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Andrew Gray - the vibrant art and culture scene in the South East

Tell us about your role at South East Arts?

I am the Executive Director of South East Arts, the regional arts development organisation covering Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and Snowy Monaro councils. As with all the EDs in the regional arts network across NSW, it’s a diverse and demanding role supporting arts and cultural development. Some weeks I’m out and about in the region running networking events, delivering workshops or attending many and varied meetings and events. Other weeks are focused on desk-bound work, applying for funding, submitting acquittals, reporting to councils, board members and other stakeholders. Always there are individual artists and arts organisations seeking advice and assistance, where we aim to build capacity and skills.

Describe the arts and culture scene in the South East and how it differs from other regional areas?

It is an amazingly diverse geographical area, where I can go from the ocean to the snow in a little over 2 hours drive. For a NSW coastal area, we have a comparatively small population, with just over 90,000 people across the region. Given that, it’s an incredibly active arts and cultural scene with high levels of participation and some unique creative elements in visual and performing arts. Music and sculpture festivals are an annual highlight across the region, while the visual arts is very strong with many professional practitioners supported by active public and community galleries. Live music is a regular feature and contemporary music hubs such as Candelo continue to support nationally and internationally recognised musicians.

What are some of the key highlights on the calendar for South East Arts?

This year we presented our fourth annual Grow the Music concert and music residency at Wallaga Lake Koori Village, which over the years has supported young Indigenous talent. In November our partnership with Twofold Aboriginal Corporation will help to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a community concert and launch of a short documentary. We always look forward to performances by Fling Physical Theatre presenting youth contemporary dance and this year they have partnered with the Four Winds (Bermagui) and Form (Western Sydney) for the youth arts festival in November. Another late year highlight is the Australian National Busking Championships in Cooma, which now has 6 lead-up competitions during the year in regional towns in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

You’ve recently announced that the Giiyong Festival will return in 2020. Can you tell us about the Festival and its significance in terms of the local arts and culture scene?

Giiyong Festival is the only Aboriginal arts and cultural festival in the south-east of NSW. The first festival in 2018 was a hugely successful event and featured over 100 Aboriginal musicians, dancers, singers, writers and presenters, ranging from professional acts to community groups. Headline acts including Baker Boy, Benny Walker and No Fixed Address were joined by many of the region’s local creative talent. This free, family-friendly, alcohol free event welcomed 6000 people, which included many Aboriginal festival goers. Giiyong Festival provides an important platform for our Aboriginal community locally and nationally to showcase their culture and have their voices heard and respected. The festival highlights the considerable growth in Aboriginal cultural expression in the region in recent years.