Well it’s the newest of new years here in Canberra (yep we kept up with the rest of the world) and while the newness is pretty rousing in itself we thought we’d share with you a project that caught our eye late last year.

The Side Project popped into existence late in 2012, with little more than a slightly cryptic Facebook page and a promise for something more. Soon we discovered that the Side Project was the latest venture of Canberra freelance queen Yolande Norris and newly arrived but heartily embraced Canberran, Skye Jefferys. The Side Project has emerged as what is to be a series of bi-monthly gatherings for creative ladies who for whatever reason have found themselves trying to balance work, life, creativity and all that goes along with that in a small(ish) regional city.

And I have to say, after a long day at a desk in an office with no windows, the first iteration of the Side Project, at the ever-welcoming Front Bar and Gallery felt like the start of something really damn special and which might be what we all really needed. A panel and informal forum, made up of four local ladies; Shelley Dickerson (gold and silversmith), Jan Falsone (video artist and ANCA Gallery Development Officer), Rachael Freeman (artist and designer) and Melanie Tait (ABC broadcaster and creator of storytelling project Now Hear This) was the perfect beginning of what will hopefully become a regular feature on the Canberra arts calendar.

I’m going to admit that this is the kind of thing I love – something akin to my passionate consumption of TED talks and Radiolab podcasts, events like these, where you hear from people who are all about the DOING, hit me in that spongy emotional place that makes me want to cry and buy them a drink all at the same time. I get the same feeling when watching the Olympics (and my housemates can attest to my teary breakdowns over a bowl of cereal during medal awards ceremonies). But better than that, the Side Project has a very real practical aim at heart, to create a space where creative women can listen, question, hear, sit back and contemplate, relax and hopefully be recharged by the simple act of sharing our lives with others.

So what was said at this ladyfest you ask? Well, there were a few threads running through what each of the panelists had to say about their own practice and its accompanying challenges and joys.

One of the most obvious things, was the ever present struggle to cohere both creative practice and the earning of the money for the rent/bills/car/house/baby. Rachael Freeman has been able to fortify her creative practice as a contemporary painter with a nifty and cute-as-all-hell kids wear range Milk & Masuki, which she designs and hand-makes with her partner. Shelley Dickerson, a local goldsmith jovially noted that sometimes she makes pieces on commission that she just loathes but which pays the bills for the projects she cannot wait to get into. What stood out to me here was that sometimes you just have to look at what you got in your hands, and make it work for you in ways you didn’t think it could.

Now while that sounds a little altruistic, Rachael and Shelley have managed to make it, as has the inimitable Mel Tait as a writer and broadcaster and Jan Falsone as a curator and video artist. Each of these women has a day job which for the most part sustains their creative practice not just financially, but also presents intriguing possibilities in terms of skills development, networking, surprising links and collaborations and inspiration. This won’t be the same for all of us, and its quite often that we find ourselves working jobs which are boring, weird or both. Now while the ability to immerse yourself in whatever it is that you use your hands and mind to do is commendable and periodically vital, detachment and the ability to stand back (either by choice or necessity) can offer a clearer vision of what you do, why and where it might go.

And that brings me to another of the linkages between these four creative women: an acknowledgment that life may and does get in the way sometimes. While for many panelists this was exemplified by the arrival of a new bub, for a lot of us it might also mean taking a job which fills up a lot of your time, leaving you with little time for something creative. And while this can be frustrating, it can also push you to innovate by necessity, such that you might take a break from things only to come back with a new perspective or approach to what you do.

This was the success of the Side Project forum for me, that it reminded me that each of us will take their own path through living a creative life. Perhaps this is the virtue of the Side Project being a new and malleable entity: it is an open opportunity to have a chat, a drink, be inspired by the diversity of potential you and the other 40 women in the room share, a chance to maybe cultivate some collaborations or just to sit back, take it all in and have a happy blubber into your beer… And hopefully we’ll be seeing some of those paths during You Are Here festival — another excellent thing happening this year!

— Adelaide (1/3 of SPP)


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