Vyshnavee Wijekumar is my ever beautiful and effervescent Duckling In Space model, the Marketing and Engagement Manager for the Footscray Community Arts Centre, a talented writer and one of the first dear friends that I made when I moved to Melbourne seven years ago.
She is also the person that dragged me to my first 90's hiphop dance class (hello friends, community, girl gang, laughter and joy), my former crazy film festival colleague and my most encouraging wingman on a night out (thank god we don't have to deal with that for the time being!!)
I admire Vy for her fierce passion for the arts, her family and her rich cultural heritage.
Vy not only strives continually to follow her ambitious dreams, she is also the first person to offer time and kind words of encouragement to her friends, such as myself, to follow ours.
Today I talk to Vy about what she loves most about working with FCAC, how the pandemic has impacted the Footscray arts community and what needs to change in the future to sustain and protect our precious and vulnerable arts sector.
What do you love most about your role and working for FCAC?
What makes FCAC so special are the unique artists we have the opportunity to work with, and the passion and drive of the people who work there. We work with artists across First Nations, migrant and refugee, LGBTQIA+ and disability communities, which is where some of the most exciting collaborations and creative developments are happening, and most interesting stories are being told. I love working in Footscray. The local community vibes, especially the First Nations history and waves of migration, have made such a unique creative and cultural footprint on the area. It reminds me of where I grew up in Western Sydney. It's a really fun and collaborative space to work. This role has really changed my life and outlook, both professionally and personally. How has the pandemic affected FCAC? The centre has been closed since 20 March and will remain closed (at this stage) until 31 July. In the initial stages of the pandemic, the cancellation of programs, events and venue hires had a significant impact on our sustainability. The first event to be cancelled was our annual Wominjeka Festival, which was set to employ over 100 First Nations artists and contract event staff. For many people who work in the arts sector, there is a reliance on the gig economy for their livelihood, and current government support doesn't completely address this loss of income for casual workers and contractors. As one of the largest employers of artists in the western suburbs of Melbourne, with almost half of our annual turnover going towards paying creative practitioners, we understand the role we play in supporting the Victorian arts economy. We are doing our best to work with artists and program partners to postpone events or provide online options where possible - to safeguard the sector through future income sources. Why is it important for people to still have access to the arts during this time of social distancing? The arts provides a way for us to connect with each other and understand the world around us. It brings people together through shared creative experiences. It's also important for overall mental and physical health, and cognitive function. Even simple acts like colouring and writing can reduce anxiety and boost your mood! It's great to see artists support the community through innovative ways, such as live streaming, and online performances and workshops. What measures have FCAC taken to ensure the arts are still reaching audiences during this time? We've been delivering creative workshops for ArtLife, our program for artists with an intellectual disability, through Zoom for over a month. We'll have a whole suite of online programming launching end of May / early June, so stay tuned! The arts industry has been one of the biggest industries to suffer from this pandemic, with thousands of artists, performers, production and venue staff losing their jobs. As an already vulnerable industry, with very few opportunities for permanent employment and income, what do you think we can learn from this experience and how do things need to change in the future to create more security for our very necessary arts sector and its workers?
This disruption to business as usual has caused arts organisations to think differently about the way they deliver programs, including exploring virtual options. This comes with opportunities for increased accessibility but also further challenges due to disparities in access to resources. For FCAC, it has given us greater capacity to re-think and improve the way we deliver outcomes, which will ensure a better artist and audience experience once restrictions are lifted. That's what happens when you work in a vulnerable sector, you are used to thinking creatively and differently about the way you operate, making it easier to be agile and adapt to environmental shifts.
However, the arts requires an increased consistency of funding - both through the government (at all levels), corporate sector and philanthropy. Hopefully this pandemic will shed further light on how important this sector is to people's everyday lives (both as audiences and artists).
Check out the FCAC website and follow them on socials to discover all of the exciting online programming happening in the coming months:
Twitter / Instagram: @footscrayarts Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Footscrayarts/