Date: May 01 2012
As a child, Bethwyn Serow would climb into the family car and head off on a mystery tour.
''We'd have no plans, we'd have a newspaper, we'd have it in the car and we'd start driving,'' she says. ''We might not be back till nine at night because … we'd never know where we'd end up.''
They might take in a show, a festival or other arts event. Such imaginative, unstructured days were known in family parlance as ''days that grew''.
They were ideal preparation for Serow's early career making documentaries; when heading off to a location with a film crew, she never knew what she would encounter.
''You don't know what you're going to film until you are out there,'' she said. ''You know you want a good day and good stories, but you don't know where it's going to take you.''
But as a producer who has worked in Britain with the BBC and Channel 4 and in Australia with the former Australian Film Commission and Screen NSW, some of the places her work has taken her to include a remote Indian village and Britain's ''murder capital'', Leeds.
She hopes that early creative approach will serve equally well as the newly appointed head of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, the umbrella body representing the country's 28 largest arts companies - including Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, the Sydney Symphony and the Sydney Theatre Company.
Having spent the past decade in a range of roles with the Screen Producers Association of Australia - most recently as policy manager - Serow is now spending her nights at live performances rather than in front of a film screen. Among the first performances she attended wearing her new hat was Opera Australia's lavish Opera on the Harbour. She was impressed by the creativity that realised such an ambitious concept. ''If they can think big, we can think big,'' she says.
This is a royal ''we'' that embraces not just the cultural sector but Australian society. For Serow has arrived at AMPAG on the eve of the release of a national cultural policy, the first since Paul Keating's Creative Nation in the mid-1990s. What are her hopes from this policy?
''[A recognition] that culture is not buried in a siloed arts policy but is in every part of our life. It nourishes us, it leads us and it can bring us closer together. It can make us a more attractive place, and sure it can attract employers … But you have to create an environment, and our environment is our culture. [I want] the cultural policy to recognise that culture has value in itself and not just tie it to the economic output.''
Not that economics isn't important. ''But I don't want to say, 'Hire our performers so you can do all these economic transactions in the foyers','' she says.
Serow grew up in a family in which culture was integral. Melbourne-born and Sydney-raised, her Blakehurst school had a strong performing culture and she attended drama classes each weekend. Her own children, daughter Chloe, 10, and son Taite, 7, are similarly engaged with the arts. However, she admits she was surprised to learn from her son recently that he aspires to be an Irish dancing champion. His ambition confirmed to her the power of television when it comes to youthful aspirations.
''He saw his teacher on an ABC dance show and he thought, 'That's my world','' she said.
Children's television was one of her passions at the Screen Producers Association. How you tell Australian stories and foster local culture and imagination - across all ages - is an abiding concern.
''I grew up on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch and I Dream of Jeannie. My children are growing up on Blue Water High and Dance Academy. These are our stories. It's important that there's voices carrying the narrative of our sector.''
With technology making available new ways of presenting performing arts events - including live theatre, opera and dance performances in cinemas - she argues that this will not replace the age-old desire to sit together in a darkened room to share a story.
''The more we are connected electronically, the more we will want to be connected personally … and performing arts will become more important. Convergence is a really important part of connecting, but it doesn't replace what's happening,'' she says. ''It's the performances, the anticipation, the networking before you go there, it's bringing your friends together, say, four times a year and say we'll do this because we're so busy.''
Serow sees her role as encouraging collaboration between a diverse group of voices.
''You don't have to agree with each other but we all sit in this environment, from the small companies to the majors. It's not an either/or scenario,'' she says. ''It's a strong sector that wants to embrace the big ideas and make sure they are relevant in this next era of our cultural framework.''
This material is subject to copyright and any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.
[ Canberra Times | Text-only index]