Q and A with Amanda Buckland

Amanda Buckland is passionate about the power of creatively to transform people and places. As a cultural planner, project manager and educator, she connects government, artists and communities. She works for Not for Profits, Local Government and in the Health, Art and Education sectors. She has designed a course for NAVA online called “So where to from here? Alternative income sources for artists".

1. What are the pathways and other opportunities available to early career artists in community cultural development, local government and public art spaces?

There are many roads to travel and most artists will combine opportunities across fields during their careers. Many start as volunteers and interns to build their experience and networks. I started by making a giant puzzle for a exhibition for the blind, then worked for local government on a festival aimed to bring diverse cultural groups together through murals, performances, storytelling and kite making in local parks. After that I worked as a youth arts worker and then as a Cultural Development Coordinator in Council. I have been artist in residence in a hospital, a cultural planner and public art manager.

Local government employs artists in all kinds of services from engaging marginalised groups to working on cultural festivals and community projects, supporting creative enterprises and providing small grants. Get out there and meet your local arts officer and find out what’s happening.

Public art and place making are valued in creating vibrant and iconic environments. Many artists work with planners, designers, architects and facilities to contribute everything from murals, paving features, mosaics, tiled bathrooms to stand along public art. Starting off by creating temporary installations in small local events, parks or parties and then building up to festivals such as Art and About, Vivid, Womadelaide or Woodford is a great way to test out your ideas and skills in planning and construction. There is a lot to learn about scale, safety, collaborations, managing time with high expectations and tight budgets. Councils will advertise expressions of interest for public art and you can see how complex and detailed a public art tender is. Find out who is writing public art plans for developers or local councils and make sure they know about your work.

2. How can working with local government and community broaden an artists' perspective and also benefit their individual art practice?

Local culture is the foundation for engaging people, creating vibrant places and planning our future lifestyle. Getting involved with your local community, and their issues and interests, opens a world of creative possibilities. Artists are the antennas of society. Connecting to people, places and politics is not only a rich source of inspiration, but also offers many opportunities. Local Councils are one of the largest supporters of arts projects. As cities become more sophisticated, artists are employed to create public art and intimate places; to enliven large scale festivals, events, parades; to stimulate laneways and small businesses; to initiate artist run initiatives and pop up projects and to engage diverse communities. Across Australia, artists are revitalising and inspiring places and communities.

On the other hand rapid development can dislocate existing communities, exclude lower income earners (including artists) from living in our urban centres, impact on our environment, ignore indigenous cultural heritage and cultural diversity thus both harming and homogenising our environment. Artists have a vital role in imagining alternatives and raising social awareness. Getting gritty and grassroots in your community or council connects you to what’s happening around you and what you can do about it. Think about the impact of Greenpeace artists, who made the giant banana peel on Shell headquarters to raise awareness of drilling in the North Pole; the rolling impact of Renew Newcastle as a revitalisation and enterprise strategy, and the unknown young artists that started graffiti in the laneways of Melbourne that are spreading nationwide as sites of ephemeral dialogue.

3. How will artists graduating from art school and early career artists be able to benefit from completing this course?

Although many arts graduates have high-level qualifications, they often have limited exposure to professional development and may not know how to earn an income from their skills. Only very few will be lucky enough to succeed or survive on a studio practice alone. Many mid-career artists get to the point where they need to earn an alternative income from their skill base.

This course explores the main professions where visual artists are employed:
1) as educators and facilitators –teaching classes and running workshops;
2) coordinating community arts projects and
3) working in councils, community organisations and health services.

It provides an overview of resources, sites and organisations that support these opportunities. It includes toolkits and practical examples of how artists have made their creative careers work. In just 3 weeks, students will understand what’s happening out there and hopefully get inspired about how to start sharing their skills and connecting to their communities.

4. What are some of the methods and strategies which artists can adopt in sourcing new opportunities alongside working on their individual practice?

There are so many creative ways to develop income streams but it’s about combining your unique skills with your passions. Understanding your strengths and skills is the starting point – do you like working with others or alone; are you interested in collaborating with architects or working with those on the margins? It’s important to look beyond the gallery to find what else is happening - attending cultural talks, community consultations, street festivals, activist groups and talking to other artists to find what most resonates with you. It’s the passion and commitment that will nurture you in the long term, so you need to find your heart song.

The artists that get work on community, council and public art projects can plan, communicate, organise, and deliver efficiently on time and on budget. Knowing how to develop, cost and manage a project plan is an important skill, understanding how to apply for grants and manage a small business are vital too. Applying for local council grants for small community projects is a good place to develop your capacity and your reputation. Volunteering or interning is a tried and tested way to get your foot in the door. I think that working alongside a community artist to create with a community about their concerns is the only way to really understand the complexity and the magic of community arts. Participating in regional festivals and projects is a great way to develop your skills and profile, experiment with new ideas whilst also supporting under resourced communities. There are so many amazing organisations and projects doing cutting edge work out there its just knowing where to look. This taster course is a great starting point.

5.You started a Community Arts and Cultural Development course in Sydney TAFE. What have your previous students been able to go on and achieve?

This course always attracts such an interesting mix of people who are creative, culturally diverse and passionate about communities. They get to learn a lot from each other as well as the many events and resources the program offers. Students build their capacity through a staged process of understanding the history and theory and CACD, engaging with diverse communities, planning and managing projects and collaborative funding partnerships as well as a being supported through a structured internship program. Students have gone on to work in Cultural Development roles in Councils or with the galleries they have interned at; some have set up their own Artist Run Initiatives and others have started small businesses running children’s art workshops, cultural education projects and a pottery collective. One set up an environmental sculpture park. Another student, who founded the Refugee Art Project is a finalist in the 2015 Walkley Award for his webcomic “Villawood: Notes from an Immigration Detention Centre”.

Find out more about Amanda's course, So where to from here? running in February 2016 as part of NAVA Online Courses here.

Amanda Buckland is a cultural planner and arts educator who creates innovative and inspiring collaborations. She has over 25 years experience in facilitating partnerships and projects across local government, planning, education, arts, heritage, health and community sectors. Amanda has broad experience from cultural planning for local government, curating arts festivals, working as a hospital artist-in-residence to project managing public art and place making. Amanda currently delivers a course in Community Arts and Cultural Development through Sydney TAFE.