I start this post with a revisit to 2013, which I think will be seen as a pivotal year in my life.
In 2013, I had the privilege to attend two wonderful national events in the arts: The Inaugural DANscienCE Festival in Canberra hosted by the CSIRO Discovery Centre; and the 5th International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney.
The DANscienCE Festival in August 2013 was eight (8) days of presentations and demonstrations of: the science of dance; scientific ideas that can speak to dance and movement art; and dance speaking for science. Dance with ecological and ornithological themes; dance as sociological research tools; dance for healthy ageing; fluid dynamics; cognitive studies; and dancer’s health.
I was asked to sit on a physiotherapy panel for an evening of presentations from 6 dance genres: ballet, hip hop, belly dance, hindu dance, african and contemporary (over 50s). The evening was, professionally, a great experience, especially as my co-panellist, Roz Penfold has previously held jobs with the Australian Triathlon Team and Australian Ballet. Evidence to that evening’s success, Glen Murray of MADEinTasmania, Australia’s best over 50s contemporary dance company, reported that he was using ideas from our discussion in his classes. The most ironical presentation of the week came from Deakin University’s Movement Studio who revealed that the Playstation NRL game was animated from the actions of dancers who can represent rugby moves better than rugby players (except the crunching tackles).
The International Arts and Health Conference focused on: creative ageing and mental health, which found me in workshops with Circus Mojo from the USA and clown doctor GP Mark Spitzer, Dancing with Poetry in the NSW Art gallery (among the Nolan’s); writing for resilience with DeathTalker Molly Carlille; discussions on the design of nursing homes for happiness; conversations with the David Cutler,CEO Baring Foundation UK, Dominic Campbell Director Irish Beltaine Festival; UK Churchill fellow Paula Turner; Angela Lion of Arts Fission, Singapore; and many delegates who brought a wealth of experience and aspiration to the place of the arts in the health industry, hospitals, and community well-being.
The conference coincided with public support from and his State and Territory counterparts, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the ARTS HAVE A HUGE CONTRIBUTION to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.
Federal Health Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the ARTS HAVE A HUGE CONTRIBUTION to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.
In 2014, there is nothing more reassuring to me than working creatively, especially with movement and dance, but also writing, sound, and in the organising of children’s festival art programs. So, how did I come to this creative place?
With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and with not a little humility, perhaps even some guilt, I now put my creative realisations down to the influence of the world working, of God, of everything. In saying that, I find myself in a posture of gratitude for all the gifts that I have been bestowed. Of these gifts, I now add, to the obvious talents of a competent intellect, the trials and tribulations of a lifetime.
It is still a mystery to me that with every force in the universe that broke my heart, a space was provided for my true education. For example, in the midst of some very tough years as a young teen in a boarding school, an English teacher arrived who opened up the whole sphere of creative writing, not as, ‘there’s a right way’ but as ‘there’s a way to turn any idea around and around, until something new and interesting and real comes up’. That same teacher ran two plays that I acted in during my school years.
Later, a maths teacher noted, ‘you can learn the formulae, or you can learn the principle from which the formulae derives’. The latter gives the right answer and requires memorization, the former gets to the right answer and requires conceptualisation and realisation.
Somehow I built a mind (I call it my laziness), to search for the key stone in things.
Later, during my Physiotherapy Undergraduate training I remember a lecturer, who later became highly recognised in the profession, remarking (an I paraphrase heavily) ‘It’s not a recipe. Here are your tools of analysis. Here are your tools of intervention. Your job is to come to each new person, seeing newly.’ Without that boarding school to educate a kid from a rural town, I would not have been exposed to the creative insights both in language, theatre and science that underpins my view of the world and my place in it.
I am guilty of not always feeling comfortable in my profession. I often wanted out of the four walls that are the environment for such practice. I think there is no right or wrong answer, here, about what path to choose, just what became. And what became was that, whenever I tried to extract myself from the profession of physiotherapy, the world tested my resolve, and I found myself returned.
There is much to ponder about those tests. I now see them as ‘seemings’, as in there ‘seemed’ to be barriers, there ‘seemed’ to be no gain down a certain path. I say, ‘seeming’ because I now realise that our actions in the world rely upon how a number of factors ‘seem’ to us or as philosophers put it, how it occurs to us. How that world and the people out there, seem/occur. How I seem/occur to myself. And however it ‘seems’ that is how I/we act. Between the ‘seeming’ and the action is our ‘being’. In otherwords, if I seemed that there were barriers, and I seemed to myself that I was not equal to the challenge, then I might BE unenthusiastic, dismayed, and then my action would be to move to safer ground (my profession that is sure and sound).
