The recent addition of western Sydney hubs to the Sydney Fringe Festival, through partnering with Liverpool and Parramatta City Councils, has emphasised the importance and potential of Sydney’s west for young creative-minded people.
“It’s about building a festival that suits your city.” Kerri Glasscock has a lot to crow about. As festival director and chief executive officer for the Sydney Fringe Festival over the past five years, she’s overseen its transformation from a collection of sporadic events marketed together into the largest independent arts festival in the state. This year has seen the biggest, most ambitious program to date and audiences have responded in kind.
This success in part comes from an honest self-acknowledgement. Sydney is not Adelaide or Edinburgh, where a range of international creatives can successfully monopolise a city small enough to be traversed on foot. Sydney Fringe, by odd contrast, is a markedly local affair. 80 to 90 per cent of the acts performing throughout September are based here. Artistic hubs are established across different locations including Chippendale, Darlinghurst and Kings Cross.
Starting in 2017, the move to bring Sydney Fringe Festival to the western suburbs was part of recognising the barriers for performers who don’t live in the inner city. “Instead of expecting artists to come into the city to perform, we should enable and empower western Sydney artists to perform on their own home turf,” Ms Glasscock said.
“While Sydney Fringe Festival started in the CBD and the Inner West, we are Sydney’s Fringe Festival. We aren’t the inner city Fringe Festival. There is so much more to our city than the ten-kilometre radius around the CBD,” she added.
Every Friday throughout September, the Parramatta CBD has hosted a range of western Sydney artists. These have included Serwah Attafuah who is most well-known as the guitarist from the uncompromising Aboriginal metal band DISPOSSESSED, along with the Hills District DJs from the Bodega Collective and the scrappy Aussie hip-hop duo Slim Set.
In Liverpool, the Fringe has taken over Northumberland Arcade and the Macquarie Bistro for six nights from September 20-22 and September 27-29. The lineup has been curated by Nisrine Amine, a co-founder of the Parramatta Actors Centre. It only took her two days to fill the program, after drawing on her existing network in the local community. It’s fair to say they’ve provided, with excellent acts performing including comedians Lauren Bonner and Kevin Jin, indie roots singer-songwriter Theodore Kidd, and slam poets Elliot York Cameron and Emily Crocker.
Cultivating the local artistic community in Sydney’s west is seen as part of broadening the conversation of keeping creative minded people in Sydney. Ms Glasscock has been at the forefront of working with regulators and politicians, advocating year-round for the local creative scene. She openly acknowledges that life for a young creative trying to cut their teeth in Sydney is incredibly difficult, due in part to high commercial and residential rents, and the overall cost of living.
Part of changing this, she says, is seeing the potential in Sydney’s west. “Liverpool is fantastic. It has more affordable housing, more affordable commercial leaseholds and a supportive council that wants to activate their community.”
Ms Amine agrees, and argues that breaking down the imagined border between inner and greater Sydney is an important part of continuing to build a creative community. “First, you have to strengthen the community itself by encouraging and empowering young creatives. The second step is integration, instead of seeing western Sydney as separate. If events like this keep being a novelty, then it won’t become part of the norm,” she said.
“I don’t want people coming out to the Liverpool Hub to think anything different to if they were leaving a venue in the Cross or in Surry Hills. I just want them to come and watch the way they’d watch any other show.”
Ms Glasscock’s tenure as Festival Director ends in 2019. Despite her realistic attitude to the challenges of pursuing a creative career in Sydney compared to other capital cities, she retains a unabashed passion for the potential of the city.
“What’s great about Sydney is that we have so many people from different places. The largest portion of our population in greater Sydney weren’t born here. They come from regional, inter-state, overseas, different places. That’s what makes this city so exciting,” said Ms Glasscock.
“Yes, people come to Sydney to take a photo of the Opera House or the Harbour Bridge, but they want a Sydney experience that comes from all the culture that bubbles underneath. They want to find those secret spaces, see local stories and hear local voices. That’s the real potential of Sydney.”
Story by Toby Hemmings