Get to know City of Darebin’s new festival, FUSE Spring.
FUSE Darebin was announced in late-2019, a new council-run contemporary arts festival to take place every autumn and spring across the City of Darebin. The inaugural instalment kicked off on March 13, 2020 and was set to encompass more than 150 different events over the ensuing two and a half weeks. Of course, you know what happened next – FUSE was cancelled after just a couple of days due to COVID-19.
Some events from the autumn program were provisionally postponed until September, but Melbourne’s ongoing stay at home restrictions meant they were ultimately scratched entirely. And so FUSE Spring – which launched on September 1 and runs for the whole three months of spring – is vastly different to anything the organisers were expecting when conceiving the biannual contemporary arts festival last year.
“We’ve had to adjust the festival to be able to plan for something into an environment when we didn’t really know what the restrictions were going to allow and what the audience’s appetite was going to be,” says Simon Clarke, Darebin Council’s Festival and Events Coordinator.
Physical events are still prohibited under Melbourne’s current restrictions so the FUSE Spring program is almost entirely accessible via the FUSE website. The festival includes a lot of audio events – podcasts, radio broadcasts and guided audio tours – as well as an online reading series, livestreamed workshops and music performances, interactive online art projects and the promise of some artworks popping up in the streets of Darebin.
“We kind of went, ‘Well, we can’t plan for something that will require changes to the restrictions’. And so we started planning for within the restrictions that we were experiencing in April, which was stage three,” says Clarke.
Rather than letting this take the wind out of their sails, Clarke and the team saw it as an opportunity to innovate. The goal was to find new platforms that could deliver arts experiences and provide an equivalent sense of cohesion and community to a traditional arts festival without large groups of people gathering in the same space.
“We took it as a positive challenge and we made some great developments,” he says. “And there are innovations that we have developed – for example, the Darebin Songwriters’ Award – that we will maintain. Even once restrictions ease and the world starts to go back to something resembling normal, we will continue to deliver the Songwriters’ Award as a radio broadcast. It was just a shift of our thinking to find positive add-ons.”
The Songwriters’ Award grand final was broadcast on Bundoora’s 3KND FM on September 17, with the top gong going to singer-songwriter Paige Black. Among the program’s other audio works is the History on High walking tour, a three-part series that guides listeners from Darebin’s southernmost point on Queens Parade right up to the border of Preston and Reservoir.
“We’ve tried to tap into what people were doing already,” says Clarke. “The number of dogs in Darebin has grown by 200%, I reckon, and people are out and about walking with them. So the History on High project is really trying to put some cultural experiences into those daily walks.”
History on High ties in with one of the festival’s underlying themes – to encourage Darebin residents to experience their neighbourhoods in unexpected ways. This is also represented by the HYPERLOCAL series, which consists of three works commissioned especially for FUSE.
Beats, Ballads and Ballrooms: Darebin Live Music Venues 1955 – 2020 is an audio tour celebrating the massive contribution live music has made to the City of Darebin’s rich cultural history. Swallow Walk offers listeners an audio-guided experience of Edwardes Lake in Reservoir. The artists Ria Soemardjo and Sandra Fiona Long have created a multilayered vocal composition inspired by the environment of Edwardes Lake and its migratory birds.
The third commission is Caged Hearts, an interactive phone-based work – meaning it can all be experienced from your own home – created by Farhad Bandesh, Mostafa Azimitabar and Sara Cowdell. The work draws attention to Bandesh and Azimitabar’s experiences in immigration detention on Manus Island, where they were detained for over six years.
The two multidisciplinary artists and activists, who’re both Kurdish refugees, were transferred to Melbourne under the Medevac legislation over a year ago and remain indefinitely detained in the Mantra Hotel on Bell Street, Preston. Created in coordination with Cowdell – a Melbourne-based artist and refugee rights activist – Caged Hearts integrates Kurdish traditions of music, poetry and storytelling.
“[FUSE is] providing a platform for artists to express their views and their ideas. From the festival’s point of view, we want the community to be represented and we want to reach and be relevant to as broad a cross-section of the community as we can,” says Clarke.
The festival organisers have also made a concerted attempt to engage with Indigenous members of the community. This is evidenced by the involvement of 3KND FM, an Indigenous owned and managed radio station, as well as highlighting Indigenous art in the All Nations Artworks Hunt project and commissioning Allara Briggs Pattison to oversee an original music series.
“It’s also a very clear statement from Darebin Council around this idea of First Nations first, which is really at the heart of the FUSE festival,” says Clarke.
“There’s a pillar of Darebin policy, which is we want to work as closely as we can with Indigenous artists, because the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’ is what we are hearing from our Aboriginal community. So we really do prioritise giving Aboriginal artists a platform to celebrate their culture and their artwork.”
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