Interview | Backbone's CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley

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IInterview | Backbone's CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley don't think I've ever met someone more passionate about the arts and youth arts than Katherine Quigley. She is the current Artistic Director and CEO of Backbone Youth Arts and a scholarship recipient and graduate of NIDA's inaugural cohort, Masters of Fine Arts in Cultural Leadership who specialises in producing collaborative, experimental multi-arts and cultural experiences. Her career spans 15 years as a producer of multi-arts festivals, events, exhibitions, theatre and circus and has produced works for most, if not all, major theatre companies in Brisbane and fringe festivals around Australia. She has also worked with artists in Australia, Germany, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In addition to her studies at NIDA she has completed a Bachelor of Creative Industries with subjects in Drama, Film and Music and a Graduate Certificate in Accounting (partial completion) at the Queensland University of Technology. Katherine is also a peer assessor for Arts Queensland and the Australia Council. She is quite honestly everything I aspire to be and I'm so thankful to have been able to interview her for this segment.

VIRAG: How has the virus impacted your own creative practice as well as your role as Artistic Director and CEO of Backbone Youth Arts?

KATHERINE: It is so rare that we have a unifying experience globally, this is something we need to be cognisant of - and to take this moment to understand and delve into the vast cultural and political differences that are at play when different countries, cities and states deal with the same problem. I am fascinated by different government responses, the many videos of leaders speaking to their people, the way the bureaucrats are then enacting that advice, the instant impact these decisions have on all of us. I have spent a lot of time catching up with friends all over the world and finding out how these responses are impacting them on the ground - it really is an incredible moment in time.

For me personally, this is a hugely creative time. As an Artistic Director and CEO, it is absolutely my job to figure out what the next move is, and try to make that move as successful as possible. I have been working pretty much non-stop trying to configure an offering that allows me to maintain the staff I have and grow new opportunities for new paid staff. That responsibility has been very real for me, as it has for many arts leaders who are trying to manage the many unknowns about our situation and the drastic changes this has made in such a short period of time.

Before Backbone secured a physical space, I had spent a great deal of time figuring out how we could connect with young artists and young people online. Many of these plans were put on hold because well, we don't have a huge amount of money and the time and resources we do have should go towards filling our venue with the best things we can. So now, we are dusting off those plans and rolling them out, as well as getting some new ideas in the pipeline as a result of having the opportunity not just to connect with people locally but also to reach out to artists and young people who are also in the same situation.

Interview | Backbone's CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley

VIRAG: How did you become involved with the arts? Was it a passion that arose during a young age?

KATHERINE: Originally, I wanted to save koalas and was a passionate environmentalist as a child. Did all kinds of stuff and joined all kinds of organisations to try and help the koalas out. So, the images of hurt koalas this year really pushed me to wonder if I had made the right choices really. I am still not sure if I have, but my Aunty said I was stupid to consider trying to save the koalas because I wouldn't don't know the first thing about it, I still maintain I am a fast learner and would be happy to give it a red hot go... I digress...

From a very young age and in a very inescapable way, I have been involved with the arts, and I can't imagine life any other way and I think that should be normal for everyone. I grew up in a jazz cult, so it wasn't until I was older that I realised how strange it was that everyone in my family played jazz, and that some of our family games around the dinner table were not the same as the games everyone else was playing. Like the one where you had to pick the artist, the song and the album in the first four bars of a song (It's a fun game - highly recommend it!). Both of my sets of grandparents were also really into art and music, my Nanna was a visual artist (and so are lots of my aunts and uncles) and then my Pop was really into brass bands and my uncles on that side are more into rock n roll, old school rockabilly rock n roll. Art and music was a huge part of my life growing up.

Theatre? Not so much. My father didn't know what to do with me when I said I wanted to become an actor, it was like the equivalent of a family of lawyers with a kid that wanted to be a jazz musician. So he ended up seeking advice from the drama teacher at the high school he taught at, and she recommended sending me to Backbone when I was about 13, which is a lovely story to reflect back on and tell the 13 year olds that are now at Backbone.

Interview | Backbone's CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley

VIRAG: I watched Backbone's live stream on Friday night and I thought it was fantastic. It was such a diverse group of artists and from all over the world. How did you manage to get so many wonderful artists on board and are you planning on hosting any more live streams in the coming weeks?

KATHERINE: We thought it was important to take advantage of the fact that everyone around the world is experiencing the same thing at the same time, rather than just have gigs that we broadcast from our venue. We are also passionate about offering a space that other people can program - which is what we do at our venue. So I did collaborate a little bit on Somewhere Over the Rainbow but the programming and "hosting" was done by Tara Pattenden, who has been our geek in residence for the past few weeks while we hacked away at what could be possible. We have another one coming up this weekend and will be again presenting work from across Australia and the globe because - why not! Perfect time for it. Here is a link to that:

Interview | Backbone's CEO and Artistic Director Katherine Quigley

VIRAG: What do you think we artists can do to get through these horrific times?

KATHERINE: Please follow us and subscribe to our newsletter - because this is something I am solving through new programming that we are about to release. I don't have one singular answer for artists in particular, but the advice I would give to anyone is:

  • Avoid the scrolling void.
  • Have conversations with people over the phone and make those conversations long, 90's type ones where you just talked absolute rubbish while you watched the same show on TV and stuff.
  • Phone a friend.
  • Do some journaling.
  • Draw.

And shape projects that you can do before and after this situation. Don't create projects and work that will only exist in this time, use this as a challenge to think of things you can build for a longer life beyond this time.

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Backbone is physically situated on Jaggera and Turrubal lands. We acknowledge the First Nations cultures on the land where we play and create: Meanjin and continue to share stories and culture with communities on these lands. We acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and do all that we can to support future generations to foster and grow their knowledge of the past in this country. First Nations members, audiences and communities are always welcome at Backbone, our company is committed to collaboration and decolonised approaches to working with First Nations artists.

All photos featured in this article are from Backbone's Social Media Profiles.

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