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What’s behind the lights?

Arts Centre gives emerging artists a platform in isolation

07 Jul 2020

Arts Centre gives emerging artists a platform in isolation Image

By Katie Johnson

With restrictions threatening to decimate Melbourne’s arts sector and make live performances a thing of the past, 2020 is a difficult time to be a young composer.

But despite the ongoing challenges, Arts Centre Melbourne is still doing its part to support emerging artists through its award-winning mentorship program, 5x5x5: Memory.

Running since 2013, 5x5x5 is a bi-annual program which selects and commissions five young artists to create five-minute works in response to a theme, which are then published by the Arts Centre.

But for the first time in the program’s history, creative producer Simon DeLacyLeacey said the works were being produced in the artists’ home studios rather than in-house at the Arts Centre.

“With the pandemic we’ve had to leap into the digital realm, exploring what artists can do in isolation,” he said.

“And in the midst of cancelling shows and all of the incredible work the Arts Centre puts on, 5x5x5 was one of those programs we could still use to support young artists through this time.”

DeLacyLeacey said that 5x5x5 had been adapted so that everything from the production to mentorship was now digital—ensuring that young artists didn’t miss out on this crucial opportunity.

“It can provide an awesome opportunity for these emerging artists to utilise their home studios and get some limelight, which is especially important during this time,” he said.

“The feedback, moral support and networking provided by the program allows them to hone their craft while they’re working in isolation.”

As one of the only programs which offers young composers the chance to increase their professional networks and public profiles, entry into 5x5x5 is always highly sought after.

But this year there was an overwhelming response to the program, as emerging artists from all over Melbourne applied for selection.

“One of the hardest parts was choosing five emerging artists out of 60 applications, especially when there’s so many talented artists out there,” DeLacyLeacey said.

One of those five emerging artists was Sue-Anne Tan, who was shocked to learn she had been chosen.

“It felt really surreal because I submitted the application during a busy-period during university and I wasn’t expecting the call,” she said.

As an international student from Malaysia who has been unable to see her family for months, she interpreted this years’ theme of “memory” by delving into the loneliness coronavirus restrictions had caused.

“Being away from home has not been great in terms of lockdown, it gets very lonely, restrictive and claustrophobic sometimes. So, I wanted to make something that other people in that situation can relate to,” she said.

For Sue-Anne, the process of making music at home and being mentored digitally by this year’s mentor, Kate Neal, has been a positive experience.

“I actually prefer the electronic medium so I’m really enjoying the process of creating music at home,” she said.

“It’s been really helpful to get Kate’s feedback so I can improve my sound.”

And despite the challenges the pandemic has posed to the arts, Sue-Anne believes it has also paved the way for new digital opportunities.

“Ordinarily young composers would already be struggling, so this just makes it 10 times worse,” she said.

“But at the same time, people are turning to look at different mediums now, so there’s a lot more focus on producing at home.”

Artistic mentor Kate Neal couldn’t have agreed more.

As a first-time mentor of this program with 20 years’ experience in the industry, she’s seen first-hand how important the digital medium has become.

“In some ways the artists have more freedom this year, as they can adapt their work with technology and there’s no live performance,” she said.

Neal also said that while mentoring digitally via Zoom could be tiring at times, it’s a tool which she was grateful to have.

“We can share audio, share sessions, share screens and I can see into their logic file or their construction file,” she said.

“So, we’re lucky in the music industry that we can do that, because you wouldn’t be able to do that with things like dance choreography,” she said.

So far, the Victorian government has provided over $15 million in survival packages for Melbourne’s art sector.

But as young artists are often the ones to miss out, Neal believes programs like 5x5x5 are more important than ever.

“It’s just so important and I wish there were more platforms like this. For composers and sound makers at the start of their journey, there’s so few opportunities and funding,” Neal said.

“This is a wonderful platform that nurtures the voices of young artists.”

The compositions of the five emerging artists will be published online from July 20 at

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