The Big Skies Collaboration brings together a multidisciplinary team of accomplished collaborators and project partners.
Individual practitioners (so far) include Wiradjuri fibre artist Bev Coe, theatre director David Clarkson, composer Peter Kennard, text and digital artist David Reiter, new media artist Kate Richards, visual artist Christine McMillan, writer and documentary maker Tracy Sorensen, observational astronomer Donna Burton, and writer/cultural entrepreneur Merrill Findlay.
Institutional partners include Arts OutWest, New England Writers Centre, Red Room Poetry, and the Wiradjuri Study Centre, Condobolin.
Theatre director, Performer, Devisor
David Clarkson grew up in New Zealand near one of his homeland’s major telescopes and has been interested in astronomy ever since. In 1988 he founded Stalker Theatre in Sydney. Stalker has since gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful international touring theatre companies, with hundreds of performances throughout Asia, Europe, South America and Australasia to its credit.
David himself has nearly three decades of experience as a physical performer, divisor and director. His work has involved solo performances, professional ensemble work, large and small-scale community outreach projects and Olympic Opening Ceremonies. His recent works for Stalker include MirrorMirror, Encoded, Pixel Mountain, and Creature.
In 2007 David was awarded the Rex Camphorn Scholarship, New South Wales’s leading theatre award for an outstanding lifelong commitment to innovative theatre, and, in 2015, the inaugural Arts NSW Art and Technology Fellowship for his research into the use of interactive and digital technology in theatre.
More recently, he has co-founded the Box of Birds Collective to develop 3D immersive experiences, including the Big Skies project.
View a compilation of David’s recent digital works here>>
And learn more about his contributions to our Big Skies Collaboration here >>
Master Weaver, artist and teacher
Bev Coe lives in the small remote town of Condobolin in Central Western NSW and has been a practising visual and fibre artist for more than three decades. She is now widely recognised as one of the most skilled, knowledgeable and productive weavers in the region.
Bev’s work is inspired by her Wiradjuri heritage and her strong bond with Country. It has been exhibited in many venues, including Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Collective gallery in Sydney, the Kangan Institute’s Textile and Fashion Hub in Melbourne, the Australia Museum, Canowindra’s Age of Fishes Museum, the Japanese Gardens in Cowra, Penrith Regional Gallery, Cowra Regional Gallery, Kew-Y-Ahn Aboriginal Art Gallery in Hartley, Regional Arts NSW’s Master Weavers’ Gathering in Dubbo, and at many other fibre artists, women’s and First Nations’ events. It has also been featured in several publications, including the Little Black Book of Strong Black Women and Australian Artist magazine. Bev nevertheless retains a strong commitment to local community groups and is regularly invited to paint murals and design logos, banners, book covers, t-shirts and flyers to support causes she believes in.
Her formal qualifications include an Associate Diploma in Creative Arts from Mitchell College of Advanced Education (now Charles Sturt University) in Bathurst and a Certificate 1 in Aboriginal Art and Cultural Practices from the Western Institute of TAFE. She has taught part-time at Condobolin TAFE (1997-2002) and conducted workshops throughout the region. She now passes on her skills at the Condo SistaShed at the Wiradjuri Study Centre with the aim of creating self-sustaining groups of traditional weavers in the region.
As part of the Big Skies Collaboration, Bev and the Sista Shed weavers are co-creating a major installation inspired by the star cluster their ancestors knew as Mulayndynang, or The Seven Sisters (aka the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus), and the nearby Seven Sisters Ridge, a site on Australia’s famous Seven Sisters Songline. This major new work will be featured at the forthcoming Condobolin SkyFest.
Merrill Findlay PhD
Writer, scholar and cultural entrepreneur
Merrill Findlay spent most of her childhood and teenage years on her family’s farm in the Parkes Shire, so grew up with the Parkes Radio Telescope. She has lived in many places since then and has accumulated decades of experience as an author, scholar, multimedia producer, entrepreneur and cultural innovator.
