Anthony Bastic, CEO and founder at AGB Events, tells Live Design about his work designing and curating Australia's Parrtjima - A Festival in Light.
1. Can you talk us through the process of designing and curating for Parrtjima?
Anthony Bastic: Every year we chose a theme, the 2021 theme was FUTURE KULTCHA. This is based on the timeless oral way of learning, the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next that has taken place among Aboriginal peoples for eons.
The programming then focuses on intergenerational wisdom told through light, interactive workshops, art, music, films, performance, deep conversations and digital mediums.
Artworks featured are curated individually or through an Expression of Interest which is sent out to over 40 Aboriginal art centers including artists from Arrernte, Luritja, Anmatyerre, Warlpiri and Pitjantjatjara Nations. Following the selection of artworks which are aligned to the installation concepts created by the AGB Events creative team, the Parrtjima Festival Reference Group advises on the cultural appropriateness of the selected artists based on the story behind the installations.
Under the Artistic Vision of AGB Events and Parrtjima’s Curator Rhoda Roberts AO and with cultural guidance from the PFRG, the chosen artworks are recreated into new mediums as large-scale illuminated installations, designed to inspire wonder, share knowledge and establish cultural respect.
News 9 coverage of Parrtjima
2. How did you work with project stakeholders?
AB: The Parrtjima program is presented in collaboration with the Parrtjima Festival Reference Group (PFRG), who are active members of the Native Title holder group Lhere Artepe and advise on the cultural appropriateness of the installations.
We work very closely with the reference group in all aspects of program development and they play an active role in hosting elements of the festival.
There are a lot of stakeholders with Parrtjima, from local and state government, service providers and all our Festival participants. Engaging with them all effectively and authentically is a year-round proposition.
This year we:
- Engaged 33 Artists, and 16 Art Centres.
- Featured 75 Public Program performers & facilitators.
- Secured 28 Music Artists & DJs,
- Programmed 13 Guest Speakers and 34 Workshop Facilitators & Artists.
Engagement of 5 Central Australian Art Centresin the Public Program (workshops) with artists travelling as far as 469km from remote Aboriginal Communities including Yuendumu, Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), Mutijulu and Titjikala.
A taste of Parrtjima
3. Tell us how you worked with technology and how it was used to reimagine spaces?
AB: We use technology to highlight the stories and purpose behind the culture. Technology now enables a variety of a creative medium that can be accessed and utilized in many ways, helping engage a variety of audiences.
Our large light installations represent important elements of Aboriginal culture. For example our gateway installation, Landing Kultcha, prepares the visitor to experience the cultural richness of Parrtjima as it unifies the space between male and female cultural traditions, represented by carved spears and digging sticks.
Spanning an incredible 20 meters in length, this installation blends light tubes of different lengths to symbolize the transition of spears into digging sticks, the masculine into feminine, and the natural world into art.
Landing Kultcha celebrates the technology of tools, weapons and implements as a life source of Aboriginal culture. Spears were an integral part of the toolkit used for hunting, fishing, fighting, retribution, and punishment, as well as in ceremony and as commodities for trade.
Digging sticks are wooden hand-crafted implements, often decorated with totem designs, which women used to dig for edible bush tucker such as honey ants and reptiles. They were also used to plant and harvest roots and tubers such as yams. In women’s ceremonies they are used as clapping sticks.
4. What were the main challenges running a festival during Covid and what did you learn?
AB: We actually found our training and experience served us well in facing the Covid-19 pandemic. As Event professionals we have to respond to any risks with agility and inventiveness and adapting to high intensity, stressful, time-sensitive situations is part of our DNA.
The main challenge really was the constantly changing operating environment, we had to be really responsive and creative in making sure people, and infrastructure, could get where it needed to be.
And also working with clients and stakeholders in navigating the decision making process. We’re really proud of our long-term relationship with the Northern Territory Government (owners of Parrtjima) and the initiative they showed in persisting with the event. The easiest thing would’ve been to just cancel the Festival, but through mutual trust and respect we were able to navigate a new, safe event framework that delivered 2 Parrtjima Festivals during the pandemic.
Beauty Rich and Rare
5. What can the rest of the world learn from a project such as this one?
AB: The real undersung outcomes of an event like Parrtjima is the platform and exposure the festival gives to Aboriginal Art and Central Desert Artists. Not only are we making art more engaging and accessible to new audiences, but we’re also creating economic pathways for these wonderful artists.
My highlight of Parrtjima every year is seeing the pride and delight on the faces of our artists when they see their artwork come to light and life. At AGB we refer to ourselves as enablers and this is a project where we absolutely live up to our values.
Events have a huge impact on the social fabric of a community and valuing that is just as important as quantifying the economic investment.
6. What’s next for AGB Events?
AB: We’ve got some really exciting projects coming up internationally. We’re working on Expo 2021 in Dubai, we’ve curated an amazing digital exhibition called Beauty Rich and Rare that is touring Australia after a stint at the Smithsonian, and we have a couple of new projects in production right now!
Covid has given us an opportunity to think about what it is that we do and explore other avenues for utilizing our digital storytelling expertise, not just at events. I’m really excited about working more and more in the Museum and Gallery space, there’s a million stories there we would love to help share.
Expo 2020 Dubai: The Whole World In One Place
Images: Tourism NT
Video: NT Major Events Company & Australia in the USA