Why are we doing SOOB?
The following text appeared in the 2003 SOOB Program.
To our eye the Brisbane arts scene is very institutionalised. Sure, you can gain access to large art galleries, catch touring theatre performances at the cultural centre, see contemporary international music at the Powerhouse and attend major performing arts festivals every year.
But take to the streets of Fortitude Valley, Brisbane's recognised "cultural precinct", and things looks less cultural than sadly overdeveloped. Where are the local artists? Where are the independent artist-run spaces? Some suggest that local art practise is not visible in Brisbane because it does not exist, or it is not good enough.
This perceived lack of local, quality cultural production is an illusion that SOOB seeks to expose. For instance, not only is our program bursting with exciting new work being produced right now by our local community of independent and emerging artists, but there is much, much more where this came from.
While visible and supported art and culture is important to the identity of a place, there are some hard facts that face local independent art production. Noise laws and poker machines threaten our cultural fabric. Accessible spaces for art, music and culture in Brisbane's inner city are being inexorably squeezed out by rising property prices and the investment property boom.
And despite all our efforts, Brisbane still remains gripped in its own cultural cringe. Talented people still leave town for Melbourne or London. Queensland still does not receive its fair share per capita of the Australia Council pie. Employment in the creative industries fell for under 35's in Brisbane in the last census period. Many here still find it hard to believe in the quality of their own local art.
Straight Out of Brisbane is a response to all this.
It is a new kind of arts festival, run by artists themselves. It is a new form of community cultural development, whose community of focus is a particularly disadvantaged and disempowered community - our own. Far from throwing our hands in the air and surrendering, this festival is a concrete effort by literally hundreds of independent Brisbane artists and thinkers to try and improve the cultural climate for ourselves. Roughly 3 full-time volunteers, fifty part-time casual volunteers and more than 350 [it was actually closer to 700 once all participants were tallied] artists and participants have mobilised forces to contributed to the delivery of this year's festival program. And what a program it is, with over 150 different festival events.
SOOB has its intellectual roots in D.I.Y culture and artist-run events and initiatives. It is dedicated to Brisbane art and culture that is not produced for profit, is created outside of the framework of multinational corporate enterprise or large-scale government-funded arts organisations, or is excluded from mainstream public debate.
Last year we came up with a rather pithy name to sum up this brand of arts practice: bedroom art. It seemed funny at the time. But the more we think about it, the more it makes sense and seems prescient. Most art is created in bedrooms nowadays because the spaces to bring it to greater attention aren't there, and neither is the infrastructure to support emerging communities. Instead we have a rich folk culture of participation: photocopied zines, 4-track albums, burnt CDs, projector events, empty space shows and stencil art. Which is not to say we can't aspire to something more elaborate. Or even corporate. But SOOB celebrates the community of contemporary art and thought first.
SOOB also exists to remind people of Brisbane's rich history of independent practice. Digging through Brisbane's past reveals a rich history of artist-run initiatives, spaces and events dedicated to more diverse and experimental arts practice. For example, Clockart, The Loft, Grunt Space, Bolder Lodge Concepts, Galarie Brutal, ISN'T, Experimento, Modus, the Odyssey's Pink Palace, and dozens more. All were innovative, all experienced temporary local success and all have disappeared. More often than not these names are evoked with nostalgia rather than examined critically for the role they played in defining present-day Brisbane culture, and the reasons why such spaces find it almost impossible to exist in a long-term sense in this town.
Sadly new initiatives such as these continue to be sucked up and spat out in the whirlwind of local development. There exists fewer and fewer opportunities for independent and emerging artists, thinkers and media-makers to create vehicles that are genuinely their own. As Brisbane's inner-city becomes increasingly gentrified, affordable space for studios, galleries, collectives and venues are now as rare as proverbial hen's teeth. The advent of pokie machines has made it more profitable for venues to cater to gambling than art or live music. While Brisbane is proving itself as a contemporary city, right under our noses sit some of the most exciting cultural goldmines, waiting for a space to show themselves.
As Lindy Johnson, a former director of the Queensland Artworkers Alliance has said, "[Artist-run initiatives] provide not only a social focus and point of entry for emerging artists but also allow them the means for professional development in a familiar environment which is peopled by their peers."
A final, really important reason for SOOB is the sheer spectacle that the festival creates, a temporary and at least semi-autonomous zone of art and culture that is locally focused in the face of a multinational corporate media onslaught. That's why SOOB has again sought out new spaces in the supposed "cultural precinct" of the Valley, creating temporary spaces for art and culture where none previously existed. The TC Beirne Centre, the Valley Centre Plaza and our festival club in MacLachlan St are all spaces reclaimed for local art.
In the process, we've discovered a new perspective of urban development. Which is that artists, thinkers, media makers - the so-called creative classes as we're being told - make a very visible difference to the urban environment. In the long-term, we create many types of wealth - including the cold, hard economic variety.
Now it's up to us to share it between each other.
Susan Kukucka, Louise Terry and Ben Eltham
The Festival Management Team
The SOOB organisation acknowledges the Turrbal people as the Traditional Land owners of Brisbane. SOOB recognises and respects their cultural heritage, beliefs and continuing relationship with land.