Pioneering community and cultural artist Meme McDonald will be awarded the prestigious Ros Bower Award, worth $50,000, for an outstanding, life-long contribution to community arts and cultural development.
The Kirk Robson Award will also be presented to Mohammed Ahmad and Anna Weekes. The $10,000 award recognises outstanding leadership from young people working in community arts and cultural development, particularly in the areas of reconciliation and social justice.
The awards are presented at the 2012 Australia Council Community Arts and Cultural Development Awards, held in Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent tonight, an opportunity for the sector to gather and celebrate the inspiring work and excellent art from this field.
For over 30 years Meme McDonald has been working in community arts and cultural development as a director, writer, photographer, installation artist, author and filmmaker.
As founder of one of Australia’s first community theatres West Theatre Company in the western suburbs of Melbourne in 1979 and its artistic director for eight years, Meme has been one of Australia’s pioneers in the development of community based arts and the role of the professional artist.
Recently, she was artistic director for CONNECTING IDENTITIES, City of Geelong’s three year project as part of the national GENERATIONS project. Meme was also the artistic advisor of the national project. Her leadership role on this project encouraged artists working in Charters Towers in North Queensland, Liverpool in Western Sydney, La Trobe Valley and Wangaratta in regional Victoria, to tackle large issues of concern to their communities.
As a community artist, Meme continues to lead the field with innovative projects and the influence of her practice on many artists is well recognised, says Kathy Keele, CEO of the Australia Council.
Whether working in circus tents, housing estates, or in a North Queensland Rainforest the work she does matters to communities and her ideas remain fresh, engaging and profound, says Kathy.
Meme has a sustained commitment to working collaboratively with Indigenous communities, leaders, artists and elders; inviting Indigenous perspective and contribution wherever projects are based, not only in regionally based projects in Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs, but where she lives and works in Melbourne.
Of significance is her 15 year collaboration with Aboriginal storyteller Boori Monty Pryor. Together they have authored six books with the involvement of elders, family members and community from the Kunggandji and Birri Gubba nations, Far North Queensland. These books have been groundbreaking in that they are collaborative works, community based, and have been published by Australia’s leading independent publisher, Allen and Unwin to critical acclaim.
Kirk Robson Award recipient Mohammed Ahmad is a community arts and cultural development artist, writer, editor and actor. He is chief editor of the BYDS literary program Westside Publications.
Mohammed is passionately dedicated to providing a voice to the people of Western Sydney and to get past the stereotypes that are often presented, particularly around Middle Eastern and Indigenous residents of the area.
In 2005 he revived Westside, the publication produced by BYDS, seeing its potential to make real change in the lives of young people from Southwest Sydney. Under Mohammed’s guidance it was transformed into the only publishing program in Australia that exclusively recognises the works of emerging and established Western Sydney artists.
Westside Publications produces ongoing literary anthologies including Westside Literary Journal and Westside Jr., as well as a number of performance events, video projects, workshops and residencies. Mohammed has produced events in the past six Sydney Writers’ Festivals and most recently edited the publication On Western Sydney, the second collection in a new series from Westside Publications.
Mohammed recognised that the absence of voices from Western Sydney was a gap in the Australian literary landscape, says Kathy Keele. Through his publications, workshops and events he has fostered a literary culture in Western Sydney fuelled by the community itself.
As a cultural leader and role model he has instigated tangible change and we can expect the legacy of his extraordinary body of community based arts practice to have an impact well into the future.
As an actor, Mohammed has performed in Urban Theatre Projects’ Fast Cars and Tractor Engines (2004 -2005) and Stories of Love and Hate (2008 & 2011). He also performed in the Belvoir Theatre production I’m Your Man for the 2012 Sydney Festival.
Fellow Kirk Robson Award recipient is Darwin-based, Anna Weekes, whose work in community arts and cultural development has seen her working with some of the most vulnerable communities both here in Australia, and also in Vanuatu and Cambodia.
In Australia, Anna has been working with Darwin’s homeless population through projects like Ten Swags and Arts in the Long Grass, a fortnightly event where homeless people (long grassers) gather to eat a nutritious meal, create art and reconnect with their land. An annual exhibition of all of the artists is now an iconic event on the Darwin arts calendar.
Through these programs Anna works with the Aboriginal community at all levels people diagnosed with mental health conditions, alcoholic and trauma-affected people, with elderly and frail people, with children and with established and emerging artists. Matching enthusiasm with empathy, she has provided a space for healing and reconnecting.
She has also worked with newly arrived refugees through projects including the My Sister’s Kitchen program, an increasingly successful food, art and craft program run with women and families who have recently been offered residency in Australia.
One of the powerful attributes of Anna’s work is its humanising quality, says Kathy. Through her collaborations, we get to see the people whom are too often overlooked or, in some cases, treated with contempt.
A testament to the quality of her work is that many of her projects have continued to grow and flourish, long after she has moved on to new ones.