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OzAsia showcases art as cultural exchange

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More than a showcase of arts talent from around Asia, OzAsia Festival is also a leading example of how an arts festival can foster closer cultural ties between countries.

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In his first year with OzAsia Festival in 2015, Joseph Mitchell, in the role of Artistic Director, brought the focus of the festival into a more contemporary view of Asian arts culture.

Rather than offering Adelaide’s arts-going community with a more heritage-driven view of our global neighbours, it was important for Mitchell to showcase an insight into the minds of artists working in contemporary contexts, and, through their art, processing contemporary issues.

“I wanted to give a sense of young artistic voices; how young genres are being broken down, how there’s this interesting fusion between contemporary culture and traditional culture in Asia, or fusion of Eastern and Western cultures coming out of new and exciting artists across Asia,” Mitchell says.

“We’re really introducing South Australian audiences to many cultural elements that are relevant within societies of countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore right now [and] in an arts festival context, we’re looking at contemporary engagement, so audiences here really have that opportunity to have much more of a finger on the pulse understanding of what’s happening in those countries right now.”

Now in its third year under Mitchell’s tenure, OzAsia Festival has again given Australian audiences insight into the cultures of the countries around us, helping to foster greater mutual understanding.

“Historically, Australia has always turned back towards Europe for its artistic influences, and still does to a large degree,” Mitchell says.

“We need to understand and accept that actually, our governments and often a lot of commentators refer to the 21st century as the Asian century, that we need to have a direct understanding of the influence, importance, and significance of contemporary arts in Asia at this time.”

While art and culture is the primary responsibility of the event, OzAsia Festival also facilitates relationship building between nations, for arts organisations and governments alike.

“The State Government, and particularly the Department of State Development have been big supporters of our festival, and I work closely with them, in terms of providing networking opportunities, hosting events, looking after inbound delegations,” Mitchell says.

“We’ve brought in around 80 significant arts and cultural leaders from Singapore this year who will be part of a conference about strengthening Australian-Singaporean cultural relations, and this three-day conference is really about Australian and Singaporean arts leaders really having a dialogue together to set a bit of a five-year plan for building and strengthening those relationships.

“It’s extremely appropriate that at the same time this dialogue happens, we have a really fantastic Singapore arts program that shows both the cultural leaders from Australia, as well as the wider general public, a sense of what is contemporary Singaporean identity right now, and what are the themes and ideas and issues that artists are exploring in their work.

“The State Government have also facilitated seven events across our festival, each targeted towards building personal connections with seven different countries… inviting consular generals, international partners, and local business, culture, education, and arts community representatives to come together, enjoy the festival, network, have some food and drink, watch some performances, and take a moment apart from that 9-to-5 period of doing business to sit together, watch culture, and learn more about each other.”

The cultural exchange happening through the festival also goes both ways, with South Australian electro-pop act Electric Fields recently playing a world music festival in Indonesia.

“We’re not only brining in international arts products during our festival, but continuing to try and find opportunities or South Australian artists to have a profile and a platform across Asia through all of the particular relationships that we have been setting up at OzAsia Festival,” Mitchell says.

Another three years of funding has been secured for the event through Arts South Australia, which Mitchell describes as the “bedrock of the festival,” and with each passing year, OzAsia will continue to bring us closer to the cultural heart of our international neighbours.

Solstice Media has partnered with the South Australian Government to provide information about our state’s international connections and engagement.

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