PACT Centre for Emerging Artists facing an uncertain future

Passing-by-Amrita-Hepi-and-Jahra-Wasasala-at-PACT-Centre-for-Emerging-Artists-2016-photo-by-Carla-ZimblerPACT Centre for Emerging Artists has announced that Create NSW has advised in its most recent round of funding offers that it will not be renewing the company’s multi-year organisational funding from January 2021. The Theatre Artform Advisory Board recommend PACT’s multi-year vision for funding, but this peer recommendation was disregarded at ministerial-level.

The funding decision leaves PACT, one of Australia’s longest-running performing arts organisations, and a key incubator of emerging and experimental artists, in a precarious position. PACT Chair Caroline Wake says the organisation may need to close if it cannot secure funding to execute its plans.

“PACT has a newly renovated building and a restructured company. Last December, we received funding from Create NSW to pilot a new structure. COVID-19 has obviously disrupted this but we have nonetheless continued to deliver. Now eight months later, the decision to discontinue our multi-year funding places PACT’s future in jeopardy.”

In 2020 PACT has been piloting an industry-leading new organisational structure which was announced in February working with an appointed Artistic Directorate of five practicing mid-career artists: Amrita Hepi, Sarah Houbolt, Tulleah Pearce, Natalie Randall and Dr Malcolm Whittaker – all leaders in their respective art-forms.

The strategic re-visioning of the artistic direction of PACT, is an exciting, collaborative and responsive leadership model that puts artists at the heart of all decision making. Working across dance, theatre, performance, interdisciplinary practices, curating and creative producing, these stellar artists all bring a unique perspective to PACT.

“PACT was instrumental in supporting me and my collaborative performance makers to develop our practice together as a community, and evolve our career trajectories,” said PACT alumni and Artistic Directorate member Amrita Hepi.”By forming an Artistic Directorate, PACT has created a framework that is led by practicing artists who understand the collective intricacies of the sector.”

The directorate’s pilot year in 2020 has been dominated by COVID-19 closures and is now slowed by the loss of Create NSW funding. Established to advise on the artistic program, devise the EOI call out and assess artist applications alongside PACT’s Executive Producer/ CEO, Nuala Furtado. The Artistic Directorate will also run masterclasses in their area of practice, providing emerging artists with a unique opportunity to engage with mid-career practitioners in a rigorous environment through PACT.

“The new artistic collaborative model creates a new pathway for mid-career artists into creative leadership and increases the advocacy for the incredible development opportunities PACT provides to artists annually,” said Furtado.

“This new approach holds a mirror and a microscope to the sector by cultivating an ecology within the organisation which fosters the rigorous skills exchange between the directorate and the resident emerging artists needed in the development of contemporary Australian culture. PACT is now in a critical moment to ensure our future so we can realise the potential of this industry leading framework.”

PACT supports more than 100 emerging artists each year; in 2020 its resident artists are the Lost All Sorts collective (recent graduates of NAISDA Dance College), Riana Head-Toussaint (a multidisciplinary artist with disability), Emma McManus (writer, performer, and co-founder of the Applespiel collective), and Alexander Powers (queer choreographer and performer). It provides a critical pathway for professional development and access to the performing arts sector.

PACT are also working with four emerging curators, and partnering with Powerhouse Youth Theatre Fairfield to give two young Western Sydney artists – Eliam Royalness and Mây Trân – their first opportunity to program something for a city space.

PACT has an incredible history. Founded in 1964 (and located initially at The Corn Exchange in Sussex Street), the acronym originally stood for Producers, Authors, Composers, and Talent, and the organisation nurtured artists like Peter Weir, Jack Thompson, Leonard Teale, Grahame Bond, Alex Buzo and Dorothy Hewett.

In 1988, the company moved to its current premises at 107 Railway Parade, Erskineville and shifted focus to provide training for young people, aged six to 25. Famous productions from that period include the world premiere of the play Looking for Alibrandi (1995).

Noteable alumni include, Zoe Carides (Actor), Amelia Wallin (Director, West Space), Bonnie Leigh Dodds (Marketing Manager, MTC), Katy Green Loughrey (Executive Director PYT Fairfield), Mark Pritchard (New Work Manager, Malthouse Theatre), Thomas ES Kelly & Taree Sainsbury (Karul Projects) and Mark Rogers (Playwright).

In 2009, the organisation became PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, in response to the needs of artists in their first seven years of professional practice. This era has also been characterised by an emphasis on creative equity, with increased opportunities for artists who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, as culturally and linguistically diverse, as living with a disability, or as LGBTQIA+.

PACT board and staff will be pursuing every avenue so that it can continue its important work in the performing arts sector. This includes applying for annual funding, seeking donors, and partnering with other organisations. “We have survived for over five decades and we are determined to survive for another five, at least,” said Dr Wake.


For more information about PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, visit: www.pact.net.au for details.

Image: Passing by Amrita Hepi and Jahra Wasasala at PACT Centre for Emerging Artists 2016 – photo by Carla Zimbler

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