Monday, February 19, 2018

The Cultural Planner

My innermost dream? Since I had children, it’s all about them. I just want them to have a peaceful and happy life. Before having children, I always wanted to make sure I always had a way of expressing creativity, the opportunity to create.

When I met Susan for the first time, it was a fortuitous encounter. At the time, I was blissfully unaware of her Community and Cultural Planning Manager position at Ginninderry and of how quickly she would become someone whom I love and respect very much. We met at my favourite place in the whole wide world – Strathnairn Arts, while I was sitting the Annual Squares exhibition. I was very taken by her frank way of talking, taking art in and showing her interest in the local arts community. Susan doesn’t do that type of polite conversation, where one finds it well-mannered to simulate interest into everything, however boring it could be. Instead, she gets engaged and her interest is genuine. She makes you feel safe, appreciated and noticed. As an emerging artist with not much to show (at that time), our encounter prompted me to think that maybe there was something in my art after all and that maybe I was ready to take the plunge. When someone believes in you and tells you they like your ideas, your self-confidence goes rocketing; and looking back it’s been quite the year for me, making a start.
We hit it off instantly and we discovered that we had many things in common. Susan is the type of person I can talk about anything with – we had the most amazing conversations with topics ranging from gypsy souls, farming and bees to movie-making, art styles and the need to have an organic connection with nature. 
However, when it comes to making her portrait, I feel that I have failed in recording properly the true essence of Susan's soul. And this is a lesson I had to learn the hard way: sometimes, no matter how hard we try, time constraints and own emotions can come in the way and impact the final results. And so, one image is all I have to show. 

- When I was a child I wanted to be an actress; I loved movies at that age, especially Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet.
I was a mad, crazy reader – I loved the Nutcracker story, I had this beautiful book that had the music and the story and really amazing illustrations of the nutcracker characters.
Nowadays, one of my current favourite movies is Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

- Coming out of high school, I wanted to be an artist. I loved painting. I still do; I haven’t done it for a while, I have been too busy. But I have set myself a goal; I have got some painting equipment here in Canberra. At the end of the day I feel so tired but I am determined to make it.

- I have had a really great episode of being an artist, working and exhibiting. I did a fine arts degree in Victoria, with a major in painting but what happened there was that in my 3rd year I discovered a basement filled with brand new video cameras. I pretty much put the brushes down and swapped them for cameras. No one was using them; they were there to be used by students. I ended up having one constantly because I’d take it back and then say I wanted to book it out for another week, then another week, then another one… and then the Tech said to me “just keep it”.

The best thing Susan ever filmed? 

 - There are a few favourites. The one I am most proud of for its creativity is a music video we made for Jeff Duff,
“Walk on the Wildside” We slowed the music down by 4 and then recorded that version. We gave him that recording and got it to him to learn it at that speed. He learned the slow version, so he could mime that slow version while filming. We then played it and he sang while his face was made up by one of Australia’s best makeup artists. Then we played it at normal time so that the face is being made up really, really quickly while the song is now at the normal speed. It worked amazingly but we didn’t know how it would work out until we got back the footage from the lab - that was 35 mm film - and we played it and we just danced around the office – we were so excited that it worked. We did about 4 versions and they all worked out beautifully. 

 One of the first things I ask every sitter is to try and articulate who they are now, in the present time and whether they like it, whether it fits with the original dream.

- Nowadays, I am a planner, after all of those different roles I have had– a painter, a film maker, a farmer, a partner and a mother. One day, these all came together as skills extremely useful in cultural planning. Do I like it? I love it. I love being able to bring a creative world together every day. Seeing the effect it has on people – like earlier today, when walking out on the terrace and seeing the visitors looking at the artwork and enjoying it. It’s a great feeling.

This project (Ginninderry) is the ultimate job. When they contacted me, I was a bit hesitant. Then another member of this team said to me: “listen, for people like us, this is IT. This is what we love; this is the job we have always been dreaming about”.
I consider the whole development as an artwork: the roads, the footpaths, the parks, the houses, the greenspace, the activity – it’s all one big artwork. It’s incredibly exciting and intimidating a bit, to be able to design something that people will live with, generations after generations.

- My innermost dream? Since I had children, it’s all about them. I just want them to have a peaceful and happy life. Before having children, I always wanted to make sure I always had a way of expressing creativity, the opportunity to create.

- A dream I wouldn’t confess? To be a famous actress. Or I would love to be in a rock and roll band. I learned guitar for a while. The one thing I am sorry about is that I never had the time for music or better said, the time to learn an instrument. I listen to music all the time, I made lots of videos but I never had an opportunity to learn how to play an instrument properly. Recently, I have joined the “One Voice” choir - in the beginning it was just to make up the numbers and then I discovered that I really liked it.

What is the one thing that keeps Susan going? And what motivates her?

- Music. Music keeps me going and saves me if I am stressed. The other thing is cooking. And often I combine the two.

My family motivates me. Everything I do has this underlying motivation to make things good for my two daughters.
My motivation is to be a good role model for them and I know that everything I build now, they will eventually benefit from it. My daughters are both into arts as well; one has completed a degree of fine arts and now is doing graphic design and the other one is studying film.

Where does Susan see herself in 5 years’ time? It’s far from being a dry interview question, I find that often my sitters look at it as giving themselves a timeline where they can come back and see how they achieved their dreams.

