Nick here. I have two day jobs, one at a gym as a strength coach, one as a creative producer for You Are Here. Over the years I’ve charted You Are Here’s transformation from an over-maxed indie arts festival into a artist development org with stridently specific values.
A residency program with a tight and contained event season was the right arts work to be doing in 2020 Canberra, in terms of actually being able to do it. The general vibe of the whole planet having to re-examine how art practice can happen emboldened my boss Ketura Budd and I to further lean into the idea of presenting the artists and their making process as the actual most interesting bit. And look we were pretty arrogantly confident about that already.
This year we gave the residency program a name, Cahoots (I was aggressive that the name should be dorky and warm), to help Canberrans clock that we have a new format and easily to distinguish between the residency program and the event season. The latter point ended up being less critical than we thought, as our truly delightful gang of artists (including a filmmaker, a textiles artist, a poet, a clown, and the usual mess of hard-to-categorise interdisciplinary folk) were mostly in need of license and support to iterate and test work without the pressure of presenting something ‘finished’.
We presented our artists to the public as a suite of work-in-development called Cahoots Lab. Basically you could rock up and move through a series of rooms and interact with the artists and test versions of their work, often with specific offers to offer critical feedback of the work and where it’s up to. It’s likely that many of our audience interpreted this approach as a Covid response, a compromise on a big slick festival program. If that helped them be generous to the new structure then great, but the truth is this is what we’re gonna be doing now. Presenting work that is still being made is more useful to our artist development goals, plus we’re increasingly militant about the public’s potential to understand more about the costs and needs of art production, and engage with it with interest. It also allows for us to have the resources to present ambitious finished work by Cahoots alumni as a a parallel stream of our program.
It’s funny that I feel the need to do so much explaining of our public events when 90% of Cahoots is the residency sessions, the behind-closed-doors part where our special and generously-spirited artists spend months and months becoming a community of trust and support that can come at each other with honest critical feedback, and where each individual has time to create a development goal and process that is measurable and useful. If that sounds hard to actually do , it is, but it turns out you can do it. We think that in another couple of years we will have a model of creative community building that can be useful to the rest of the world. It’s such a good job, just so good, and the level to which is refining and reinforcing my hunches about the ways that art can be are sure to make me more insufferable with every passing year.