The Mill’s Erin Fowler and Amber Cronin on international arts partnerships and their dance collaboration with Rumah Sanur in Indonesia

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Erin Fowler and Amber Cronin. Artistic Directors of The Mill

By Grant Hall, Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

I recently published a LinkedIn post about an exciting international collaborative dance project in development between The Mill, an arts space in Adelaide, South Australia and Rumah Sanur, an art space in Sanur in Bali, Indonesia. Regular readers of wherewordsfailblog.com will know how important I believe it is to use the arts, sport and culture to develop great international relations, and projects like the one between The Mill and Rumah Sanur play an important part in developing the people-to-people links between the two countries. For my home country of Australia, there is no country with which this is more important than Indonesia, which is Australia’s closest neighbour. I recently caught up with The Mill’s Artistic Directors Erin Fowler and Amber Cronin to discuss their project.

GRANT HALL: Tell us a little about the project.

ERIN FOWLER: We are collaborating with Rumah Sanur which is an art space in Sanur in Bali. It’s the first collaboration between The Mill, an arts space in Adelaide, and Rumah Sanur. As the Artistic directors of The Mill Amber Cronin and I will be going over to Bali to create a dance project with some local artists there and we’re also going to bring some South Australian artists with us.

GRANT: How did The Mill and Rumah Sanur first connect?

ERIN: There is a person called Summa Durie, who is actually an ex-Adelaideian, and her partner is a local Balinese who set up the space… so she’s working and living now in Bali.  It was nice actually because she came and approached us; usually we’re sending random emails all around the world, this time she came to us and was keen to set up some sort of collaborative partnership.

GRANT: I often find that emails are an underestimated way to get involved in international collaborations, be it in the arts or any other industry. Some guys I know in the green energy resources sector recently secured a multi-million dollar deal with an Indian company which started with an email that went along the lines of “we like what you do, can we collaborate?” Organisations can spend a great deal of time doing research and fussing about who to contact and worrying about how they might get along, when sometimes the best approach is to fire out some emails, see what comes back to you, roll with it and build the relationships from there.

ERIN: Yep, totally, that’s definitely been our experience. In the first year of The Mill we kinda surprised ourselves with how relatively easy that was and now we’re a little bit addicted to finding collaborators from around the world and realising that often it only takes an email… and everyone’s kind of looking for these types of collaborations. Even though we are only at this point a two-point-five person organisation, It’s actually, in a way, sometimes simpler to reach out if you’re a smaller organisation.

 GRANT: How does this type of collaboration fit in with The Mill’s vision?

ERIN: I think that in South Australia we’ve really identified a need to reach out. Part of this comes from realising that Australia still kind of really gets excited about international artists and international projects. For us it’s partly a local strategy to be able to say that we are working internationally. I think artists at an individual level often go and do Asialink residencies or go and find their own personal connections, but what’s exciting for us is that we can do it at an organisational level, as well as for ourselves as artists. I think this will mean that there is a little more capacity to have a long-term relationship and to really build something ongoing and a bit more in-depth.

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GRANT: Has there been any particular challenges with this project in relation to different ways the two cultures might go about preparing a professional dance work?

ERIN: While we haven’t spent any time in the studio yet for this project we definitely have an awareness around wanting to make sure that we are working in a way that suits everyone. We sort of know how we work in Australia where everyone kind of works in big blocks of time and everyone kind of drops what they are doing – so I guess it’s just a matter of working out what is actually going to be suitable within the context, and some of that I don’t think we are going to know until we are there!

AMBER CRONIN: I think we’re pretty lucky to have someone on the ground within Rumah Sanur that can connect us with the artists and facilitate those connections. We’ve been lucky enough that that’s happened really organically and that the artists that we’ve been pared with are people that we can collaborate with fairly easily. We are also doing workshops with local people there and we’re working on sharing some of the knowledge of the core artists that we’re working with. In doing that I think that we’ve already bridged a lot of the gaps and a lot of the difficult conversations or initial connections that you have when working in a different country. Erin and I have worked in different countries before with The Mill, and while this is a whole new kettle of fish – working within Asia – we are very lucky to have someone on the ground to help us facilitate things and help us find our way through.

GRANT: So it’s important to have a local partner when managing projects overseas, right?

AMBER: Particularly for this project, having someone who can understand that as a work in development it needs to be flexible in the first instance is really important. But it’s also helpful for negotiating things like accommodation and travel and to help us plan the best way to get out and get to see parts of the country, and parts of the local culture as well.

ERIN: And even things like, well, we don’t have any understanding of what an appropriate fee is for artists in Indonesia, and we know what it is in Australia and what we can offer, so it’s good to have a middle-man to say, “well, this is going to be workable and this isn’t”. That’s the kind of thing that you don’t directly want to ask an artist, because it’s even hard to ask artists in Australia about this, let alone when there’s different cultural contexts.

GRANT: Tell us a bit more about The Mill?

ERIN: Amber and I set up The Mill almost four years ago now. We have a physical space in Adelaide which houses thirty-eight resident artists across all sorts of creative industries. We have your more traditional painters and visual artists, we’ve got a shoe maker, we’ve got a tattoo studio, and fashion and graphic designers, writers and production companies.

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We have a whole range of artists who have come through the space, but we also run a program that sort of extends The Mill’s operations more nationally and internationally. The program is a platform for some of these more collaborative projects to occur which is definitely a shared interest that Amber and I have. We’ve been developing this whilst we’ve been running the physical space.

I guess the motivation for The Mill was noticing, as recent graduates of University, that many of our peers thought they had to move overseas or interstate to be able to have a sustainable career. What we really wanted to do was to provide a space for artists so that they didn’t feel like they had to move overseas or interstate. There’s the shared benefit of being in a space with other artists and the practical benefits of shared resources, but there’s also shared knowledge and networks. For us, just seeing the forming of new collaborations and the mutual support provided through what can be quite challenging times when you are starting out as an artist, shows how a shared space can be really beneficial.

Click here to find out more about the project.

The Mill are always open to new partnerships and collaborations, so visit their website and get in touch with them today!

RELATED:

Indonesian-Australian cultural engagement project seeking support

South Australian arts in South East Asia (where the bloody hell are ya?)

Arts collaboration projects in Asia service by League Cultural Diplomacy

Services to arts sport and cultural organisations by League Cultural Diplomacy

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