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Passion for art gives young Indigenous creatives career kickstart

Their passion for their arts practice has given 10 young Indigenous creatives a place in the IAM: Indigenous Arts Mentorship program.

The program matches emerging creatives aged between 16 and 25, with arts industry professionals. It is funded by Arts NSW through the Aboriginal Regional Arts fund and supported by educational partners including creative media institute SAE and Southern Cross University to create solid pathways into the arts industry and deliver important outcomes for the region’s aspiring young creatives.

The creatives were also chosen for their determination to kick-start their career in the arts across music, fashion, film, dance, comedy and visual arts for four-months of mentoring, support and significant opportunities.

Arts Northern Rivers received funding in October last year for the program. High profile Indigenous journalist, broadcaster, actor, producer, director, writer, arts advisor, and artistic director, Rhoda Roberts encouraged youth who wanted a career in the arts and creative industries to take up the challenge.

‘This new decade is indeed a renaissance period for young Aboriginal people working in the arts and cultural industries. It is a time for exciting development with Aboriginal people working across the sector in music, digital media and graphics to filmmaking, writing and performing,’ Ms Roberts said.

‘What I would have given to have a program like IAM when I began to work in the arts sector some thirty years ago,’ she said.

Recently, some of the mentors and mentees got together at the YAC (Youth Arts Centre) in Byron Bay to celebrate the Northern Rivers’ next wave of young Indigenous creatives and their accomplished mentors who have so generously given up their time to coach them.

Mentors include local fashion designer Mia Brennan who’s work was shown at the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week; Live Nation tour manager AJ McFadden (Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga); Sean Choolburra, Australia’s No 1 Indigenous comedian; Kirra Pendergast, photographer and co-founder of culture blog Common Ground; and Bundjalung elder and prominent artist, Digby Moran.

The Mentees 

Jessie Louise Cowan is part of a creative collective Lark Skate Co. based in Byron Bay, producing skateboards using recycled and eco-salvaged timbers. Jessie is 24 and is keen on refining her art and design skills and exploring her cultural heritage.

Jannali Doncaster is a 17-year-old hip hop artist from the Byron region; he has been voraciously performing gigs around the region and has his sights set on releasing an album and starting a record label.

Kausarlya Green is a 17-year-old fashionsita from Banora Point who has a fashion blog with over 31000 followers. Kausarlya is currently completing her HSC and aspires to study fashion following school.

Jacinta Hyde is a passionate hip hop dancer based in Coraki, who loves performing and refining her dance skills. Jacinta is 16 and devoted to a career in hip hop.

Drew Jamieson has been performing drama since primary school, now 17 and studying his HSC at Banora Point High, Drew aspires to be a TV performer or stand up comedian.

Kiahma Walker’s main interest area is photojournalism and social documentary. Kiahma is excited to learn more about storytelling through her images, she is 17, studying her HSC at Mount Saint Patrick College in Murwillumbah and ready to experience the world through her lens.

Lizzy Walker dreams of being a filmmaker, she is 17 living in Goonellabah and hopes the mentorship will lead to further studies in film. Lizzy’s greatest film achievement to date is winning first prize in the Nimbin Art Competition, for her short documentary ‘Busking’.

Tahni Walton Holmes is a passionate vocalist, excited to see where her singing career takes her. Tahni is 17, studying her HSC at Banora Point High and performing at various events including auditioning for X Factor and recently an impromptu duet with Jessica Mauboy.

Karri Williams is a 16-year-old artist interested in pursuing Street Art and the various techniques used today. She is drawn to this artform as it breaks boundaries and represents contemporary art practice. Karri studies at Evans Head High and has had success at the Coraki Art Prize.

Josh Wilson is 16 and an enthusiastic painter from Evans Head, who has been introduced to Indigenous Art techniques by his father. Josh has won the Indigenous section of the North Coast Art Prize as well as Highly Commended in the Coraki Art Prize. Josh is interested in being exposed to other contemporary Indigenous artists and their techniques.

Meet the Mentors 

Zachary Bennett-Brook (mentoring Jessie Louise Cowan) is a Torres Strait Islander artist based in Wollongong, designing surfboards, fins and paintings for his business Saltwater Dreamtime. He has a love for the ocean and creates artworks that represent his culture and passions.

Ajay McFadden (mentoring Jannali Doncaster) is passionate about music, he has a freelance arts & entertainment consultancy specialising in creative economy and night economy strategies. Ajay is also Tour Director/Production Manager for Niche Productions and Lead Tour Manager and Production Operations Manager for Live Nation Australasia.

Fashion Designer Mia Brennan (mentoring Kausarlya Green) began her career by up-cycling scraps of discarded cloth into bags, now Mia has her own label Mimi Designs which was featured in the first Indigenous Fashion Week. Mia’s designs are inspired by the textures of nature in the bush and sea of Byron Bay – tracks, barks, leaves and sand patterns.

Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal (mentoring Jacinta Hyde) is a contemporary dancer, choreographer and creative collaborator. She is a founding member of Mirramu Dance Company, specialising in dance works about human relationships with their environments.

Sean Choolburra (mentoring Drew Jamieson) has carved his niche as Australia’s No 1 Indigenous entertainer. After winning the NSW Raw Comedy final, Sean has gone on to prove himself as a dynamic and versatile comedian, storyteller, actor & hip-hop didge player.

Kirra Pendergast (mentoring Kiahma Walker) is a founding partner of Common Ground she is a photographer and writer as well as being a Specialist Consultant and Public Speaker on the topic of Social Media Security, Privacy and Risk Management. She has a thing for up close and personal portraits of local people, and loves telling their stories through her writing.

Clementine Bourke (mentoring Lizzy Walker) is an emerging cinematographer based in Byron Bay. Clementine has recently graduated from SAE and spends her time filming music clips and other amazing subjects in the region.

Renee Simone (mentoring Tahni Walton Holmes) is a singer and DJ based in Byron Bay. Renee has been performing in all kinds of lineups in the region for 12 years, ranging from DJ and vocal duos, street performing and recording and performing with Australian icons.

Justin Livingston (Julla) (mentoring Karri Williams) is one of the Back Alley Gallery crew is a Street Artist whose large-scale vivid interpretations of Alice in Wonderland can be found around Lismore and the Northern Rivers. He has been creating pieces for over twenty years and is a major contributor to Lismore’s Back Alley Gallery.

Albert (Digby) Moran (mentoring Josh Wilson) is a celebrated Indigenous artist born in Ballina and raised on a mission on Cabbage Tree Island in the Richmond River. His father was Dungutti and mother Bundjalung. Digby started painting late in life. His work is closely connected to his people and their past. Digby has exhibited widely in Australia, and overseas.