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Georgie Meagher, artistic director of Next Wave Festival

This year’s cutting-edge arts program offers glimpses into what a more inclusive, socially responsible future might look like

Photograph: Graham Denholm

Even though Next Wave Festival (May 5-22) only comes around once every two years, the months in between are always busy. At its heart, the organisation is just as much about the process as the end product; the festival’s producers support artists at the beginning stages of their careers to help create their first major work.

Often, a piece at Next Wave starts as one amazing idea. “Sometimes an artist comes completely out of the blue but they’ve got this idea,” says Georgie Meagher, artistic director of Next Wave. “And at the other end of spectrum, you have this artist that you’ve had your eye on that I want to support, having no idea what [the work] is going to be.” 

Meagher took on the role of artistic director in 2014. Even with her impressive background as an artist, gallery director and arts producer, getting to the helm of Next Wave is a daunting task; since its inception in 1984, the festival has become instrumental in shaping Australia’s arts landscape through developing cutting-edge works that span (and cross) many disciplines. In doing this, Next Wave is also shaping the way we think about our past, present and future.

Ua numi le fau

"Sometimes an artist comes completely out of the blue and they’ve got this idea"

“Art is powerful,” she says. “It can change lives. Offering quieter voices a microphone, amplifying them and bringing them to the centre of what we do, I feel like is really important in defining what the future might be,” she says.

In calling out for artists, Meagher did away with a theme, preferring to open the floodgates as wide as possible. As a result, 75 per cent of all projects in the program are led by women, and 20 per cent by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Many pieces involve tactile tours, audio description and AUSLAN interpretation. 

Over three weeks, audiences can experience a future in which an Indigenous woman runs an all-female parliament (told through the medium of a hip-hop video clip) in Still I Rise (Blak Dot Gallery, May 6-22), or a sovereign and queer future, expressed in multiple languages and through performance video and photography in Ua numi le fau (Gertrude Contemporary, May 6-Jun 18). The impact of past decisions comes to the fore through dance, video and poetry in A-97 (ACMI, May 11-15), which runs under the premise that the present is actually a hologram, and 1997 never ended. 

Still I Rise

"Art is powerful... it can change lives."

Many Next Wave pieces are participatory – one of them being an all-female hip-hop dance party/performance with Indigenous DJs including Sovtrax, Busty Beatz and Amrita Amrita FEMPR$$$ (Howler, May 15). In Ben Landau's Algorithmic Misfits (RMIT Design Hub, May 12-21), audiences are invited to discuss and debate the shrouded world of data privacy and the algorithims which determine what we encounter online.

Algorithmic Misfits

“It takes effort to open up, and it takes time,” says Meagher. “We are going to make heaps of mistakes, but we know, that. If you want to try and build audiences and maintain relevant for art in society it needs to reflect all of society.” 

Next Wave Festival Various locations around Melbourne. 03 9329 9422. May 5-22.

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