Written and Interviewed by Siena Hart
One of the predominant aims of LOOK has always been to create opportunities for a convergence of art and music. For this discussion we wanted to deeper reflect the project by delving into the intersection of the visual art and music industries within large scale events. Who better to advise us on this than the Associate Director of WOMADelaide, the one, the only, Annette Tripodi. Annette has been working with this iconic festival for 25 years both within Australia and on an international scale. She shared with us some incredible insights into how the artists WOMAD have worked with have been an integral part of supporting both the music and the festival as a whole. Our hope is to inspire people, artists, musicians, event organisers to see the possibilities of supporting creative opportunities more diversely by taking action to merge the two.
Siena Hart sat down to chat with the wonderful wealth of knowledge, experience and equal parts enthusiasm that is Annette Tripodi.
S: It's great that we’ve been able to have this time, we’re very excited to have a chat with you!
A: It’s a pleasure!
S: I’d love to chat today, specifically the intersection of music and art in WOMADelaide, and within your own practice, and the possibilities that arise when those two things have a relationship of mutual support.
A: Well, I think the starting point for me is the very first WOMADelaide, which was intended to be a one off event in 1992. It was a festival within the Adelaide Festival, so it was coming into an event that very much revered art and artists, and already had a thirty year history of its own.
I think the festival remains a different kind of music festival, simply because it was born from the Adelaide Festival of Arts, rather than being put together with the idea of ‘let’s make a music event’. In its evolution, I think there’s always been a nod to that. We want to create an event that is not just bands on stages. So that’s very important to the way that it has developed, particularly in the last decade.
S: You have such a vast array of elements. I’m thinking of the beautiful Ackroyd and Harvey works where they’re somehow both two, and three dimensional and then you’ve got roaming performative works and experiential works. What is the relationship between these works and the music? Is there one?
A: I think it’s a very holistic relationship between what is on stage, and what is off stage. With our programming, we are always wanting each year to be really distinct from the previous year’s festival. That’s very important to us. And so it means that we wouldn’t repeat artists for two years running, and if we do have a return artist, we probably have a bit of a break. With visual arts specifically, it has to be able to be presented in an outdoor environment, which is not always easy. Ackroyd and Harvey was a beautiful example. We have this big warehouse here in Adelaide, and we were able to actually grow the grass and panels for those artworks in that space, before it was installed in Botanic Park. There was a lovely synergy because it was a work of photography, but it was also a work of nature. The Botanic Park venue is incredibly key to the experience that people have as artists, or as an audience, surrounded by nature. We want it to feel right in the park, and feel right for our audience.
We’ve done a gorgeous exhibition which was able to be done within a tented space which was called Of All The People In All The World by Stan's Cafe. It was a statistical statement about many many things, but the statistics were represented by grains of rice. So people walked into the venue and they might see a pile of rice that represented the number of televisions sold in Australia and a slightly larger pile that represented the number of televisions sold in India, for instance. It made statements about capitalism, poverty and inequality but it also had a slightly tongue in cheek aspect - one exhibit was a single grain of rice, representing Condoleezza Rice of the former American government. So that was something that fit organically into the festival, looked great, and that people could participate in whenever they felt like it, coming and going. That coming and going is a really strong feature of the visual arts that we do at the festival.
We did an installation exhibition of the poster art from Bollywood. So we actually brought out some practitioners from India, as well as having an exhibition of previous Bollywood film posters and associated items. We brought out a master craftsman to construct a giant billboard over the course of the festival. That was beautiful because people could not only go into the exhibition but see this piece being created over four days. All of these things have a kind of synchronicity with what is on stage.
As far as the performative arts that happen off stage, they have to feel right, and you can’t always put your finger on what feels right. If you’ve experienced the work yourself, which is something we really like to do (though the pandemic has changed that) then you can kind of have an inkling as to how an audience will respond aesthetically, emotionally. We want the festival experience to be an immersive experience, whether you are watching a band perform, or you happen to be standing around talking with your friends as a performance passes you, or you end up in a tucked-away space in the park where there is something really amazing to observe or participate in.
S: I had wondered about the question ‘Is there a right artwork?’ and I think you’ve answered that, but you touched on an interesting thing. You mentioned you like to be able to experience the artwork before it comes into the festival. When you’re experiencing these artworks on a festival scale, there's a lot of dynamism, and chance interactions. How important is it to you to experience these artworks, to imagine how they might play out in a festival setting? Or do you find that they often evolve into something new on their own?
A: It’s ideal, and wonderful if we can experience something first hand. By the same token, our festival this year in 2022 included quite a lot of commissions of new works that obviously we couldn’t see beforehand. We had a very good relationship either with the artists, or the companies, such that we could have faith that what they were going to make was going to be beautiful for the festival and successful for them. For example, Gravity And Other Myths’ night time promenade circus/acrobatic performance work, “Process”. They came to us saying they’d like to create something new that could potentially have a life beyond WOMADelaide, to go to other festivals, and to be on at night, which is not the norm for those sorts of performances. Similarly, the piece called Hexadeca, which was made by a local Adelaide company Pulsing Heart - they came to us with some drawings, and a lot of enthusiasm, and we worked with them as it was progressing, pleased that we were always on the same page. We were working many years ago with emerging artists and the Situate Art in Festivals organisation, exploring things being purpose built and designed for WOMADelaide that of course we wouldn’t see, until they were there.
