Artists were among the first workers significantly affected by the introduction of strict COVID social distancing regulations. At the end of March 2020 our country’s theatres, studios, galleries and stages closed their doors, with an uncertain future as to when audiences would be able to return.
For the thousands of independent artists across the country, it has been a challenging time forcing them to adapt to new ways of creating and sharing work.
One such independent artist is NAISDA graduate Neville Williams Boney, who has taken this opportunity to explore new creative endeavours. Along with fellow NAISDA alum Jye Uren, Amy Flannery, Joan Atkinson, Aroha Pehi and Emily Flannery, Neville co-founded a collective – Lost All Sorts to help cement an independent Indigenous arts scene in Sydney and maintain a strong connection to Country.
We caught up with Neville to find out more about Lost All Sorts and how he has adapted as an independent artist to these unique set of circumstances.
What have you been up to over the past few months?
The first two months of the pandemic were quite hectic with lots of gigs being cancelled. But since then, lots of organisations have been looking for ways to continue creating around the COVID-19 situation. I’ve been working with Naughty Noodle Fun Haus on the Central Coast on a project which will either be filmed or a live performance, depending on what’s allowed with the situation.
I’ve also been working on presenting teaching modules for Moorambilla out in the outback of north-western New South Wales. Moorambilla provides arts education to young people from rural New South Wales who might now have access to the arts, so I have been running classes with [fellow NAISDA graduate] Amy Flannery.
On top of that, we have Lost All Sorts gaining a residency at PACT, which has been a huge deal for us! We didn’t think we would get it, but apparently our application was very strong. The people at PACT are very welcoming and supportive of the fact that we are a young Indigenous collective coming together to tell our stories, which is really cool. We are going out to Forbes in June for our week-long country residency.
Tell us more about Lost All Sorts Collective and how it came about.
Lost All Sorts is a collective of First Nations artists that was formed by Jye Uren, Amy Flannery, Joan Atkinson, Aroha Pehi and Emily Flannery and myself. To be honest, the reason we decided to form it was because none of us had been offered a full-time contract. There was a little bit of a joke between us all that because we didn’t get a contract, we would just start something ourselves!
We are all really close friends, so we wanted to create together. And because we are all so close, we work really well together and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, we also really wanted to have space to do our own things and have the freedom to work on what we want.
We’re kind of new to it – we may be making some mistakes along the way, but we are learning! We’ve been keeping our heads above water even with COVID-19, which is only going to make us more adaptable, I think.
I should also mention that we are multi-disciplinary. We are all going out and learning new skills and bringing those learnings back into our collective. One of us is learning language, others are learning art, some of us are learning history and producing – we are all bringing those new skills back to the group.
Could you share some more about what your residency work with PACT will involve?
It’s still a work in progress and we are still throwing ideas around about what our outcome will be, but broadly it will focus on areas such as connection to Country and the idea of money vs natural resources. We want to focus on what’s happening now with the mining industry and how that is impacting everyone in positive and negative ways.
We want Lost All Sorts to focus on issues that will affect us and what we think affects our generation from a young Indigenous point of view. Years ago, it might have been things like buying a house, whereas now we know we can’t afford that! We are more worried about things like the trees being cut down and not knowing our culture. We are trying to be the voice of the young Indigenous population here in Sydney.
How would you say the COVID-19 crisis has impacted you as a professional artist?
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult. I think it’s hard for us because we are so fresh out into the industry. This is only our second year out after graduating from NAISDA. But we’re lucky enough to have had one year to find ourselves and figure out what we’re doing and then this happened in our second year. We’re fortunate to have formed some professional industry connections, so we have a small pool of people that we can contact to see if there are any opportunities available and who can vouch for us. It’s been really interesting from that side of things.
Personally and artistically, it’s made us slow down and gain other skills in other areas. I’ve had a chance to study and do online courses and have also been listening to what other artists have been saying on forums and learning new things. We’ve been doing things that we otherwise probably wouldn’t have had the time to do, which is really cool. It’s a big adaption but because we haven’t had too much time in the industry, we are easily adaptable!
What impact do you think COVID-19 has had on the arts industry as a whole?
I’m worried for the future of the arts in Australia and the government’s stance on arts in general. Hearing about Carriageworks for example and how if it continues like this, more theatres will be shut down. Even when restrictions ease, we still can’t social distance at a theatre sitting so close to each other. A theatre normally needs around 60 percent capacity to even make profit, it’s going to be hard for theatres to survive on that.
But art can evolve and adapt. Creating online content and dance films is another way that we can go, which is something that NAISDA taught us. For the independent sector, it also might change. Because we are used to smaller crowds and smaller-scale events, I kind of hope that it stays. Smaller venues might be the way to survive through this!
On a personal level, I really hope that organisations like NAISDA stay above this all because it’s such an important place. All of us at Lost All Sorts are NAISDA graduates and met at NAISDA. Everyone is talking about the theatres and the shows, but you’ve also got to think about the training and education organisations that produce these artists, performers and producers. We want to support NAISDA as much as we can because it gave us so much.
What’s on the horizon for the future of Lost All Sorts Collective?
Our main dream is to establish Lost All Sorts as a fully-fledged professional Collective. We want to bring other Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in to work together and produce new works.
You can support and follow the journey of Lost All Sorts Collective on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lostallsorts/