- I know exactly what I will be doing in 5 years. We will be moving onto a property on the Dorrigo Plateau, which is inland from Coffs Harbour. This is my dream place, a place where family and friends will gather. We are going to make it so beautiful that people will love being there; it’s going to be a place for dreaming. We are still going to run some cattle but these are going to be our wind down years.
We recently found a property that fits the bill. We won’t move there straight away, but probably in 5 years’ time we would have set up it the way we like it, with the gardens and the indoors and outdoors spaces the way we like it Steve (my partner), has been talking about the Dorrigo plateau for a long time.

How is Susan looking at those 15 minutes of fame?

- There is one thing that has been most important to me ever since I had daughters. I tried to be the best role model I can be for them. In saying that, I’ve just tried to really be myself and show that you make mistakes, you cry, you lose your temper but beyond all that, everything you do is based on “do no harm and try to do good”. 
I am sort of famous in their eyes; I know that from their career choices. They are looking at what I have done, thinking they’d like to follow in that.

One of the things I have really instilled in them is that they have a great sense of social justice. Now that they are in their 20s, I can certainly see it. I couldn’t see it when they were teenagers, because that’s just how teenagers are, perhaps a little bit self-absorbed, but now it brings me such joy, seeing they care about people.

For example, my youngest daughter is 24yo and she moved to Melbourne to do a graphic design course. It was very hard because she didn’t know anyone there and she is very shy. She was struggling to find a place to live in a shared house. You have to go to these excruciating interviews with the other persons sharing and it was a nightmare. Because she is not bubbly at all, she is such a shy person and so reserved, she was getting constant rejections. She rang me, while walking and she was crying, asking me why was it that no one picked her and all of the sudden she went “are you all right?” and stopped talking to me. I could hear the conversation; she was asking someone if they needed help and if they lived far.
Finally when she came back to our conversation she told me that she saw a man fall over and she wanted to make sure he was all right.
I loved that. She was in the middle of her own crisis and she was able to put that aside when a total stranger on the street needed help. I heard the tone of her voice – the empathy was instant and that was so rewarding to me, because she didn’t hesitate to offer help - there are so many other women her age who would have just walked past.

I feel like my work is done in some ways. If you can impart to your family and the others that we are all responsible to and for each other, that every single person around us is our responsibility; if you can get that across, I think you have done a fantastic thing for the community.

- My first role model was a lecturer at art school. He taught me a lesson about drawing – a lesson that bled out into everything else I do. I was doing these really tight drawings that weren’t very expressive and he was really brutal with his comments. I cannot remember the exact words but he was spot on that it was stitched up, there was no freedom and there was no heart in it.

I look at artworks now and I can see so quickly and easily whether there is heart in it or not. The way he said it to me, made me get it straight away. “Being able to do something with heart takes nerve, because you are putting your real self out there. You have to let go of that fear and free yourself”. I did and it was really good for my artwork and I think it has influenced everything I do. It taught me to not be contrived and to listen to your instincts and go with them.

- My role models now? I think there are people on the team here at Ginninderra that I really respect and look up to because it is not often that you get to work with a team made up of people who are all outcome driven and so diligent. I really respect the diligence of people in this team. It’s a really satisfying way to work and it is very rare for a whole team to be like that. The level of dedication, commitment and diligence is truly inspiring. I have worked in many places – the film crew probably comes close to this team, but apart from that, I haven’t come across a team that is so well put together.

What is Susan’s biggest regret?

- I have had regrets about leaving the film industry but it’s not really a big regret. I only have to remind myself of the reason, for the regret to dissipate. I met somebody – my partner, who is a farmer. I continued making films for a while but after we had children, I couldn’t be in Sydney or in Melbourne and be able to look after them on the farm. I had to make a choice and I know I made the right choice. But I guess it’s human nature to sometimes wonder about that “what if”. But I wouldn’t be here, then. Living in the rural area introduced me to cultural planning. Film and music are my first love but I still enjoy them without being involved in producing them.

- I feel at peace on the farm. I have lived there for 32 years and I know every tree, every hill; I know the birds and the kangaroos and the plants, the sky, the mountains and everybody who visits there says the same: this place is so tranquil, so peaceful. It has that effect on everybody.

What does Ginninderry means to Susan?

- It’s an extraordinary opportunity to test out a lot of ideas that I’ve developed over a career working in the arts and cultural planning. It means having the opportunity to implement those ideas which were impossible to apply in smaller projects.
I love that here we can develop a culture that recognises artists and craft people and artisans as an essential part of the workforce. One of the strategies is to set up a creative industries hub that would be integrated with other industries. For example, when people are going to buy plumbing supplies – next door there will be someone selling handmade tiles.

During her career, Susan went from being the mastermind behind video clips for famous artists to being the Cultural Planning Manager at Ginninderry. I asked her how this change influenced her.

- It has given me such a lot of confidence in my instinct. I ‘ve always tried to live by my instinct but this job has taught me that not only is it better, it is almost essential to function that way and to listen out for that creative voice, because it is always there. When you have a dilemma, that creative voice is always there and will never let you down. But we can become deaf to that voice and we have to make sure we’re always receiving that. If I was a religious person, I’d probably say it was God. But I am not. So I don’t know where it’s coming from. But I hear that voice coming into my head – things like “what about an artist catalogue?” These things just come to me and it’s easy to ignore them. They come out of the blue and seem to arrive at the right time and you tend to be a bit wary of things that seem to fall into place too easy but you just have to let all of that go and it’s amazing what happens when you do.

What is Susan most proud of?

- I am proud of some of the things I achieved in my career and I am very proud of my daughters.

One of the most rewarding projects in my previous job was to save some beautiful heritage buildings in Goulbourn from being destroyed and to get the funding to restore them. It’s really rewarding to see those building and know that you have been part of the reason why they are still standing.