In Melbourne, for example, Merrill founded the pioneering futures organisation Imagine The Future Inc. and the Ecoversity; wrote her first novel, the critically acclaimed Republic of Women (UQP 1999); undertook her first multimedia project, Redreaming the Plains; published feature articles for the mainstream press including Good Weekend, The Age and Canberra Times; completed a Masters degree in Social Science (by research) at RMIT University; and guest edited a special edition of the international peer-reviewed journal Futures (39:2-3) on Australia’s possible futures. She also covered the liberation war and refugee crisis in Eritrea and spoke at the United Nations Decolonisation Hearings on East Timor during these Melbourne years.
Since her return to inland NSW Merrill’s work has included The Kate Kelly Project, and a libretto for a chamber opera, The Kate Kelly Song Cycle, which is featured in Tracy Sorenson’s 2013 documentary about her work, Songs For Kate. In 2010/11 she founded the Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival in Forbes, and, for this, received a Regional Arts Australia award for her ‘outstanding contribution to the arts in regional Australia’. Merrill has also participated in several gigs in the UK, spent five months as a research fellow at Indonesia’s Open University, travelled a lot, and completed a PhD through the University of Canberra’s Centre for Creative and Cultural Research (CCCR). She is now a Professional Associate with the CCCR.
Big Skies Collaboration (BSC) is Merrill’s latest creative intervention. She is now working with fellow collaborators, partner organisations and sponsors to create new opportunities for people in inland communities within the fuzzy region she has designated the 700 Kilometre Array (700KA). Her personal projects include the Skywriters Project and Skywriters Anthology for which she is the managing editor/curator, the Condo SkyFest with the Wiradjuri Study Centre in Condobolin, and a book-length literary non-fiction tentatively called Skycountry: a cosmography. She is also the public officer of another BSC initiative, Inland Astro-Trail Inc, the community organisation established through the Skywriters Project to manage another of her projects, the Inland Astro-Trail.
In 2018 Merrill spoke about the Inland Astro-Trail and other BSC projects at the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers(NACAA) in Ballarat and suggested that we extend the fuzzy borders of our 700KA into inland Victoria and Queensland. Read her presentation here >>
Learn more about Merrill’s contributions to our Big Skies Collaboration here and here.
And some of her stories about inland New South Wales here >>
Composer, musician, producer, sound designer, music educator
Peter Kennard is acknowledged as one of Australia’s most respected percussionists, sound producers, musical directors and theatre composers. He grew up in Forbes, about 30 minutes down the Newell Highway from Parkes, and is now based in the Blue Mountains where he runs his own recording and post-production studio, Different Drum.
Peter has worked as musical director with some of Sydney’s major theatre companies and high profile public events. Clients have included Darling Harbour (SHFA) New Year and Australia Day Fireworks at Sydney Olympic Park, Theatre of Image, Legs on the Wall, Q Theatre and David Clarkson’s Stalker Theatre, and several indie film companies and Sydney-based computer graphics/gaming companies. Peter has also toured internationally with Stalker Theatre Co. and for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. His recent gigs include Theatre of Image’s production of Monkey: Journey To The West, co-directed by Kim Carpenter and John Bell, for which he is both composer and musician. (Read a review in the SMH here >>) He returned to Forbes in 2013 as the Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival’s Artist-in-Residence, and composed and directed its grand finale, Drumming Up Country, and again in 2015.
As a World Music percussionist, Peter has played with Lulo Reinhardt, Kim Sanders, Bobby Singh, the Kurdish Turkish fusion band Heval, and Australian ‘world folk’ legends Sirocco, amongst other groups. He currently plays with Equus. (See him performing here >> )
Peter has a Masters Degree in Contemporary Improvisation from Macquarie University and has begun a PhD research project in music at the University of New South Wales.
Learn more about Peter’s contributions to our Big Skies Collaboration here and here.
Watch an ABC interview about his community work in Forbes here >>
Visual artist and arts educator
Christine McMillan is a mixed media artist and arts educator based in Kandos and Bathurst. She has exhibited in regional and national galleries and museums, including Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Western Plains Cultural Centre, New England Regional Art Museum, Bundaberg Art Gallery, Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, University of Wollongong Gallery, Orange Botanic Gardens, Cementa contemporary Arts Festival, and Wirksworth Arts Festival in Derbyshire, UK.
