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Introducing Kevin Williams, Executive Director Arts Mid North Coast: Leading The Creative Coast

This month we introduce the Executive Director for Arts Mid North Coast, Kevin Williams.

Passionate about embedding the importance of the arts in the thinking, policies and planning for the Mid North Coast region, Kevin is always generating innovative opportunities for the local community and its many visitors to experience the creative and cultural atmosphere of the region.

Over the past few months the Mid North Coast has been hit hard by the devastating bushfires; and Kevin and his team have and will continue to assist their creative community to recovery from the impacts.

 

Tell us about your role at Arts Mid North Coast?

Serving a population of nearly 315,000 over a region larger than countries such as Israel or Slovenia my role is more strategic, positioning the arts as an important sector in achieving economic, health and social outcomes. Our philosophy is to embed the importance of the arts  in the thinking, policies and plans of our six partner councils and other organisations, for it is only when there is that ongoing recognition of the value of the arts will real benefits  filter down to individual artists and arts organisations.  We have also prioritised our work to reflect the particular nature of our region. As a region driven and dependent on tourism, we have done a lot of work in showcasing the arts under the banner of Cultural Tourism and our brand Mid North Coast…the Creative Coast. As I often say, with over 11 million visitor nights spent in the region that’s 11 million mornings where a visitor might wake up and think I don’t want to go the beach today what else is there to do?  It is our role to ensure they and locals know what the arts offer.  Equally with the oldest population in Australia, nearly 35 percent aged over 60, we have embraced the concept of Creative Ageing. The goal of our new Creativity for All Regional Plan is to ensure older people in our region are encouraged to live active and healthy lives with improved physical and mental wellbeing by way of better access to and greater participation in creative activities and events.

 

Describe the arts and culture scene in your region?

The arts and cultural scene of the region is maturing but in a different way from the ageing of the population. While previously it was very much community based now there are growing pockets of entrepreneurial artists and creatives we are supporting and partnering with. These in turn give back to the community in so many ways. Two examples highlight this.  Coffs Harbour based Screenwave and its International Film Festival is now the largest such regional festival in Australia. However, through its Next Wave youth workshop program going into high schools it has expanded way beyond our region and even NSW. Its further offshoot Film Outreach Australia has now provided 60 film festival packages to regional and rural towns throughout Australia. Similarly, our support for Got Ya Back Productions, an emerging theatre production company saw them develop and tour last year a very contemporary piece, BANJO not only through our region but others and into Sydney. At the same time, it staged over 30 performances of 4 productions and up to three casts in two of our cities for its Junior productions. To me its greatest achievement was a performance where ALL front and back of house and technical roles were also undertaken by young people.

What I also find exciting is that art in our region is increasingly now being found as much in our cafes, bars, vineyards, rejuvenated community halls and even online as it is in traditional galleries and theatres.

 

The mid north coast has been devastated by the recent bushfires. How are spirits in your region and is there anything that AMNC is looking to do to support creative recovery?

Our region was hit very hard early in the bush fire season with many of the major fires occurring in November 2019, and many occurring in our smaller more remote hinterland communities. Unfortunately, many are still waiting for the most basics of recovery such as power and communications.  AMNC was therefore able to respond quickly at the end of last year and add Creative Recovery to our 2020 Work Plan. Our approach will be twofold: learning where we will best fit into the local disaster and emergency structures and services, and then identifying artists and training needs. Already through funds released through Regional Arts NSW for Fire Recovery programs we have learnt much from affected communities as we assisted in the development of their grant applications. We will undertake case studies of the successful projects as we go forward adding to knowledge gained from both the Black Friday Fires and Christchurch Earthquake recovery programs.

 

There’s a lot coming up in your region for 2020! What are some of the key highlights/events you are most looking forward to this year for Arts Mid North Coast?

Well the first thing to say is that no year ever goes to plan. We are not like say a gallery that has a plan of exhibitions to put on. We have an approved Work Plan, but as the fires have shown our role is also to respond to needs and opportunities as they arise. Agility is a key requirement for all RADOs.  We have already this year delivered our More than A Beach summer holidays showcase and have just kicked off this week our 4th Mid North Coast Creative Ageing Festival. Also, this month our pilot Musicians in Hospitals program will begin at Coffs Harbour Hospital. In April we will shine a light on the region’s heritage and museums through our SHINE Festival. We are planning a guide of all our halls and venues for Touring performers and a new Street Art Guide. We are working to find funds to develop a Screen Industry Plan and for a storytelling project for youth involving, writing, theatre, dance and film. Of course, it looks like we will also finally get to develop our next 3 Year Business Plan and hence also a new MOU with our Council partners. With local government elections later this year we may have a number of new Board members, so a review of the Board is also on the cards.