Q&A with WTS Coordinators: Harriet Gaffney

 

Harriet is a writer that found her voice, she suspects, through working with visual art and artists. "Through turning my critical lens to the work of others I learnt - I hope! - to overcome my own narcissistic tendencies and focus only on what was in front of me".  She writes fiction and non-fiction, and is currently working on a children’s novel.

 

Period as WTS Coordinator: "I think I was the WTS Coordinator from 2000 - 2002, although its a bloody long time ago so I may be wrong… either way I was preceded by Catriona Stanton and followed by Isabel Kirkbride."

 

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Why did you apply for the Coordinator position originally? 

WTS has always been an incredibly active, invigorating space that provokes exploration, engagement and critical questioning.  I applied for the role because it gave me the opportunity to work with artists of all disciplines and cultural backgrounds, and in this way help foster the extraordinary creativity that exists -and is unique to, I would argue - Alice Springs. I’d been living in Anne Mosey’s house prior to applying, and had worked with Christine Lennard, so in this way had come to know the incredible group of women that had founded the Space, including Pam Lofts, Pip McManus, and Marg Bowman.  Their passionate commitment to their creative practice, coupled with their open critique of the status quo, helped teach me of the extraordinary importance of visual art as a medium for community and cultural development, and I’m forever grateful to each and every one of them for their integrity. 

 

Was it what you expected? 

I think I prefer to answer this by stating what I didn’t expect: what I didn’t expect was the incredible dedication and sheer physical support of the men who stood behind the Space and these women (and not because they were in relationship with them, because generally they weren’t, but because they believed): Kev Banbury painting the space late at night before the next show, fixing walls, light fittings, and holes in the roof; Dan Murphy and Kev (again) working tirelessly behind the scenes to help create some of the best events I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of (and thats a lot of events - yet WTS remains, more than 15 years later, the benchmark yet to be surpassed), Ben Ward, Ben Wall, Russell Goldflam et al, all of those that put their hands up, showed up, and pitched in.  

 

How did you find working at WTS? Was it different from arts organisations you had/have since worked for? 

The thing I admire most about WTS is probably its ability to remain independent, despite its reliance, like all arts orgs,  on government funding of one form or another.  There is a fierce vitality to the organisation that I have never seen since, and a down-to-earth attitude that never compromises the freedom of artistic expression at its heart.  For those of us who had the privilege of working with Pam, she was formidable - and, as a young woman whose creative practice was not in the visual arts, this could be challenging - however this fierce passion and dedication to artistic excellence remains a hallmark that every person who has been involved with the organisation should be proud of.

 

What were some of your fondest memories at WTS? 

The fun- the comradeship and the hands-on attitude: and definitely the Christmas parties :)

 

Tell us about your greatest achievements during your time as the Coordinator.  

This question is difficult as in practice, I believed my job was about facilitating the work of others, so I truly didn’t see it in terms of my own achievements.  Thus: did their experience with WTS facilitate deeper engagement with their own creative practice? Did they achieve things they would otherwise not have had the opportunity to achieve? Did WTS give them a platform to express ideas, and, importantly, receive feedback on those ideas enabling new growth? I hope so… in terms of key events, however, and rather than foregrounding one artist over another, I feel fortunate to have been able to bring Outsite Site Specific Sculpture Symposium from fledgling idea through to reality at the Desert Park… interestingly, I got to spend time with one of the artists that WTS showcased at that first Outsite a few months ago, the Belgian artist Martijn Bessemans, now based in Barcelona, and it was fabulous to hear how important WTS was to him in terms of being given the space to learn about his own identity as a human being and artist.  That for me is the greatest achievement any arts facilitator can have.  

 

In your eyes, what makes WTS an important organisation? Its unique commitment to experimentation and individual artistic integrity - something that is even more important., I feel, 25 years after its inception.

 

Where are you now: geographically, work-wise, life-wise? 

Geographically I am in Victoria, after leaving Alice Springs to live in Bali for five years with my small daughters, before being called to Vic for family reasons.  My girls are both (just) in high school now, so I will stay here whilst they do that, but my heart remains in the Territory and FNQ, so it's just a waiting game.  I’m working on a PhD and as a project manager for Writers Victoria, and my fingers are toes are cold…

 

Has WTS contributed to where you are now? 

Totes.  I remain passionate about the need for artistic expression, for creating spaces in which people can showcase their ideas, and grow as practitioners.  The world needs more artists in all disciplines, and more organisations that inspire communities to come together around ideas.  I miss you WTS!

 

 

This interview is part of WTS's 2018 program Still Alive After 25 celebrating its 25th Anniversary. Read more interviews with past and current WTS coordinators here.