The Westsider and Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) have a lot in common – we’re both providing accessible platforms for the community to utilise and engage with. This month we sat down with (well Zoomed with) Executive Director and Co-CEO Robyn Gawenda.
What drew you to the arts sector?
I grew up playing music, and always aspired to have creativity be a part of my life. I didn’t really know what that meant, or that you could even do that as a career. When I moved to Melbourne, I started volunteering, and found my community. I was motivated to work in places that valued the role that arts play in connecting people and creating great places to live. That is very much what underpins my work at FCAC.
What initially attracted you to FCAC and the west in general?
FCAC has such a monumental reputation for bringing together community and creative experiences- working there has always been my dream job! When I had the opportunity to join the team in 2018, I was simultaneously really excited, and very nervous. I wanted to make sure I could continue to contribute to FCAC’s legacy. To do that, you have to understand the west, and the importance of the community. The commitment to grassroots participation and contemporary arts experiences is what drew me to not only FCAC, but to the West generally.
How do you go about choosing what to present? Do you focus on a social issues or the artist?
FCAC aims to bring together contemporary art experiences that platform our communities of focus. The way we select work is in collaboration with the communities and artists themselves. The intersection between art and social issues occurs when the artist wants to explore issues significant to them or their community. FCAC’s role is to listen, and create space for the conversation.
Do you have a favourite moment from working at FCAC?
My favourite moments are watching audience members interact after seeing a show or viewing an artwork at FCAC. I love seeing the conversations and connections being created. Being a part of creating the space for those moments to happen is highly rewarding.
Is there an opportunity that you have been wanting to explore or introduce?
We are excited about the opportunity to engage with the many new neighbours that are moving to the West, and ensure that FCAC continues to be a vibrant world-class venue. FCAC commissioned a Precinct Plan in 2019, that includes a series of recommendations to enhance our amazing venues. We look forward to ensuring we can service our growing audiences into the future.
What do you think makes the FCAC such a special part of the west?
FCAC has evolved with the West, and in many ways, the story of FCAC is also the story of Footscray. The people that are a part of our community – our members, our volunteers, the artists, our staff and audiences are what makes FCAC special.
Why do you think it is so important to focus on the intersection of art and social justice?
Art creates space for people to have conversations. At FCAC, our team supports artists and community to present work and realise their vision. This vision is often connected to exploring issues that matter to them. We take the responsibility of platforming the artists’ vision, as well as the audiences experience very seriously.
How have you (the organisation) struggled or thrived during this time?
It has been a roller-coaster! The biggest impact has been on the artists that create work at FCAC. With this in mind, we have continued to deliver our ArtLife program digitally, produced a new podcast and commissioned new writing, to ensure artists voices are heard during this time. We also wanted to make sure our audiences had access to new content while we were closed. As a broader community, we will need creativity to imagine our post-pandemic future, and the role of artists will be more important than ever.
How do you think the strengthening political climate of indigenous rights as impacted the organisation? Do you think there is more of a vested interest in indigenous art?
FCAC’s Indigenous Cultural Program is guided by our Indigenous Advisory Group and Elders in Residence. The programming is responsive to the needs of the community and is built around core activities and augmented through its review and consultation processes.