Darebin’s FUSE Festival to be a global inspiration for ‘cultural democracy and artistic expression’

Darebin’s FUSE Festival to be a global inspiration for ‘cultural democracy and artistic expression’

Fuse Festival
Words by Lucas Radbourne

The City of Darebin’s 2021 Spring FUSE Festival has innovated every step of the way to launch FUSE Digital, a program that’s “First Nations first, bold, diverse and accessible.”

Jodee Mundy OAM, Coordinator of FUSE, told Beat that before 2019, Darebin Council, like many others, was stuck in a pattern of hosting festivals without clear origination or artist-led processes.

After a review, they decided to create one major multi-arts festival that should be shaped by Darebin’s artists themselves, with the community’s creators in control of selecting their own program. FUSE Festival was then born as a bi-annual, seasonal celebration of a diverse array of art-forms. 

It was an innovative approach from the beginning, so when COVID-19 lockdowns forced the cancellation of 50 physical events, the Council pivoted towards an exciting digital program.

Keep up with the latest festival news here

“FUSE is multi-art form, artist led and employs artists,” Mundy says. “We deliver this festival all over Darebin, not just in Northcote and Thornbury.

“We bring in guest curators and we have a FUSE fund, so a panel of local artists can sit on FUSE fund panels and select artists for the program.

“We work with schools and universities and we have an open access program called FUSE@Large, where local venues, band rooms, galleries, artist studios, artist markets, community hubs – anywhere where people are making art and culture – can participate. We umbrella them and market what they do.”

“In FUSE Digital, there will be live streams, pre-recorded content, a whole heap of interesting films. A fashion event has been created by Luna Aquatica and Sarah Seahorse with young people from the Rainbow Lounge, so they’ll be exhibiting through the good old fashioned window.”

Mundy says that Spring 21 FUSE Digital can now attract an international audience, re-evaluating the way Council’s think about hosting festivals.

“It’s allowed us to commit to finding new ways to move beyond the moment of grief and continue finding positive connections with artists,” she says. 

“We can invest in long-term thinking about the role of festivals, and how we can continue modes of employment for creative development and presentations.

“Next year, we can create a more resilient festival, a hybrid model of live and digital. We’ll continue this through our social media channels. A digital festival doesn’t have to have an end date, it can continue online as a conversation. We have national and even international audiences, so councils around the world can look at FUSE as a leading example of cultural democracy and artistic expression. 

“FUSE isn’t going to fall apart, we are going to stand strong and continue providing a platform for local artists. We’re supporting a creative ecology when now, more than ever, artists need support.”

Mayor of City of Darebin, Lina Messina, said the festival was responding to its two most crucial responsibilities in the midst of a pandemic. She explained how FUSE Digital can simultaneously provide a space for reflection and generate positive enthusiasm for the future.

“As Melbourne remains in lockdown, artists and performers exist in an uncertain landscape,” she said. “There is mourning in the arts and creative industries for what has been lost, and much planning and replanning. Above all, the pandemic calls for adaptability, and FUSE Digital is a flexible model that continues to support the creative industries during this difficult time – and beyond.

“FUSE Digital upholds Darebin City Council’s mission to nurture and support local artists. Although we are not able to hold FUSE events in person, FUSE Digital means that artists will continue to be paid at a time when they need it most, and art and entertainment will continue to be delivered to locked-down audiences at a time when they need it, too.

“FUSE Digital is committed to finding innovative ways to move beyond the pandemic’s damaging effect on the arts, forging new and positive connections with artists, performers and audiences.

“With the development of FUSE Digital, Darebin City Council is investing in long-term thinking about the role of festivals and creative development. Through FUSE Digital’s development, we’re exploring enduring and crisis-proof ways for artists to engage with audiences.”

The major focus of the festival remains its innovative First Nations program.

Mundy explained how a focus on First Nations and culturally diverse artistic expression has created a common theme throughout the program. The festival will begin with a unique First Nations Welcome To Country, Ganbu Gulin. It will then ultimately provide a healing and reconciliatory space for the community’s COVID-19 recovery.

“Ganbu Gulin will be an official welcome by First Nations Traditional Owners and artists,” Mundy continues. “Ganbu Gulin is an alternative to January 26. It opens FUSE Spring every year. It’s an alternative ritual, with a Welcome to Country and a First Nations program. It’s a unique day when we come together to be ‘one mob’, which is what Ganbu Gulin means. It shows how local communities can create their own day that isn’t the 26th of January. 

“The program then weaves into into FUSE fund artists Dan Koop & Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy presenting ‘The Market Record’, a solo journey through the Preston Market using a smart phone or printed instructions.

“Then there’s the Songwriters Award, for which applications are still open, and films about Darebin by La Trobe University students, as well as a whole range of culturally diverse filmmakers through Darebin’s Intercultural Centre that are combatting discrimination.

“There also happens to be Australia’s only Deaf-arts digital festival. I’m excited about all of them. It’s addressing the global, very locally.”

Mundy says the strength, dynamism and resilience of FUSE proves that the community’s dedication to the arts can not only survive, but thrive after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, before that can take place, FUSE is opening expressions-of-interest for a new community curator, to design the opening of Autumn 22 FUSE and create a ritual for artists and the community to gather and publicly grieve. 

“”Darebin has invested in creative recovery initiatives and payments to artists to a value of an additional $1 million,” she says. “We have an EOI for our March 2022 opening, so we’ll be looking for a very skilled curator to come in and curate a ritual and ceremony around grief, to create a space for us all to gather and acknowledge how hard it has been.

“Darebin really does commit to advocating creative industries in a long-term way. FUSE is here to stay.”

Visit FUSE Festival’s website to see the full events program and schedule, or follow them on Facebook here and Instagram here.