Big opportunity for big ideas

Art & About Sydney is eschewing the festival format, providing up to $85,000 per project to transform the city year round.
Big opportunity for big ideas

Near Kin Kin, Cave Urban, 2015. Photo by Nikki To.


Art & About Sydney is no longer something you have to wait for. In 2016 it will be an event that is always happening.

With a focus on ‘Art in unusual places’, the program’s new format now delivers public art and performance projects throughout the year rather than over a three-week period.

‘We are not trying to take away from the fantastic festivals or events that are already on, things like Sydney Festival or Biennale. What we are doing with this new annual format, this year-round format for Art & About, is really looking at the gaps,’ said Stephen Gilby, Senior Program Manager of Culture and Creativity at City of Sydney.

‘You know how sometimes in Sydney there can be a bit of a lull, a bit of a quiet time. There is this really exciting time where festivals are on, and then it is like ‘Oh ok, everything is over now’. What we are trying to do is really keep that going, so that you don’t have that lull and give more opportunities to artists and more opportunities to the audience to experience new and creative work,’ he added.

A new format means a new submission process and Art & About is currently seeking expressions of interest. Big ideas are on the agenda with an emphasis on unique works for unusual spaces, works that have the potential to open up a different view of Sydney for the city's eager audience.

‘We are looking for all sorts of ideas. There are really no limitations, we are just looking for things that are innovative, that really show some artistic excellence, and will help show our city in a different way,’ said Gilby.

‘In the past we’ve had people from architects, performers, through to choreographers, designers, digital artists, filmmakers, collectives, curators - all sorts of professionals have taken part in Art & About. The main aim of the whole process is to create something that really puts art out in the public space and is something that people can interact with and be part of.’

‘It could be thought-provoking, but it might also be something that tells a story, so you get communities involved in development,’ he said.

The 2016 expression of interest process has been deliberately left open to interpretation. This reflects the programs investment in variety and its interest in public and immersive works of art that can take any form.

‘In previous years we’ve been directional in terms of what we want, but what we’ve been finding over the years is that we just get so much diversity in the program and we don’t want to stifle that,’ said Gilby.

‘You don’t have to be from Sydney, you don’t have to be from Australia, you don’t have to be a traditional artist, someone who has been working as a painter for years. You can be within any sort of discipline and producing any sort of work.’

NICK CAVE HEARD·DETROIT, Nick Cave, 2015. Photo by James Prinz Photography.

With up to $85,000 dollars in funding for a project, Art & About is an opportunity for artists and other creatives to produce large-scale works. The hefty funding pool is a draw card for emerging and established artists alike and the program has a history of supporting works by established and emerging artists. As Gilby explained, ‘It’s a real mix. We don’t ask for people who have a particular reputation to apply for a project for Art & About, we just ask that they have some kind of CV or portfolio of work they have done in the past. We have done work with very emerging artists, but also some really established ones as well - it’s really about the work.’

To be free is to have no fear, Nadia Hernandez, 2015. Photo by Jamie Williams.

The program has seen giant colourful snails take over Sydney, and startled audiences with Willi Dorner’s performance work, changing the city’s public space and stimulate conversations. ‘We also had some amazing musicians last year perform at a free outdoor bar at town hall. A really great diversity of works,’ said Gilby.

Upcoming projects include a harbour-side screening of Jaws at Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool, a glistening apothecary-like installation where water sourced from diverse regions of Australia can be sampled, live tut dance battles on the streets with challengers inspired by the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, and an environmental art installation turning a forest of trees bright blue.

‘These are really unusual and something really different - and they are the sorts of things that really jump out in the expression of interest process when we go through that,’ said Gilby.

‘We’ve got different sorts of works all throughout the year but what’s exciting is we have these events on here, but then we are also going out for expressions of interest to find even more projects at the end of this month.’

‘It’s so exciting to be able to work on a project that offers $85,000, it really creates such a huge opportunity for the practitioners and for the audience.’

To submit an expression of interest for 2016, visit

Applications close 5:00pm (AEST) ​Thursday 3 March 2016.

Brooke Boland

Tuesday 19 January, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW. She has a PhD in literature from the University of NSW. You can find her on Instagram @southcoastwriter.