On the Couch with Annette McLernon

annette-mclernon-arts-review-on-the-couchWho is Annette McLernon?
Someone who makes things happen with not much. I lived in London during the Thatcher years – I think that time influenced me. I saw a lot of creativity flourish underground, without much government investment, but with more support of the arts at local council level. London was a hub of artists from all over the world at that time. Currently, since 2011, Director of FORM Dance Projects, a hub for contemporary dance in Parramatta, Western Sydney. Executive Producer of Champions, directed by Martin del Amo, at Carriageworks as part of the Sydney Festival 2017.

What would you do differently to what you do now?
I’d either change everything or nothing. I’m either all in or all out.

Who inspires you and why?
In Australia it’s mainly women who inspire me, though it’s mainly men who hold the top jobs, even in arts in Australia. Sandy Edwards, Deborah Ely, Pamela Thornton, Frances Rings, Tess de Quincey, Lindy Hume, Anne Dunn, Wendy Were, Olivia Ansell, Caroline Baum, Vicki Van Hout, Lisa Havilah. These women working in the arts get things done and contribute to creativity and culture in Australia. In journalism I’ve been inspired by Liz Jackson and Chris Bath. I’m actually impressed with Gretel Packer too. Advising her family company to set up the Western Sydney arts initiative, taking the time to come and talk personally to local organisations to make up her own mind, that inspires me. Going that bit extra, attention to detail, taking the time to be personal, these are qualities I admire, no matter what level of resources you have behind you.

I like can-do people, people who bring energy and creativity to producing. There’s a huge amount of competition for limited resources in the arts. You can be engulfed with bureaucracy, gossip, funding cuts. Creative people are hard wired for resilience. Dancers, and perhaps singers, are the most vulnerable of artists. They use their bodies, and voices, in their art form. Their individual movement, language, their dance inspires me.

I’ve worked for large institutions but by far the hardest job is working in small-medium arts organisations. You just don’t have access to resources – to marketing and development managers, to advertising budgets, to consistent program budgets to be able to plan. Everything is a compromise. There is a lot of burn out amongst peers which is demoralising. Every step forward is a massive achievement – I take my hat off to all the others working in the small to medium arts sector. We represent so many important aspects of the arts, providing opportunities for independent artists, not represented by major companies, to create and develop and present new works. We discover and foster new, young and early career artists. We provide a training platform, a springboard, for the next generation of producers and art managers. We are like the canaries sent into the mines. You know if we die there’s not enough oxygen to live.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
All Australian primary schools teaching art and music, as core curriculum, just as sport and maths and English are core subjects and should be.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Rome, Piemonte, Sardegna – history. My maternal grandmother was born in Villafranca, Piemonte, and my great grandparents migrated to the Kalgoorlie goldfields in Western Australia when my grandmother was young. I like to visit places, like the church where my great grandparents were married, and feel like I’m standing where they have stood.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
For a walk up Sublime Point. We wouldn’t have to drive anywhere. It’s literally on our doorstep. And it’s a beautiful walk, though somewhat challenging, through rainforest and up through tall red Gymea lilies and eucalypts to a magnificent view of the escarpment and our coastline.

What are you currently reading?
The White Road – the history of porcelain by Edmund de Waal.

What are you currently listening to?
Viktoria Mullova, Katia Labeque: Recital, Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave

Happiness is?
Happiness – sitting in a dress rehearsal knowing everything that’s gone into making it happen. Most often, years of work. Watching and supporting the artists and their performance from opening night to closing night.  It can be a rollercoaster, a lot of high and low energy.  A lot of positive goodwill is generated in this atmosphere.

What does the future hold for you?
I like the challenge of opening closed minds. Those outside the arts circle. Finding interesting, playful ways of reaching out and inviting new audiences to come to a performance. That was the motivation to commission and produce Puncture (Sydney Festival 2015) and now Champions (Sydney Festival 2017). Contemporary dance is the hardest gig in Australia. It has the reputation of being challenging in some ways. It would be great to break through, and see more Australians wanting to see and enjoy contemporary dance.

Presented by FORM Dance Projects, the ninth annual Sharp Short Dance will be held at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta: 15 – 19 November 2016. For more information, visit: www.form.org.au or www.riversideparramatta.com.au for details.

Presented by FORM Dance Projects and Sydney Festival, Champions will be performed from 17 – 22 January 2017 at Carriageworks. For more information, visit: www.form.org.au or www.sydneyfestival.org.au for details.

Image: Annette McLernon