There are so many different ways that you can find that ‘right’ thing. We are very open to ideas, and we get a lot of them. I’ve been with the festival now for 25 years in different roles, to get to where I am now as Associate Director, and our Director, Ian Scobie, has been with the festival from the beginning. We have a very good experience of working with each other - knowing what will be good for our audience, and also a wonderful boon for emerging and established artists. There’s no simple response, but we are always looking for things that will delight, and fascinate, as well as employ artists.
S: I guess that follows onto my next question; A lot of the work that you do is facilitating connections with emerging artists and finding them larger supports or developmental programs. How important is it to you and WOMADelaide to have that support for emerging artists?
A: It’s very important, and in fact, it really was the basis for the WOMADelaide x NSS academy that we established at the beginning of 2021. We wanted to do something that gave emerging artists some kind of training and development in the music industry and help them foster their careers. When we first looked at it six years ago, we just couldn’t get the money together to support us,as we were looking at it as a national program, which was a very detailed and expensive venture. With the NSS Academy we focused on a South Australian, in fact specifically, northern suburbs of Adelaide program. While the end game may be to give selected artists from the Academy a performance at WOMADelaide, that’s not all there is to it.
That program involves young people from First Nations communities and multicultural communities, predominantly African artists from the northern suburbs of Adelaide in this wonderful Northern Sound System studio. They have the opportunity to interact with mentors, to do recording, to do production, songwriting intensives - to get all the pieces together that will hopefully add up to a more complete picture of an artist. It’s like finding gold when you encounter these young people on the up, who are just so full of promise. After their performance at WOMADelaide, they suddenly have much greater confidence, a much bigger following. Elsy Wameyo, is a brilliant example of that at the moment. We definitely don’t take the credit, because she is a very talented young woman. But it’s brilliant that she got a bit of a leg up, through what we’re doing, and she’s now sitting on the panel that’s working with the next round of Academy artists.
With Adelaide bands, as well, they might be playing local venues, with a small audience, and just be an incredible force of live performance. Empty Threats are a great example. I had seen them probably four times, in very small venues around Adelaide during the pandemic and they were just electric. I knew that it would be that, times ten, on the big stage. It’s important to foster those relationships, to give people a platform for more exposure where we can. But it really has to work within the program mix. The main criteria for anybody in the festival is to be really great - be good! And to perform well. That is key.
S: You mentioned very local artists, and coming across them in small venues. What do you think the existing possibilities are for those artists and musicians converging on small scales, and do they have a relationship with larger events, such as WOMADelaide? Does a relationship between the hyper-local, and large festivals such as WOMADelaide exist? Can it be better? Should it be different?
A: I think it is always possible, it just has to be the right thing. This year we established a new relationship with Nexus Arts, a small venue that works with artists from all over the world, who find themselves in Adelaide. Some of them are well known and talented musicians who have suddenly ended up living here, and they’re unsure of where to go and how to interact or fit into the local music scene. Nexus has a program they run called Interplay. I believe Multicultural Arts Victorias has a similar project. We have a relationship with Nexus in order to foster a relationship with those artists.
It sounds simplistic, but it really is true that anything is possible, it just has to be the right thing. Our door is usually pretty open. Even though I might receive 1000+ proposals every festival, and we only program maybe 70 groups, I do actually pay attention to all of them. Sometimes something that might seem unlikely on the first read can come to fruition. There is a lot of potential for those smaller relationships to become a bigger relationship.
S: What advice would you give to young or emerging arts organisers, that are looking to follow in your own footsteps, or create new avenues for emerging artists and musicians?
A: It's really important to have an understanding of what an event is actually like. You can get a great insight by volunteering, or approaching people for tertiary placements. So much goes on behind the scenes of any event. Whether it’s small or large, the principles are the same. Involve yourself at the grassroots level of other people’s events, and start to gain an understanding of what goes on and how you can contribute in the future or perhaps create your own event. There are a lot of people who are very generous with their time, despite the fact that they may not have too much, because everybody has to start somewhere. I was a volunteer at the beginning of my WOMADelaide journey, and I had worked on other festivals in a publicity vein. In our team, everybody wants WOMADelaide to be beautiful, welcoming, inclusive. Increasingly so, people are really striving for diversity in their lineup, which is something we’ve always had in our 30 year history.
My advice, generally, is to get involved, learn and participate as much as you can. Keep your eyes and ears open. It will become clear to you what you do and don’t like or want in any endeavor that you may be involved in or indeed create, in the future.
S: Thank you so much for having a chat with me today. It’s so lovely to hear all of your thoughts you have around this, and what an amazing perspective to have come from volunteering with the festival, and seeing it from all angles over the years. Congratulations on thirty years!