On the other hand, my life had a continual spark of search for the way to that new way of seeing it all. Early in my adult life that lead to the Baha’i Faith. That lead to trekking in Papua New Guinea, to marriage, to raising three sons. As my sons where being raised, I found myself working on the problem of the isolated rural Baha’i teen with a few others. That lead to the development of a youth program that we called Uth Agents of Change (2001-2008). Under the direction of Farvadin Daliri, now Dr of Education and OAM, I found myself immersed in an arts based method for exploring the fundamental social principles of the Baha’i Faith.
The response of youth to the arts and the insights the formed in an easy manner through arts, inspired my to look at how I might bring the arts to the discourse and transformation of a rural community. Very early in that process (2007) I ran a children’s poetry writing workshop on request of June Perkins (our host on this blog who then lived in Tully, NQ). In 2008 I began creating space for that possibility by establishing a business vehicle for it, Phoenix Functions.
Through Phoenix Functions, I have played with a few concepts attempting to bring knowledge to community through arts. These included an environmental play for children, “Cape York Critters and Wild Country’; and street events in my town of Atherton (The Child, Critters), and an evening by Architecture historian, Barry Rowney. While the earlier small events where okay, my action received enquiry from other agents who were looking for someone to organise for them, notably the Tableland Folk Festival who wanted a Children’s Festival Coordinator.
A couple of years into doing this, I was asked to organise a children program for the Cairns Festival. Meanwhile, June Perkins, myself and an actor, wrote a script writing workshop as discourse for community issues. Called ‘Out of the Box’ Theatre, I have kept this idea alive in various forms including providing as a workshop in the local rural community and taking an offshoot from it as an ‘Empathy’ workshop, to the MultiCultural Conference in Townsville in 2011. That same year I was asked to act in a local theatre production of ‘The Female of the Species”.
During those years, I began looking at my physiotherapy practice around bringing a creative perspective to maintaining activity with the older person. Following the design of a project I called, “Fake It’, a play on the idea of non-exercise, having fun or playing games with movement, I worked with members of the University of the Third Age to design ‘The Big Board Game‘. That project in particular gave me a great thrill as older men laughed through activities of their own design provoking one woman to remark, “I haven’t seen him laugh so much for many years.” While designed for the older person, I was provided the opportunity by Creative Cairns to host a children’s style of the Big Board Game at the Tanks Perfoming Arts Centre, Cairns, in March 2014. This foray into creative movement meant that, when I met contemporary dancer, Jess Jones, who wanted to do a project in 2011, I jumped right in there.
After that Jess, myself and Miriam Torzillo developed a contemporary dance in community project we called ‘Made2Move’. Our endeavours got noticed by AusDance who referred us to Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre, who invited me to the inaugural DANscienCE Festival. Since then my own movement training and learning about facilitating contemporary dance creative class has continued through three further projects. And somewhere over 2011, 2102, I supported other artists run children multi-art workshop programs: ‘Flights of Fancy’; ‘Sound Structures’.
Recognising a certain ‘ceiling’ in my own capacity for networking with the larger number of people that I felt I needed to in this aspiration to facilitate the arts as a transformative process, in 2011 I undertook some courses from Landmark Education. This work certainly allowed me to accept the invitation to DANscienCE where I worked on a panel with a physiotherapist, Roz Penfold, who had been physio to the Australian Ballet Company and Australian Triathlon Team. In 2013-14 I attended the Landmark ‘Wisdom Course’ from which my view on ‘seeming’ has developed.
It was fabulous to be able to attend the Landmark Wisdom Conference in San Fransisco in May 2014, and rub shoulders with 800 people who are asking how they can better contribute to the world. Particular to the creative process was a workshop of Sandy Robbins, who asked,”What if, instead of having rules about what people can say to us, we were open to listening to whatever anyone wanted to say to us, however they wanted to say”. The workshop that followed was amazing in its somewhat simple method but huge effect. I came away with the most wonderful new understanding about listening and a clear understanding why he is one of the USA’s lead actor coaches: huge humanity evoked through the arts.
As I now post this report, I have a Children’s Arts program to organise for this years Cairns Festival: another Children Festival for the Tableland Folk Festival. I am putting my support behind Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre and organiser of the 2013 DANscienCE Festival, to organise another DANscienCE in 2015. And, towards that, I am hoping to organise a North Queensland day festival of DANscienCE as a lead into the Brisbane Festival.
My conclusion about my creative life, is that life outs, so hold on to the idea that the creative idea is the only idea. It’s power gives us all good things in every aspect of our life. And where it has no expression, well these spots of our life are our failures. Finally, love the failures, they point to the place that creativity is looking for a home.
(c) Owen Allen