Her recent projects include Push The Idea at Orange Regional Gallery, a retrospective at Grenfell Art Gallery, Koinobori at New England Regional Museum, and her Cementa 2015 installations. Christine has also extended her work through artist residencies at Hill End, the Gunnery in Sydney, Western Plains Cultural Centre at Dubbo, New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) Armidale, DRAWinternational in Caylus, France, and in Bali, Indonesia; and through her blog Symmetrical Planting, and her personal web site which document some of her major projects.
Christine regularly works with University of New England early childhood scholar Dr Margaret Brooks to develop arts education programs associated with her own and other artists’ work. She and Margaret have also developed creative partnerships with museums, service groups, schools and artists in Indonesia and Australia which culminated in an art festival program to celebrate Subak, Bali’s rice culture traditions.
Christine’s supports her private visual art practice as Arts OutWest‘s Arts and Health Coordinator, work that involves curating exhibitions, and developing and managing arts health projects with health workers, artists, clients and educators in the region.
Watch Christine talking about her arts practice here >>
Learn more about Christine’s contributions to our Big Skies Collaboration here >>
David Reiter PhD
Text and digital artist
David Reiter is an award-winning text and digital artist, Publisher / CEO at IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd), and amateur astronomer. He gives talks and leads workshops on all aspects of publishing. Recent works include Black Books Publishing (2018), an interactive satire about the publishing industry; the medical/micro-textual hybrid TimeLord Dreaming, which won the 2016 WA Premier’s Award for Digital Narrative, Your eBook Survival Kit, now in its 3rd edition, the picture book Bringing Down the Wall, which was 2014 Best Book for Teens & Kids (Canadian Children’s Book Centre). As artist-in-residence twice at the Banff Centre for the Arts, he completed My Planets Reunion Memoir Project, which won the 2012 WA Premier’s Award, and The Gallery (2000), a non-linear interactive work featuring the relationship between Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. To celebrate IP’s 20th anniversary, he edited and designed Just Off Message, an anthology of more than 40 Australian and international authors. David will also be publishing our Skywriters Anthology in 2019.
David’s Big Skies Collaboration project is called Outer Space, Inner Thoughts. In July 2018 he travelled our Inland Astro-Trail (IAT) to do field research for this project and to conduct workshops with Skywriters in towns along the IAT.
New media artist
Kate Richards is a Sydney-based artist, producer and scholar working in the field of convergent digital media. She is currently coordinating the masters degree program in convergent media theory and practice at the University of Western Sydney where she is also an active researcher with the MARCS Institute and the Digital Humanities Research Group. She has also just about completed her PhD thesis in these fields.
Although Kate began her arts practice in film and video she now generally works on creative projects which are dependent on computational and electronic processes. Her new media art has been exhibited nationally at ACMI, CCP, ACP Sydney, Sydney Opera House and The Performance Space; and internationally at Video Brasil, ISEA Helskini and other festivals in South Africa, North America and France. Recent works include Reverie, a 7 minute single channel video devised at SCANZ International Artists’ Residency NZ and included in the Director’s Cut, The Blake Prize 2015-2016; Underworld, a video peephole box (2014) AGNSW’s Electroscape; the immersive light installation grove (Io Myer Theatre, UNSW 2014) and at ISEA Sydney Unhomely, a seven-channel video installation in collaboration with Ross Gibson and Aaron Seymour (2013).
In 2010, Kate’s astronomy and game engine project, Travels in Beautiful Desolation – Gondwana, premiered at DreamWorlds, Beijing. Other key works include Wayfarer with Martyn Coutts (2007-09), and the Life After Wartime suite with Ross Gibson (1999-). Kate has done artist residencies with Blast Theory (UK), Digital Arts Studios (Belfast), Bundanon (NSW), Intercreate (NZ) and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Trust. Her recent productions include A Drone Opera, a contemporary opera with and about, unmanned aerial technology, for Experimenta and Arts House Melbourne, and her first VR project for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.
Even though Kate lives in Sydney, she retains many family links with inland rural communities, some of which she will explore creatively through the Big Skies Collaboration.
Learn more about her contributions to Big Skies Collaboration here >>
Writer and documentary maker
Tracy Sorensen is a writer, environmentalist, teacher and video maker who lives in Bathurst, New South Wales. She grew up in Carnarvon, Western Australia, a small town about 1000 kilometres north of Perth.
