Lisa Havilah is the energetic force behind Carriageworks, one of Australia’s most progressive and diverse cultural institutions. For the bassike 10 year collaborators project Lisa and her team created a luminous, mixed media work of art inspired by the dot logo. We spent a morning on site with Lisa and spoke about her vision for Carriageworks and the changing face of art in Australia.
lisa havilah on carriageworks & community
Hi Lisa, can you tell us a little bit about your role at Carriageworks?
My role as the Director of Carriageworks is focused on developing Carriageworks as the next generation of cultural institution. A place that is driven by its context, working in the service of artists and reflecting and engaging with the cultural and social demographic of our communities.
Carriageworks is located in the Sydney suburb of Redfern. Redfern is known as the national black capital of Australia. The Aboriginal Australian communities here have fought for the vote, equality and land rights, a political struggle that has lasted for over 200 years and continues today with the fight for constitutional recognition. At the same time our diverse communities are experiencing the changes that all international cities are facing, a struggle for equity, inclusion and the multiple demands placed on contemporary life. Carriageworks is a place that gives all of us an opportunity to step outside of our everyday - if just for a moment.
Having a background in curation, can you tell us a little bit about the way you approach programming at Carriageworks?
Arts and culture needs to be deinstitutionalised, and collaboration has to be considered core business. Carriageworks Artistic Program directly reflects the social and cultural diversity of NSW, holds Aboriginal practice at its core and engages new communities. Cultural diversity is a key strategy and seventy per cent of our artists are from culturally diverse backgrounds. At Carriageworks the commercial and the public are constantly colliding in new ways that are entrepreneurial, expansive and multi-centred. We collaborate with artists who consistently question and experiment with form - whether music, fashion, food or art - and create immersive experiences that aren’t overly defined, for audiences to engage with those ideas.
Is there an overarching story you hope to tell with the artists and events Carriageworks is home to each year?
Cultural institutions should be radical and participatory. They should lie in the heart of their communities, providing moments of great joy and wonder, they should provide pathways, lead social change and create and deliver on our individual and collective ambition. We as a community and as individuals should demand a lot of our institutions. Therefore, it’s Carriageworks’ job and responsibility to take risks, to be entrepreneurial and to be ambitious. The story we tell through our collaborations and our programs is the story of contemporary life, contemporary urban Sydney of an imagined future driven by always remembering and acknowledging our shared histories.
How has Carriageworks evolved over the past few years?
Carriageworks is the fastest growing cultural institution in Australia. Audiences have doubled each year for four years and more than one million people will engage with Carriageworks programs this year. Our investment in the artistic program has grown by 400 per cent. This year we will commission and present 54 projects supporting more than 850 artists.
We have implemented an innovative business model in which we entrepreneur 75 per cent of our turnover. It is a circular model; we invest in our artistic program, which builds our profile, which in turn builds our commercial and major events programs. Commercial returns are invested back into the artistic program. We have just begun to deliver our six-year strategy that identifies a higher level of growth than previously, and a major capital program. Our growth has been achieved by taking an expansive notion of collaboration and embedding it across the institution.
Has there been any highlights for you since coming on as director?
To have the opportunity to support and collaborate with artists, working with the Carriageworks team to achieve brilliant outcomes and delivering programs that make real differences to young people. Our Solid Ground Indigenous pathways program, which this year has seen artist Tony Albert working with primary school children to produce ‘Alexandria Park Community School is on Gadigal Land’, a book that will be launched at Carriageworks, as part of the 2016 Black Arts Market.
Are there any artists that you find yourself particularly drawn to at the moment?
I am currently working with Australian artists, including Archie Moore, Justene Williams and Richard Lewer, for Carriageworks’ inaugural edition of ‘The National: New Australian Art 2017’, a major exhibition partnership with the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. This will be a six-year initiative presenting the latest ideas and forms in contemporary Australian art over three editions in 2017, 2019 and 2021. This exhibition will address the anxieties, mutabilities and contingencies of our identity.
Do you have an art practice of your own?
While I was studying painting at art school I opened an artist run space and knew then exactly what I wanted to do.
What do you enjoy doing in your down time?
I love being with my family at home in Berry. I also love great television including The Bachelor, Australian Survivor and Australia's next top model.