Going west for culture, inclusion and community

Parramatta is fast achieving a reputation as a thriving centre for diverse, family friendly events celebrating cultural diversity and creating a welcoming, safe and inclusive atmosphere. Christopher Snelling, Manager, City Experience at City of Parramatta Council and Paul Osborne, festival director for the annual Parramasala festival staged in Parramatta, spoke to us about creating experiences that are unique, and reflective of the local community.

Christopher: “The experience that Parramatta is trying to deliver, both for our residents and for visitors to the area, is one of equity, equality and inclusion. Everyone is welcome here. We are also trying to be authentic in all that we deliver for the city. Parramatta has been on an interesting journey. First a rich food source for the Darug people, to very much an urban centre after early colonial settlement, then we became a suburban centre, and we are now urbanising again to become Sydney’s Central City. Throughout this journey, we are focused on maintaining our authenticity, through keeping a connection with our people and our communities, and making Parramatta a place where people want to be.

Parramatta has a very important role to play for communities and audiences within a 30-minute drive radius and west of us. We have lots of grass roots culture and community organisations in our own backyard. We’re geographically the centre of Sydney, we’re so diverse in our languages food, culture and faiths. We have a leadership role to play in delivering and presenting arts and culture to the region, and we need to do that in a way that is reflective of the area.

We’re in the process of developing a night time economy strategy for Parramatta. I’m proud to say we recently saw the opening our first small bar (Uncle Kurt’s) in the Parramatta CBD! There’s a huge appetite and willingness from a patronage and a business point of view to invigorate and diversify the city’s night time offering, as well as the political will to focus on this. However, we also need to acknowledge that there have been issues in the past in terms of what night time experience in Parramatta has looked like. We’re working collaboratively with stakeholders like the local police and local businesses to take everyone on the journey as to what’s achievable to deliver a truly vibrant and safe night time offering.

As Sydney’s Central City we have a lot of aspirations and exciting ideas. With the Powerhouse Museum relocating to Parramatta, there is already discussion that it would be an eighteen hour museum, rather than a traditional nine to five museum. In the new civic building planned for Parramatta Square, we’re proposing that the new city library would open late, possibly until midnight.

The Parramatta Lanes Festival has been great example of a successful festival that supports the City’s night time economy strategy. The objectives of the festival are to increase positive perceptions of safety after dark in Parramatta, to open up, animate and curate city laneway spaces with unique food, music and art experiences, and encourage people who work in Parramatta to remain in the city after work. In six years, the four-night festival has grown from four laneways, and 6,000 festival attendees, to 14 laneways, 100,000 festival attendees and 60 stall holders, with an extremely positive flow on impact for local businesses in the Parramatta CBD. In an outcome we didn’t anticipate, the festival has also become a testing ground for businesses thinking about opening or relocating to Parramatta. Off the back of successful trials at the Parramatta Lanes Festival, Neil Perry’s Burger Project and Butter Fried Chicken from Surry Hills have set up businesses in Parramatta. It’s a really good measure of confidence in our city and an example of how a social and cultural events can drive new permanent investment.

Paul: “Masala means mix, and it’s a great word for what happens with Parramasala. The festival is a coming together of many cultures and the beautiful fusion you get when that occurs successfully. The diversity represented at the festival and the broad range of cultures and talent that we showcase has earned us a reputation as a really unique event. However I don’t feel that what we’re doing should necessarily be considered unique. We are representing the breadth of everything that it means to be a Sydneysider, or an Australian, really. We are diverse, we are different, we are a mix of so many cultures, and we all come together in Sydney. That’s what Parramasala showcases, and as such, I think in some ways it is one of the events that is truly most reflective of a modern Sydney and a modern Australia.

The festival is first and foremost a celebration of our community. There is so much happening in Parramatta and Western Sydney more generally, so we draw many of our performers from the local area. With emerging record companies, producers and performers the west is becoming a bit of a hub for hip hop and urban soul, and so we reflect that. There is also global standard local talent here in the form of dance studios and performers, and world class food options. So while we draw talent from the area, as well as bringing in the best international acts, I’m confident that our line-up for the festival on any given night would be of the same quality and range as the line-up for any music festival or event anywhere.

Parramatta has its own identity which is different to that of the eastern suburbs, or Manly, Penrith, Liverpool and other places. We do want to attract people from other suburbs to Parramatta, and give them an experience that will make them want to come back. We need to balance that with continuing to tell our own story which respects our heritage and reflects elements of our culture.

I’ve definitely learned some lessons in bringing together this festival. Where multiple cultures are involved there is great diversity but also sometimes challenges! I think the best way to address challenges is to exclusively focus on the art. We select performers based on artistic merit, with the aim to truly delight and impress our audiences. When it comes to local talent, I take the attitude that I believe the talent is out there, we just need to uncover it. Starting with that mindset means we are constantly amazed by the depth of the talent that we find every year.

I’ve worked in the music industry and the night time economy for years in Sydney. I definitely think night time in Sydney has changed and probably irreversibly. Some of this is due to what we understand to be ‘music’ or ‘entertainment’ changing, as well as the physical infrastructure and space. I think part of the role of the festival world is to show people that you can go to events – particularly evening events – that are safe, that you can take your kids, that have a good balance of entertainment options. The changing landscape means that instead of going local a few nights a week, we may be more drawn to less frequent but larger scale mass expressions of culture like Parramasala.

I think an event like Parramasala, where we are actively coming together to celebrate difference, to learn and to share experiences together, and the natural joy that comes from that, is so important. And that is also what Australia is and what Sydney is – look around you.

 

Deloitte’s ImagineSydney series sets out to contribute to the conversation around how we can create smart, flourishing and productive communities through exploring strategies that will drive economic and social development in Sydney. Our third Edition, ImagineSydney:Play is available now.

 


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