This July, our First Friday Club featured Portia Lindsay, General Manager of the Mudgee Readers’ Festival and Communications Officer for Orana Arts, the Arts Board for the Orana region. In pursuing her deep passion for regional arts development, she is striving to uncover budding talents and ‘… get those emerging voices out there’.
Having gone from selling books to taking charge of the Centre’s Program to running a growing literary event for book enthusiasts in the Mudgee region, Portia had a reservoir of stories to share with our members. Throughout a witty, laughter-filled conversation with Julia Tsalis, our Program Manager, she gave us all a peek into her rich past and present in the field.
Our Membership Intern, Mia Do, was there to capture all the key points for those who missed it.
From behind the bookstore counter …
Always a lover of books, Portia started her career in the arts working in a small independent bookshop. She considers this time to have been a great learning experience. After several years, she decided to try something new. ‘I loved the books and the experience of talking to people about books but thought it was time I did something different.’
… to behind the Centre’s programs …
Portia didn’t feel drawn to a career in publishing, which seemed to be the natural progression for a book lover. Instead, she landed the position of Administration Officer here at the Centre, and less than a year later moved into the Program Officer role where she helped curate our vast array of events and programs.
… behind the budding regional talents …
After making a country change, Portia joined the team at Orana Arts as the Communications Officer. Some of the projects she’s been involved with there include running a mentorship program for Aboriginal artists and an exhibition that matched the artworks by local people with poetry. Many writers and artists whose voices were rarely heard were brought together and put into the spotlight by this exhibition.
At that time, Portia was also contributing to Seizure Online, a web-based community providing up-and-coming writers with a range of events and competitions. Starting out as a volunteer, she soon became the Program Officer for the platform. She found that working on these diverse projects complimented each other and gave her a broad overview of the industry.
…and behind the beloved Mudgee Readers’ Festival
When the conversation turned to the upcoming Mudgee Readers’ Festival (10-13 August 2017 – mark your calendars!), Portia described it as ‘a very intimate festival … a solid communal event that brings people together.’ This can be demonstrated by last year’s venue change, as they moved the festival from a conference centre on the outskirts of Mudgee into the heart of the town – in essence, bringing it to the community.
The festival continues to grow with every year. The first time it was held, the line up included twelve authors – last year they gathered an impressive twenty. Past guests always enthusiastically suggest new ideas for the following year.
To Portia, the key to success for a readers’ festival is to focus on the readers’ perspective – what they think about the books – to make the event ‘… an intimate engagement with the text and the author.’ A stable number of official staff, a clear task list and efficient fundraising are all crucial aspects of the processes behind running the festival.
One of the major highlights of this year’s festival, she said, is going to be the ‘Art Now with Text Classics’ exhibition. This exhibition features diverse interpretation of classic Australian literature by talented artists from across the region.
The full program is available on the Mudgee Readers’ Festival’s website, and we also have a limited number of hardcopy programs available here at the Centre.
Life and work in the region
When she uprooted her life in Sydney and started making a place for herself in the wine (and cheese) region of Mudgee, Portia had to rebuild her network. This started with a meeting a local journalist with whom later she became close friends.
Living in the region was rather financially tough in her first year. Portia’s approach was to take on multiple freelancing jobs and not say no to any opportunities because ‘… they might never come up again.’ Gradually Portia carved a space for herself in the region and very much appreciates the dynamic nature of regional life.
Words for the unheard literary voices
Many inexperienced and experienced writers seek grants to pursue their passion, yet it can be very difficult to secure funding. Portia’s suggestion is to make the best out of failure by calling the judge panel and kindly asking for feedback – then try again.
To all the budding writers making their very first steps, Portia gave simple advice: do what you love doing. ‘It’s important to not push yourself to do the things you think that need to be done,’ she said, which is an approach that has helped her get where she is today. ‘I now have the luxury of choosing [what to do]’.
For more details on Portia’s work, you can visit her website, or follow her on Twitter for some real-time updates on the most recent projects. Curious about the chickens (her other lovely passion)? Find them here!