The Darebin Arts Speakeasy 2019 Season opens early next month, and with its goal of  presenting creative and challenging contemporary performances by emerging and established artists, it is already promising to live up to expectation.  Now in its sixth year, the 2019 season features contemporary and challenging performances by leading creatives including Fleur Kilpatrick, Jessica Wilson, David Woods, Lemony S Puppet Theatre and Joseph O’Farrell.

Read on as Beau McCafferty, who is Head of Programming, Creative Culture & Events, discusses the genesis of the Darebin Arts Speakeasy; its significance as a personal achievement and as a community enrichment program; long term goals; the process re. inclusion; challenges and much more.

Let's Take Over Photo by Sarah Walker

 The City of Darebin recognised that curatorial lead programming was the best method for increasing our support of the local arts sector, enhancing the role the Northcote Town Hall Arts Centre plays in the community by providing thrilling artistic experiences. Rather than just handing out money for projects, Darebin sought to build relationships and development opportunities, placing the artist at forefront of the decision making process in how our venues and resources were used.

 We literally sat down and made long lists of all of the fantastic artists, companies and organisations that we could think of and then went and had many, many coffees and meetings. The number one thing people wanted was access to fit for purpose quality space, and then support in connecting them with audiences. 

 The programming team are definitely driven by a personal passion for the arts and helping people realise their artistic visions. Collectively we have all been involved in the arts in one aspect or another for decades. Opening nights are always pretty emotional, by that stage we have generally been on the journey with the artists for at least a year if not longer. To finally see a production in front of an appreciative crowd is an extremely rewarding experience.

Most of our shows come via an open application process, a callout is made annually for anyone to apply and the applications are then assessed against criteria by a panel made up of artist, producers, creative community members and the programming team. A few shows come in simply by knocking on the door or calling and getting in touch. Our door is always open, but our lead times are long, we are currently already half booked for 2020. But things shift and lots of juggling occurs and opportunities often arise unexpectedly. All shows no matter how they get in touch are assessed against a curatorial criteria that is reflective of the Council goals and values.

Most of the creative teams are really large and each project has a really long gestation period, so anywhere from 9 months to 2 years is pretty standard for our involvement. There are lots of funding bodies to apply to and logistics to be wrangled. One show took us over 3 years to get all the ducks lined up and pieces in place. Others such as our Fringe Festival shows are more like 9 months. Ensuring the marketing, production and event logistics are in place is the majority of our work. As well as solving those unforeseen issues that crop up each and every time. We are always trying to get longer lead times to provide more certainty to everyone involved, but we don’t want to be too inflexible and miss an exciting opportunity that suddenly arises.

JOF's The Cabin Photo by Pia Johnson

Challenges: Trying to get audiences and artists to trust us, to know that we are here for them and that the building is their home. We are always trying to build trust across various communities, a big town hall building can be confronting and unwelcoming, so it takes a lot of time and effort to get people feeling that it is their space too. One way we did this was investing heavily in providing development opportunities and fostering work in its early stages, or just getting out of the way and opening the doors to people to just try out ideas.

 A recent highlight was Merciless Gods by Little Ones Theatre. Based on the Christos Tsiolkas book about the lives of migrants and people living on the edges of society, it drew its strength from the history of the local area and the incredible talents of our local artists. It went on to a sold out season and won many awards. The emotion of something so connected to the Darebin area, yet resonant to audiences across the country, felt right at home in our venue and really made me proud to live and work here.

A long term goal is to transform the area from a venue to something much richer as an arts precinct that has tendrils deep into the surrounding area, as well as providing a platform for growth and international connections. There are always new ideas and creative endeavours to assist and ways to work and enable amazing personal experiences.

Why should an audience come: Basically the program offers world class talent, talking to contemporary concerns and celebrations, at very affordable prices too!

Let’s Take Over kicks off the program on March 2 and is a one day arts festival taking over the Northcote Town Hall Arts Centre, entirely produced, programmed and delivered by 10 incredible young people aged 15 – 25.

Info on the season: