|The SOOB 2002 logo, designed by Craig from Rinzen.|
The inaugural SOOB in 2002 ran for five days from November 20th to the 24th.
Running for five days in late November, there were over one hundred events in a program of gigs, talks, panel discussions, workshops, exhibitions and screenings, which was heavily weighted towards artist-run, underground and under-represented artforms and genres. A broad swathe of Brisbane's underground and young and emerging arts communities were involved as speakers, exhibitors or performers.
|The SOOB 2002 festival club at Seccumb Space, Winn Street, Fortitude Valley|
Straight Out of Brisbane developed from a culture of artist-run and independently organised festivals in Australia, perhaps best showcased in Newcastle's This Is Not Art festival, which includes the National Young Writers Festival and the Electrofringe festivals as well as significant contemporary music and independent media events.
Over the life of This Is Not Art, Queenslanders have always constituted a disproportionately large share of the audience, pointing to both a lively culture and lack of comparable platforms here. Over the course of several This Is Not Art festivals, a large number of Queensland and Brisbane-based artsworkers have spoken and performed at the event, forming national networks and sharing skills with the broader Australian independent arts and media community, helping to strengthen the significant underground and independent culture in this city.
In 2002, after working on two This Is Not Art festivals as Assistant Manager, Ben Eltham joined Brisbane video-maker and contemporary musician Louise Terry to begin planning a similar event here. A four-person key management team was formed, composed of Ben Eltham, Louise Terry, Cal Wilson and Susan Kukucka. By February 2002, the management team had commenced writing grant applications and planning for the festival.
The process of creating a Straight Out of Brisbane (SOOB) festival began with the identification of our target audience: young and emerging artists themselves.
Through our experience working in the arts and contemporary music scenes in Brisbane and on similar festivals in Newcastle, we knew that the vast majority of people attending a given gig or gallery opening were all artists themselves.
While they may not necessarily all be visual artists or play an instrument, we knew that almost all of them pursued an artform in some capacity. Because of the limited opportunities in Brisbane, we also knew that most young artists were not successful in a financial sense.
The strategy of the new event was to reach out to the young and most often independent artists working in Brisbane, often outside inner-city networks – the “bedroom artists” as we came to call them – and get them to participate in the festival. With that in mind, we held a series of focus group meetings which we advertised through contemporary music and youth arts networks, as well as setting up an e-group for discussion.
There were two key finding of this qualitative research:
Young and emerging artists primarily wanted more opportunities to showcase their art, through more gigs, gallery space, performance opportunities and so on, and
Young and emerging artists were suspicious of the term “youth” – they didn’t identify with it and instead thought it was a label used by government to describe them.
Indeed, many held political reservations about being involved with a “youth festival,” as this had connotations of government-backed events such as National Youth Week which were largely seen as propaganda exercises.
In the light of this research, we removed the term “youth” from our promotional material.
The name: Straight Out of Brisbane
This research also had a significant impact on the name we chose for the festival: Straight Out of Brisbane.
After all, a much safer bet in terms of gaining government funding would have been to call the event the “Queensland Young and Emerging Artists Festival”. But this would have been ignoring our target audience and instead tailoring our image to government.
The phrase Straight Out of Brisbane was chosen to reflect this dual constituency. The actual phrase is a reference to the 90’s rap band NWA’s album “Straight Outta Compton,” an origin reflected in the strong hip-hop component of the festival.
For young and emerging artists, the phrase therefore had a resonance on an underground, oppositional level. But it was equally relevant as a description of the festival’s goal of showcasing young and emerging Brisbane talent to local and national audiences.
The SOOB logo was also designed to appeal to our target audience. The design was done by award-winning Brisbane designers Rinzen.
The support of Rinzen for Straight Out of Brisbane eloquently demonstrates the issues the festival was trying to address: Rinzen is a young design agency of 20-somethings with an international portfolio of graphic design that is arguably the finest of any contemporary design firm in Australia, and yet despite this are almost unknown in Brisbane outside their field. Rizen’s design combined this international perspecyive with a cutting-edge appeal that was meant to be both accessible to a wider audience and recognisable to our targeted few.
Finally, by strongly emphasising the term “independent” in our promotional material and slogan, we sought to appeal to the vast bulk of artists in Brisbane who do not pursue their art practice as part of a multi-national commercial enterprise, major performing arts organization, or government-funded Statutory Authority.
Programming at Straight Out of Brisbane was carried out by a group of Content Managers appointed and supervised by the Management Team.
The Content Manager's role encompassed research and curation in specific artforms or content areas of the festival such as new media and video, visual arts, writing, film, sound art, independent media, fashion and music.
Some content managers produced only one event, while others worked with the SOOB management team to organise large and important sub-components of the festival. For example, the new media and video component of the festival located at Metro Arts and curated by Thea Baumann included 12 separate sessions and workshops.
Content managers were sought and selected based on criteria of expertise in their field and broad networks with communities of young and emerging Brisbane artsworkers. Many Brisbane artist collectives, organisations and peak bodies also contributed to programming events, such as record label Sound Malfunction, performance poetry group the Speed Poets, the Brisbane Indie-Media Collective, Fantastic Queensland, and A-Venue.
Content Managers were given large amounts of autonomy in deciding what to program. SOOB management helped to support and supervise this process, while concentrating on meeting the logistical, promotional and technical needs of content managers as they worked to produce the program.
This structure of separating logistics from programming enabled programmers to concentrate on the content of what they wanted to show, while the centralised management of logistics, production, financials, marketing and the website enabled SOOB management to exercise tight management over important aspects of the festival such as insurance, cost control and venues.
An estimated 3,000 attended the various events at the festival, which also included 13 major contemporary music gigs.
As with all festivals, it is difficult to determine the number of unique festival goers, though clearly some audience members went to many events, and about 30 bought season tickets to all of gigs. Audiences at individual sessions ranged from a few interested observers at some panels to several hundred at our largest gig. Gigs were best attended, but some panel discussions had audiences of 70, and screenings were also popular.
Panel attendance numbers ranged from half a dozen to over fifty.
While small when compared to attendances at larger festivals like Woodford, we believe 3,000 is still a healthy figure for an independent arts event in Brisbane - especially one in its first year. Interestingly, we received a significant level of qualitative feedback to the effect that attendances were good.
The festival primarily used a number of small, independent and "found" venues in Fortitude Valley and the Brisbane CBD. Seccumb Space, a vacant warehouse loft near Ann Street in the Valley was used as the "Festival Club", which ran a bar as an important revenue stream, and also ran panel discussions during the day. The Brisbane City Council's Visible Ink space was used for workshops and the large and successful Zine Fair, while spaces at Metro Arts in the city were used for the festival's new media program.
Straight Out of Brisbane was particularly successful in rehabilitating old venue space or finding new ones. A significant investment was made in a bare-bones refit of Secuumb Space, an abandoned warehouse venue in Winn Street, behind The Zoo. We also able to partner with new venues in the Valley, such as The Elephant and Wheelbarrow hotel, who provided a significant screening venue for film and video components of the festival. Other venues included the Farm Space (an artist-run gallery in the CBD), the Monastery Nightclub, the Loft Art space in the Valley, and a New Farm art space called Art Com.
Outcomes of SOOB 2002
Most importantly, SOOB 2002 showed us (and the rest of Brisbane) that this kind of festival could really happen. Of course, creating a festival that is rooted in the many different niche cultures of the local independent arts scene makes quantifying and qualifying outcomes a challenge.
The visible outcomes are easy to pinpoint, but there is a whole myriad of unexposed positive outcomes that are much harder to measure due to the developing nature of these communities and their cultural ‘invisibility’.
For example, building confidence within individual artists that their work has local support, providing inspiration and motivation for new art makers to start generating work, creating a sense of community within groups of artists who otherwise felt unconnected, generating a feeling of hope that Brisbane is as culturally relevant and active as the more southern states and exposing the local arts scene to new art forms and groups happening within their own town. From management team debriefs and responses collected from our survey at the festival, the most commonly quoted feedback was “ Brisbane has really needed this festival, I am so glad this is happening”.
In summary, the main outcome of SOOB 2002 was as the starting point for the next year ...