allowed a surplus or deficit, I don’t know if I can buy a portable hard drive, I definitely can’t use funds to make a payment on white goods, or a deposit on a house, but I can buy a spindle of blank DVDs. Per diems are not taxable, but I must keep all receipts, even the gum bought at 2am, from a dodgy 7/11, in a street I don’t recognise. While some rules seem obvious, others are tricky, unclear or misleading.

But I digress.

As a maker nudging the big leagues, the projects get more ambitious, the budgets get bigger, and funds come from several sources, including crowdfunding initiatives, philanthropy as well as arts grants. Networking is unavoidable. All of a sudden people need to know more about the artist from a closer vantage point. One finds oneself commonly seated across from a relative stranger armed with a list of questions for a friendly interrogation of person and practice, with an audience of investors pens poised over chequebooks.

Is it worth it?

Sadly, by the time I asked this question, I had sealed my fate and I guessed, from looking around the room at my fresh faced hopeful compadrés, it was too late for them to reconsider also. Instead we must embrace the other side which was so meticulously laid out before us, from ABNs not registered for GST, to the implications of a  partnership, or an incorporated body, from issues pertaining to intellectual property, arts law and dot coms versus dot com dot au’s.

As a maker of my own work, I realise the importance of the financial and marketing fine print, and I am grateful I was invited to take part in the program.

“All things in moderation,” I say. Time to shut the door on the dollars and do what makes sense for a bit.

I can hear the dance door creaking on its hinges, as I surreptitiously ease it open, to slip back through. If only for a while.

Until the next project.

Birrang was initiated through a series of workshops and forums facilitated through Ausdance NSW and is administered by Bangarra Dance Theatre. It was created to serve indigenous dance artists working in NSW providing arts management and creative skills as well as an annual artist residency. Click on the Ausdance NSW website for more info.

– by Vicki Van Hout