‘Speak from your heart; speak from what is inside your soul.’ Malala Yousafzai
Another year older and they say with that comes wisdom. Yet the vulnerability of the writing process has me shackled. I have learned so much – professionally and personally – but don’t know where to start in sharing my learnings. Sometimes that’s the thing with experiential learning, a journey I have been on for the past four years, it is hard to break it down into words. The past four months in particular have been a rollercoaster. I told a friend today to get through his final assessment for the semester and then let himself fall to pieces. Give in to all the emotions and cry it out, run it out, dance it out or hoop it out. I need to take my own advice. When one project or phase is over, I am too quick to jump into the next and forget to externalise my reflections.
Sunflowers are my symbol for courage. They seek out warmth and light, and have strong foundations in a storm. Whether they stand tall or are produced in their minimum viable height, they radiate the same energy.
My sunflower-patterned skirt, dress and shoes have been on many adventures with me over the past few years – sometimes wearing two at the same time (ris-kay). They have been with me when I “Marilyn-ed” Oxford Street more times than I care to remember on my way to university. They have been held down in the wind tunnel on my way to Mondays at 107 Projects for my mentorship. They have met many strong women who have shaped my understanding of society and my role within it. I have worn them to my own openings, friend’s openings and on dates (that’s right, sometimes I have a personal life). Aside from the outward expression of my personality in times of celebration and growth, sunflowers have also given me courage when hope fell short. From action learning sets that would openly challenge my assumptions to times that pull a family together, looking down at yellow brilliance is reassuring. To look at a sunflower is a moment of happiness on a cloudy day. To really look at a sunflower is to see beauty in small details.
To make sure this stream of consciousness doesn’t become a ramble, I am going to follow a reflection exercise we do at the School for Social Entrepreneurs – I know, I think, I feel, I believe. There is so much in my head that I need to work through, but overcoming writers block is the first step.
I know that change is a marathon not a sprint. We – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia – are going through a period of rapid change. I have fortunately been a part of exciting conversations concerning the future of growth in the Macarthur Region. The election promises for Western Sydney aren’t so much promises for the future, but Government playing catch up from previous years of inadequate development. Western Sydney was built on the back of migrant labour in the post-war years and it is time that this culturally and socially diverse region got some much needed resources to make it liveable. Planning for post-suburbanisation is about truly decentralising not just Sydney, but Western Sydney and acknowledging that it is multi-centred. It isn’t necessarily about better connections to the city anymore, but improving the connectivity of the greater suburbs within the vast region. Employment, housing, health, education, social and cultural infrastructure are all crucial to this plan. My advocating for better representation of diverse communities and their culture will not cease in this process. My teenage dreams no longer seem to be a figment of my imagination, but a tangible reality with endless possibilities. But we need to make sure we do it right the first time. The urban planning shamble we have inherited cannot be changed, so there needs to be more consideration moving forward. On top of this we need to embrace change. I wonder if the tense, passion-fuelled conversation we are having today raise similar concerns to those in the post-war years?
I feel that I straddle an odd line between two sectors that are trying to talk to each other with varied degrees of success – the arts sector and the social sector. In an attempt to break away from the bourgeois connotation of engaging with art, the art sector has sought to convey their broader relevance to society. Growing up in and researching independent art organisations across the vast area that is Western Sydney, has demonstrated that this can be achieved. Public art, community-engaged art and socially engaged art are cans of worms I won’t open today, but contributing art making process in this discussion. What I will emphasise is that it isn’t about substituting artistic merit for local relevance, but combining the two in a powerful proclamation of time, place and identity. We need to keep chipping away at the pedestal. For the social sector it is a slippery path to avoid the moral soap box. Sometimes in order to address a larger issue we need to start at home with everyday habit changes. Why aren’t we seeing these sectors partner more often? How can their different methods of working complement each other better, enabling art projects to be more than just an art project and social change to be realised? Reconciling my assumptions of the perceived divide between these two ways of working is going to be my next challenge. Obviously there is a lot more here than can be unpacked. But not today.
I think (well I know, but I already used that one) that I put too high expectations on myself. Whether it is making up for my social life when I am overcommitted to work, or wanting to execute the long term vision in a short time frame, I expect unrealistic outcomes from myself. This ultimately hinders creativity as I become a production line of outputs rather than developing the depth and richness of my output. Setting realistic goals and reassessing them as you develop is crucial to success. As for success, well that is something you define, not society or anyone else.
I believe that as we get older we don’t grow into different people, but become more of who we are. Young person, curator, cultural instigator, activist, writer, entrepreneur, social entrepreneur, artist, student (well…school of life), girl, woman … what am I missing? I have labelled myself and been labelled in many ways, emphasising that identity is not singular, but we are the sum of our experiences. Some labels serve to tick boxes, others serve to self-identify. Four years ago I could not have predicted that my curiosity to know more about culture, museum practices and audience engagement would have led me to where I am today. This makes me excited for the next series of developments and learnings and their potential.
By way of closing this reflection I want to see more young people (particularly from across Western Sydney) given wings. From my first mentor (my high school art teacher) to those I have sought out in the past few months, I have been surrounded by mentors who are firm, but fair. They identify potential and seek to nurture it by identifying strengths and weaknesses. A weakness is the potential for growth and an opportunity to expand your network and skill set. Society is currently in the business of clipping young people’s wings and it is damaging. If you haven’t yet read Youth Actions’ report for what young people want from the Federal Election, you should. Young people are concerned about the social fabric of society. Where the dream of owning a home and transitioning from study to the workforce is less attainable, young people are leading campaigns for a more inclusive and socially conscious society.
Another year older and they say that makes you wiser. I am still figuring a lot of things out, but what a rollercoaster of a time to live in.