2016 Launch Speech

Good Evening, Everyone. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered together on Noongar Boodjar, Noongar land, and pay my respects to the Elders, past, present and future.

We are here tonight to celebrate the opening of the ninth Creative Connections exhibition. Herding creative people is pretty similar to herding cats: a difficult, if not impossible task. So what special magic is at work to keep this project alive and thriving over so many years?

I’ve been asked to speak from the perspective of a poet who has been a contributor to the Creative Connections project since it started in 2007. And I will do so. But first, I’d like to share a little of how Creative Connections began. It is a very special story.

In 2005 Western Australian poet Maureen Sexton was the driving force behind the first Spring Poetry Festival, another event that has gone from strength to strength. I had my ‘coming out’ as a poet at this first festival, and am always grateful for that chance. I wasn’t the only one who took note of that Festival.

As many of you will know, Maureen Sexton has a beautiful daughter, Kathy Adair, an artist living with disabilities. Now as I understand it (and this is a loose poetic translation) certain people in the disability community eyed off the success of the Spring Poetry Festival and remarked to Maureen “You poets look like you know how to have a good time. Maybe we should consider doing something together.” And thus the Creative Connections project was hatched.

Like me, Kathy Adair has, therefore, been a contributor to every exhibition since Creative Connections began. You can find her work here tonight. Sadly, this will be the last time, though, as Kathy passed away on July 31st of this year. I would just like to acknowledge the debt we owe both Maureen and Kathy. What a legacy they created.

Of course, events like this are never possible without the work and contributions of a number of people. For a number of years Creative Connections has been run through the exceedingly dedicated and exceedingly broke Western Australian Poets Inc. Tireless work by Gary de Piazzi over a number of years, together with a dedicated band of WAPI volunteers, in particular Val Neubecker. It is part of the magic that keeps this project going. So, big shout-out to Gary, Val, WAPI and special thanks also to Tineke van der Eeken who has been so ably managing the publicity and promotion of this year’s event.

Of course, there is also a whole raft of people from a variety of organisations that move mountains to make this happen. We are grateful for support from the Disability Services Commission and Abbott and Co Printers. We owe a great deal to the staff of Nulsen Disability Services, the Ability Centre, Interwork. Their persistence, enthusiasm, creativity and sheer hard work provide the essential behind-the-scenes support that create such an excellent opportunity for artists and poets to shine.

So, hoping that I have not left anyone of the list of acknowledgements, I’m now going to shift to speaking as one of those poets, I’d like to comment on some of the many things I love about being part of the Creative Connections project.

First of all, to paraphrase Forest Gump: “Creative Connections is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” It’s wonderfully freeing as a poet to be invited to write in response to someone else’s artwork. Each year you are sent two or three artworks. The painted canvas provides a blank canvas for poetic inspiration.

Secondly, it’s always absolutely fascinating to see how other poets have responded to the same artwork. Have a look for yourselves. It is so varied – some poems seem to pick up on similar elements and themes; others are wildly different one from the other, even when responding to the same image. It’s all a celebration of diversity.

Thirdly, I’m sure I speak for all participants when I say I treasure my collection of Creative Connection’s chapbooks. They are elegant and artistic productions that anyone would be proud to have on their shelf. And they seem to get better year after year.

Before I finish up with what I think is the real secret to the success of CC I’ll just take a short detour via the Western Deserts with a personal story of the impact of art.

One year I had the privilege of travelling to the Ngaanyatjarra Lands and was astonished at the vibrancy of the artwork of the Western Desert artists. Not long after my return I was sent my Creative Connections pictures, and duly wrote three poems. It was only after I submitted them that I realised I had viewed all three artworks from a bird’s eye perspective. It was not a conscious decision to experiment. My brain had simply been changed by the art! Art and poetry can do that . . . change brains, change lives. Above all, bring joy.

And now for the big reveal. Drum roll please. I think the real secret at the heart of Creative Connections’ ongoing success is a four-letter word.

Play! Yep, play. This whole exuberant diversity of art and poetry is the glorious manifestation of people at play. Creative Connections has to qualify as the most level playing field I have ever witnessed, and I love it for that. Speaking just of the poets, the people whose words appear on these walls may have decades of renown and endless publications, or this may be a poet’s first public statement of themselves as a poet. All are welcomed and celebrated. I have had the pleasure of inviting people to engage with this project, and always remember how glad I was for the opportunity granted to me by the original Spring Poetry Festival.

Similarly I have watched as many of the contributing artists have developed their art and created a name for themselves in the wider art world. And, always, there are people for whom it’s a first chance to exhibit. Everyone is valued.

I would like to thank all the organisers I have named (and anyone I’ve forgotten to mention). I would like to thank the artists and the poets. I invite you to take your time and enjoy this vibrant and diverse exhibition. Most of the artwork is for sale, and the accompanying poems are included. Proceeds go directly to the artist. It’s also possible to purchase the very attractive chapbook that contains all the poems and thumbnails of the art. An excellent souvenir, a great gift.

Let’s play.

Liana Joy Christensen