In Conversation with: The Helpmann Academy

The Helpmann Academy is an important part of Adelaide’s cultural sphere – and it is a name that will surely be familiar to any artists starting their careers in this city. Their offerings of grants and learning opportunities – including masterclasses, seminars, and mentorships – are used by many local artists to get a start in their vocations. For people less actively engaged in the arts scene, they could be an organisation you are unfamiliar with but could well have played a crucial part in the nascent career of a local artist you know.

Stephanie Jaclyn on the set of Freemales
Flinders graduate and Filmmaker Stephanie Jaclyn on the set of her web series ‘Freemales’. Stephanie received a 2017 Helpmann Fellowship to undertake training and development opportunities in London. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Behind all this, is a small and dedicated team of individuals working to help offer opportunities to Adelaide’s artists. To discover more about what goes into reaching the results the Helpmann Academy has achieved, Tulpa recently sat down with Jane MacFarlane, the Academy’s CEO.

Helpmann Academy is one of a number of organisations providing support and opportunities for artists. We began by asking who the Academy is geared towards helping. Jane said that they ‘only support emerging artists’, people who are ‘graduates in the first five years of their career’. One of the things she says is important is that prospective Helpmann grantees know ‘they’re not competing against mid-career artists.’ It’s made very clear that for all the significance of Helpmann – that may make it seem imposing to the less experienced artists – it is just for these artists that the Academy exists. ‘A lot of people don’t apply because they don’t feel they’re established enough or they’re not good enough but everyone who applies through Helpmann is starting out in their careers,’ Jane explains.

Annabel Matheson_Photo by Ian Routledge Foul Play Theatre
Flinders graduate and actor, Annabel Matheson. Photo by Ian Routledge, Foul Play Theatre.

The process of grant-writing is not one many artists relish but it is a fixture of the artist’s life – particularly in their earlier years. On this matter, though, Jane explains that they are engaged in ‘helping artists as much as we can in their grant applications so we offer to read grants, [and] give feedback. Part of it, for us, is not just in [them] receiving the grant but [also] artists learning skills in grant applications that will hopefully help them in the long term.’ So an artist writing a grant application to the Helpmann Academy will likely receive helpful feedback to get them a step closer to their next application being a successful one.

As to what advice she would have for someone considering applying for a Helpmann grant, Jane says a successful grant is often marked by an approach showing both ‘head and heart’ – the writer of the grant must try to ensure the reader gets a ‘sense of the artist, what they’re doing, and why it’s so important to them.’

The Helpmann Academy has sent artists all over the world – from Iceland to Antarctica. That very morning before the interview, Jane had two artists in to the Academy ‘who just came back from Amsterdam and are living in New York.’ The Academy, she tells Tulpa, judges most importantly ‘what the best thing for that artist is, and what’s going to help them in their career’. Whether the proposal is ‘something very practical and Adelaide-based or something that is quite different and [that] we’ve never seen before’ doesn’t matter so much, according to Jane, rather, it ‘really comes down to the artist and what’s going to be the best thing for them.’

Helpmann Academy 2017 Night of Jazz
2017 Helpmann Academy Night of Jazz with Marquis Hill. Photo by Russell Millard.

Considering the broad and significant work the Helpmann Academy does for the careers of young and emerging Adelaide artists, there is one important question. What would be the ultimate goal for the Academy? What would it look like with absolute success? Perhaps as one ought to expect, Jane answers, ‘not to exist.’ She elaborates: ‘we want to see artists truly valued and be successful both financially and in terms of their aspirations’. Those who work at Helpmann ‘want to see artists live their dreams and be able to do what they do without having to juggle four or five jobs on top of their practice’.

Asked why the arts are not often more broadly valued, Jane explained she considered it to be the result of a number of factors. One factor being that socially, we tend most to hold sportspeople up and another being that other social infrastructure such as hospitals take precedence for decision-makers. She notes that, according to studies, ‘artists are the most educated profession in the country – and yet they’re the least paid.’

Looking to the shorter-term goals of the Helpmann Academy, Jane says they are trying to look at ‘two main approaches’. One is to continue to open up their masterclasses and seminars up to as many artists as possible. The other approach is to look at ‘ways we can fund larger scale projects and opportunities for artists as well’. In looking to Helpmann’s future, one can also look to their past, as the past three years have seen quite a bit of growth – Jane says they have doubled the amount of support.

As the conversation turns to the state of the arts in Adelaide, Jane explains one of the city’s arts scene’s strongest points is ‘how connected it is’. ‘Compared to other places,’ she says, ‘it is a lot easier to connect industry and organisations and people’. This element directly benefits Helpmann as they ‘have partnerships with lots of other arts organisations and work together with them very successfully.’ As an example of the Adelaide art scene’s ability to connect, Jane puts forward that Adelaide is now UNESCO’s first City of Music. ‘I think that is the music industry coming together really successfully.’ Adelaide’s artistic sphere has clearly been noticed from the outside and its successes rewarded. Embedded in this connectedness of Adelaide’s arts, is Helpmann, and they are well and truly doing their part to connect people, to upskill the city’s creatives, and to provide learning opportunities.

All in all, Jane MacFarlane paints a picture of a city with a lot going for it in its creative industries. There may be more to be done, hence the Academy’s existence, but Adelaide is a city well on its way to greater successes – aided by organisations such as the Helpmann Academy.

 


Words by Liam McNally

Feature image property of the Helpmann Academy.

Thanks to Jane MacFarlane and the Helpmann Academy

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