The Carnarvon tracking station played an important part in the first Moon Landing in 1969. Tracy’s novel, The Lucky Galah (Picador, 2018) is based on events in Carnarvon in the lead-up to that extraordinary achievement.
Her feature-length documentary, Songs for Kate, documents the creation of Merrill Findlay and Ross Carey’s Kate Kelly Song Cycle, about the last days of Ned Kelly’s sister. Tracy currently teaches documentary at Charles Sturt University.
Read Tracy’s BSC essay, Staring At The Sun, here >>
Learn more about here Big Skies Project here >>
Please note: Virginia is currently working on the 2018 Commonwealth Games cultural program on the Gold Coast, and is not able to pursue her Big Skies interests for the time being.
Virginia Hyam began her arts career in Youth Arts in Adelaide, moved to Melbourne to direct that city’s Fringe Festival, and then on to Sydney where she worked as the Opera House as Executive Producer of the Studio and Head of Contemporary Culture. She introduced Opera House audiences to many then-fringe performers who have since become household names, such as Tim Minchin, Eddie Perfect, and Meow Meow.
In recent years Virginia has established strong national and international networks and a solid curatorial profile as a freelance producer. She now works with Art Engineers, an Australian-based collective of performance producers, graphic designers, artists and other creative thinkers committed to creating exceptional events in Australia and internationally. Her recent productions include the Australian exhibit at the 2015 Prague Quadrennial with designer Anna Tregloan, and the Australian cabaret extravaganza Velvet at the Edinburgh Festival. In 2016 she produced New York music/cabaret artist Alan Cumming’s Australian tour, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs, and Stalker Theatre’s digitally interactive children’s production, Creature. She will continue to work with Stalker Theatre and other practitioners to develop exceptional events in inland NSW as part of the Big Skies Collaboration.
Arts OutWest (AOW) is an independent incorporated association within the Regional Arts NSW network and is based at Charles Sturt University in the regional city of Bathurst. AOW is one of at least four regional arts organisations advocating for the arts and creative communities within our 700 Kilometre Array region. (Others include Orana Arts, Arts North West, Southern Tablelands Arts, Eastern Riverina Arts, plus Arts ACT.)
AOW’s mission, and the mission of its sister organisations, is to promote, facilitate and advocate for the arts and cultural development in the rural and regional communities they are associated with.
AOW is headed by Tracey Callinan, its Executive Officer and Regional Arts Development Officer. Tracey joined AOW in 2009 after working with the Arts Council England and Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She continues to pursue her music habit on her chosen instrument, the Flemish Double harpsichord and conducts the Bathurst Multicultural Choir. Tracey is also completing a PhD on regionally based creative industries through CSU’s Creative Regions Lab.
New England Writers Centre
An MOU co-signed by Chair of the New England Writers Centre, Sophie Masson, and Big Skies Collaborator Merrill Findlay on 6 November 2017, has enabled an exciting new partnership “To greatly extend both organisation’s range and networks” and “To offer more opportunities for members of both organisations and enable creative and professional collaborations.” This means that all registered Skywriters will have access to NEWC events and opportunities and that all NEWC members will likewise have access to Big Skies Collaboration events and opportunities. It also means that we’ll have to extend the boundaries of our 700 Kilometre Array region to include the regional city of Armidale, in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, where the NEWC is based!
Red Room Poetry
Red Room Poetry’s vision is to make poetic experiences a meaningful part of everyday life. We create poetic projects and learning programs in collaboration with a spectrum of poets, schools, communities and partners for positive social impact. We aspire to make poetry accessible to all, especially those who face the greatest barriers to creative opportunities.
Red Room will be collaborating with the Skywriters Project to create powerful Poetic Moments.
Wiradjuri Study Centre
The Wiradjuri Study Centre (WSC), in Condobolin, promotes the study and understanding of Wiradjuri culture. The WSC was established by Wiradjuri Condobolin Corporation as a foundation for cultural rejuvenation, social change and sustainable self-determination by the people of the wider Wiradjuri nation.
The Wiradjuri Study Centre is working with Big Skies Collaborator Merrill Findlay, and the Skywriters Project, to develop the Wiradjuri Skywriters Pilot Project and the Condo SkyFest in 2018/19.
Page posted on merrillfindlay.com 5 August 2015, and reposted on this blog on 3 January 2016. Last updated 30 March 2020.