Big West Festival

Big West Festival’s general manager Amber Stuart on redressing issues of geographic, cultural and social isolation with a festival spirit

Big West Festival is a biennial festival based in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, that facilitates, produces, curates and presents extraordinary art with, for and by the people of the area. Our programme celebrates the unique social, cultural, industrial and geographic landscapes of the region, in consideration of art, audience, language, class, people and place. This year’s Festival, ‘Open House’, was no exception, featuring 70 artworks and events ranging in scale from a theatre work in a wardrobe to the building of a real house to serve as a Festival Hub, it served as a talking point for discussing the rise of homelessness in the area.

Big West Festival is recognised as one of Australia’s leading community-based contemporary arts festivals. It was established in 1997 to redress issues of geographic, cultural and social isolation. Our last festival reached over 78,000 people with 1,102 participants and 222 artists creating 68 original artworks. In addition to the biennial festival, Big West now also produces a residency series, Mobile Art Spaces, that develops participatory projects in outlying suburbs for presentation in local festivals.

Melbourne’s western suburbs are rich with cultural and social diversity. Big West Festival operates out of the City of Maribyrnong, where 40 per cent of residents were born outside of Australia, 29 per cent arrived in the last five years. Residents come from more than 135 different countries and speak more than 80 languages. The area experiences high unemployment, with the unemployment rate in some suburbs double the national average. Add to this the fact that west Melbourne is experiencing the highest population growth in the nation, and is undergoing many changes including increased population density, cultural diversity and gentrification, and you can see the difficulties faced by the community.

This is an extract from an article in Vol. 11 Issue 18, part of our community special edition. To read the full feature subscribe to IAM here.