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THE WAM FESTIVAL All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go

Mike Harris - website
Mike Harris took over as WAM CEO early this year. He chats to BOB GORDON about his new role and the WAM Festival, happening from Thursday-Saturday, November 6-8.


Tell us a little about your background?

I moved back to Perth from Melbourne to take the WAM role. I had been doing some freelancing in the months before that. I was previously Head of Programming at Melbourne Festival for three years – including managing the contemporary music programmers – and was running the Arts Centre’s venues, including the Sidney Myer Music Bowl and Hamer Hall, before that.

I was manager of the Matt Dann Centre in Port Hedland and left that position to move to Sydney in ‘99 and was Director at Glen Street Theatre for a number of years over there.

What was your awareness of WAM coming into the job?

A lifetime ago – when I had hair – I worked for the Shire of Esperance doing community arts (1994-95) and WAMIA, as it was, did a remote/regional recording project and I have been very aware of WAM since then.

Interestingly the WAM(IA) people who came down set up in the town hall; one of the first things they did was take the photo of the Queen off the wall… did I get into trouble for that!

What are WAM’s greatest challenges at this point?

Like any small-to-medium arts organisation – ongoing funding surety and ensuring revenue diversity. Boring, but crucial to allowing WAM the confidence to enter into far reaching projects.

Relevance. WAM must continually listen to its constituents -members and those that ought be, but are not for whatever reason, members – and ensure that we are representing what the music industry needs to be the best it can be.

There’s still the perception that WAM favours certain genres above others. What are your thoughts?

There is an argument that WAM is more closely aligned with some genres of music over others. This is partly due to the way the organisation has evolved and partly due to the type/s of music that dominates the original music scene in WA. That said the upcoming WA Music Awards recognise music across many varied genres and WAM does have a long standing history of this. I certainly take – and have taken – this perception on board and would hope that over the next year or two that perception can be dulled or moved to a perception that WAM represents the contemporary music industry very effectively, irrespective of genre or type.

Timothy Nelson & The Infidels, Kučka, John Butler and The Love Junkies lead the nomination tally on this year’s WA Music Awards.

There’s been some high profile venue closures/changes in Northbridge and Freo of late. What can we do to preserve and build audiences whilst pleasing landlords and councils?

This is an area where WAM needs to be active and is currently advocating on behalf of live music. The City of Sydney’s Live Music Matters cultural policy is a great example of what can be achieved by working with local government to enshrine protections into legislation Similarly, Victoria’s Agent of Change legislation. Dialogue with the City of Perth is in its infancy but WAM will continue to discuss and advocate for protection.

In addition to this contemporary music needs to be regarded similarly to other art forms in regards to ensuring appropriate performance spaces exist. We know that contemporary music has the greatest economic contribution of all art forms (Live Performance Australia) but there is disproportionate support at a government level. Venues are at risk as Northbridge’s real-estate becomes increasingly attractive. One or two small to medium, specialised, performance spaces that are not at risk of being sold off for the real-state value would be a good starting point. Rechabites Hall will go to EoI this week and with some investment would be a perfect space for local music to inhabit.

WA is a rarity in that we have annual music awards (Music Craft Awards, Friday, November 7, State Theatre Courtyard; WA Music Awards Friday, November 7, Capitol) while most states don’t. Do you think it’s important to recognise our musos and industry folk?

Yes. This year’s ARIAs are a prime example with very little recognition of WA music. We are a long way from the rest of the country and it is too easy for the very good music being created here to slip through the cracks on the Nullarbor and not be heard by people outside WA. The ideal is that WA music is nationally recognised and the WA Music Awards serve to do that, along with the Kiss My WAMi CD. They recognise excellence among peers: recognise lifetime contributions; and they promote our talent and output.

What do you hope that people get out of this year’s WAM Festival?

Two major outcomes: that the broader WA public are exposed to a wall-of-WA-music as part of the Saturday Spectacular (Saturday, November 8, throughout Northbridge) and the WAM Awards and appreciate just how much diversity and how good WA music really is. And, that the industry itself takes the opportunity to be part of the WA Music Conference (Friday-Saturday November 6-8, Central Institute of Technology, Northbridge) and take in the wisdom, experience and advice of the amazing industry talent involved in the panels and keynote sessions. The WA Music Conference is a fantastic resource and I hope those who attend – and everyone should – are energised and inspired as a result.

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