Virginia Hyam is no stranger to the challenges that come with programming in the arts. She started her career in Youth Arts in South Australia, moving on to directing Melbourne Fringe Festival and then to Sydney Opera House, where she worked for ten years as Executive Producer of the Studio and the Head of Contemporary Culture, specialising in the presentation of contemporary performance.
A stint as a freelance producer, curator and arts advisor both in Australia and internationally and then as creative producer of Festival 2018, led to her taking on the role of Head of Programming at HOTA – Home of the Arts.
But as you can imagine, none of the challenges she’s encountered before, have anything on the situation she finds herself in right now.
“It’s really weird, because I’ve spent so much of my time in a theatre and suddenly there’s this silence,” she said. “There’s nothing going on anywhere across the world.”
Virginia says she’s never been a programmer who relies on things like YouTube to get a feel for productions. “It’s about seeing things yourself,” she said. “It’s about other people seeing things. So, that is what feels completely the weirdest.”
So, while she can’t interact with her international colleagues in physical theatres, instead, there’s lots of virtual networking going on.
“I’m actually doing lots and lots of touching base with colleagues, and my team daily. That’s working really well because they’re an amazing groups of creatives.”
“With my international colleagues and national ones, we’re just staying connected, you know, ‘how’s things going with you, where are you up to?’, that kind of thing.”
“We’re all in exactly the same place. That’s an interesting thing too. There’s a humility there. Everyone’s at the same point. I’m on this Global Connect network and talking with major Centres in the states, and we at HOTA, we’re in exactly the same place as them.”
And despite what you might think, Virginia says this is a time of great connection. Usually everyone’s so busy getting on with things, she explained.
“Those conversations are more important than ever. I feel more connected. There’s a greater level of openness,” she said.
“The arts sector is in pretty dire straits,” Virginia added. “I’m pretty concerned about what it’s going to be like, to be honest.”
When pressed on this topic, Virginia made it clear that any predictions in this space were impossible. The entire sector is shrouded in a huge cloud of uncertainty right now. But she did have some insights.
“I think there will be some companies that won’t make it through,” she said. “Some venues that won’t make it through.”
“The landscape won’t look the same… there are a lot of conversations around how we won’t just leap out of this… audience sizes will be smaller for a start.”
HOTA was one of the first cultural institutions nation-wide to respond to this crisis by announcing funding for local artists to produce works that could be shared digitally. $50,000 is available to fund 50 projects. Virginia says she’s finding that the program is unearthing artists she hadn’t previously known about.
“These artists don’t have a relationship with Home of the Arts, and they just get on with their indie stuff.”
“It’s a small amount of money, but as soon as that program came online, that influenced a lot of people interstate to do similar,” she said.
“That’s our core online program. It’s down and dirty and quick and we’re not trying to make big sophisticated concerts,” she said.
But RAGE Online will be different.
“It is in contrast to Rage Against the V(irus),” Virginia explained, “and includes some of the things you would have seen at HOTA in person over this period.”
“We’re using artists that would have been involved. It’s not full productions, but a taste.”
“We’ve done one co-commission, across three States which is a major online theatre piece. It’s very beautiful,” she said.
“We’re really just trying to find that contrast around what’s not currently being done by others and trying to connect in to our program what you would have been seeing now.”
Virginia is excited about the prospect of programming more local content as venues adapt to the likelihood of international travel restrictions being in place for quite some time.
“We don’t know what the story is going to be with International artists,” she said. “It could be that no artists are coming in [internationally] until next year. And interstate, who knows? So yeah absolutely I think that initial focus will be about talking to our ‘hood and in this region where people can travel around this area… that makes sense in the first instance. Then programs will grow.”
“Our role is to bring great art to our audiences, to empower them and entertain them. That’s our role,” Virginia said, “So, we’re just rolling with the punches. It’s all we can do.”
“I’m really looking forward to engaging with live performance again,” Virginia said.
“I’m hoping we can bounce back bigger and that audiences get out there and embrace it.”