Connect : Connect Magazine July 2012 Edition
13 Opposite page: FOPA Board member, Freda Unusi (left), Michelle and Placid Walekwate, FOPA Board member and Chairman of Performing Arts Opposite page top left: Testing the locally made cane props for the opening ceremony Opposite page top right: Des Mevi auditioning for a chance to perform on one of the festival mainstages during the festival Top left: Placid Walekwate, Chairman of Performing Arts (Michelle's counterpart) on a return trip from visiting the Tulagi FOPA Satellite Venue preparations in the Central province Top right: Members of the Faeni Cultural Dance Group shortly after the FOPA Performer auditions Michelle Bell Country Solomon Islands Assignment Assistant Events and Stage Managing Coordinator Host Organisation National Organising Committee of Solomon Islands - Ministry of Culture and Tourism The phone rings and my colleague picks it up. No sooner does he advise the caller of his name and occupation, does he put the phone down and continue typing attentively on his laptop. A few moments later the same scenario plays out and for the second time the caller’s line fails to connect. Approximately 10 minutes passes by and the phone rings again but on this occasion a conversation is had. I don’t catch the dialogue, mostly because in our tiny shared offce I’ve learnt the art of switching off to the surrounding conversations in order to stay focused. But as the phone is returned to the desk, my colleague chuckles and gets my attention. He proceeds to tell me that the caller had overcome his predicament of poor mobile phone coverage by climbing to the top of a coconut tree - all in order to enquire about the upcoming Festival of Pacifc Arts performer auditions. The image of someone shimmying 15 metres (if not more) up the trunk of a tree with mobile phone in hand jolts me back to the reality of my new world. To my absolute delight I’ve landed in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in an arts management role with the Australian Volunteers for International Development program. My assignment is to work with the Performing Arts Committee on the 11th Festival of Pacifc Arts to aid the planning and delivery of all programming and production elements of the festival. The festival takes place every four years following its inception in 1972. It serves the role of uniting artists and cultural leaders from over 20 countries and territories across the Pacifc region. Even more importantly, the festival generates a dialogue - bringing cultural heritage, diversity and change to the forefront. Being in (what feels like) the most privileged of volunteer positions available, I have this overwhelming sense that the festival will bring the nation to a complete standstill - and not just because Honiara’s main road struggles to cope with the traffc on a normal day. I say this because no matter where you go, it’s impossible to navigate a conversation without hearing about the fast approaching festivities. Admittedly not all press and talk generated has been positive, but the closer we get the more excited the air feels and the general messages relayed amongst the community are packed with enthusiasm, anticipation and national pride. I get the sense that although the region is steeped in culture, it’s starved of opportunities for embracing its natural artistic talents. Take for example last weekend – the Performing Arts Committee conducted a solid weekend of performer auditions open to anyone across the region interested in gaining a place in the festival stage program. Almost 100 applications fooded our offce in-tray (no online submissions here, sorry), leaving the uneasy task for the committee to whittle 100 submissions down to 30. It seemed a daunting undertaking in a nation which operates on ‘Island Time’. Many people, both local and expat, asked me why we planned an audition schedule of 9am-9pm both days allowing each band only 15 minutes to set up and perform one song. I don’t deny that doubt didn’t creep in, but whether by sheer luck or the fact that fnally an opportunity existed for these unknown bands to be seen and perform out from under their leaf hut, we ran ahead of schedule. Seeing shy, timid Solomon Islanders take to the stage and come to life through their music was not only inspiring but also reinvigorated my belief in the importance of nurturing arts and culture in every society. So here I am, having stumbled into a volunteer placement perfectly aligned with my current profession, presented with an opportunity to bring something of what I know of festival management to the Pacifc. It’s been chaotic to say the least but without question a richly rewarding experience. Delivering a major international arts event in any country, let alone a developing country, is a massive undertaking. In the case of the Solomon Islands, think geographical isolation, bureaucratic frameworks, limited access to experience and knowledge learnt from previous festivals and limited access to basic services and supplies (note earlier mention of mobile phone coverage). These are just a few of the limiting factors faced in my new festival planning environment. But no matter how diffcult or challenging, I’m heartened daily by the knowledge of the benefts that a festival of this scale can bring to any community. I have no doubt that arts and culture are highly valuable resources in development terms, both socially and culturally. Since arriving I’ve witnessed frst hand the immense amount of interest and discussion generated, the shift in peoples attitudes, the intensity of the preparations and people harnessing their cultural and artistic expression. There is a distinctive buzz across the region, and I am hopeful that this festival can be a catalyst for positive change both immediately and into the future.
Connect Magazine November 2012
Connect March 2012