When Georgie Meagher was a little girl, she dreamed of being a singer. As she got older, musical theatre grabbed her attention. She may not be belting out show tunes on stage now, but the work she does is bringing art – both visual and performance – to an increasingly wide audience in Australia and around the world.
In her latest role, Meagher has taken on the mantle of Artistic Director of Next Wave, a platform from which a new generation of Australian artists can present their work. Next Wave was established in 1984 to foster creativity and experimentation, assist in career development, offer presentation opportunities and encourage multi-disciplinary representation.
Meagher’s appointment to the job as artistic director follows a career in which she has pushed the boundaries of her own work and of those she has fostered both in Australia and overseas. As the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Public Engagement Manager, she expanded the institution’s public programs and community engagement. Before that she developed innovative programs and events for Sydney’s Performance Space, she was a Director of Sydney’s artist-run initiative Firstdraft, and as a performance artist has presented her work overseas at the ANTI Festival in Finland and You and Your Work Festival in Bristol. In 2012 she received a Cultural Leadership grant from the Australia Council for the Arts.
“[Art] is about being able to bring people together and see things from different perspectives, of being able to look at the world differently,” she says. “When I was younger I wouldn’t have known that, but reflecting on it now, I love the way artists think about the world, and ask questions about the way we live and relate to one another. It is something that is incredibly powerful and the transformative effects that art can have in people’s lives really propels you once you have a taste of it.”
Meagher’s first taste of that transformative effect happened when she began studying at the University of Wollongong, where she had originally enrolled in a double degree of Bachelor of Creative Arts and a Bachelor of Commerce.
“I only lasted two units of the commerce degree,” she laughs. “Even though I studied performance at university I was interested in visual arts, and it was when I got involved in Firstdraft after university and I saw the history of it and incredible artists that had been through it – some of Australia’s most successful artists – who were now reaching huge audiences in museums and galleries and with private commissions. I realised that it was this team of young artists like me [at Firstdraft] that helped them create their first shows.
“[That model] is like a ripple effect. The communities that help you create at the beginning of your career, when you are figuring things out, can help start a conversation among a small group of people that feels quite niche but can have an effect that keeps going for many years and involve more people. It is centred around art work and ideas, supporting artists to do that first part and people offering to help those conversations develop so they can then become a conversation.”
More than ever, artists have a role to play in the cultural and social conversations of our time.
Meagher says she embraced this type of community and collaboration which she learned at the feet of her lecturers and tutors at UOW.
“The flexibility throughout my study allowed me to follow paths that I was interested in, and there was a sense of community [at UOW] of working really closely together,” she says. “Our teachers were working in artistic communities and the lineage they were coming from was being handed to us. We were learning directly from them it made us feel as if we were part of something bigger.”
Australia is now coming into its own in the performance arts space, says Meagher, and she is excited to see the stories, and representations that she is helping to nurture in her role as the Next Wave Artistic Director.
“First Nations people have such incredible storytelling and cultural traditions and make amazing contemporary art and it is a shame and a crime that it hasn’t been on our main stages or on our screens and in galleries a lot more in recent history,” she says. “With my work at Next Wave I’m lucky enough to be working with a new generation of artists that are First Nations, and from different immigrant backgrounds. They are bringing their own stories and those of their parents [to the stage] that have such an important part in our history. We have been hearing the same stories for so long so it is exciting to see a new standard being set. Art is all about ideas – it may be telling stories or asking questions about the world. I don’t think every story needs to have a beginning, middle and end. Often the most interesting art is that which doesn’t leave you with a clear message or answer.
“The work I try to support in my role at Next Wave is asking questions about this moment in time, asking really urgent questions, and most importantly adding new voices to the conversation
“More than ever, artists have a role to play in the cultural and social conversations of our time. Art contributes in a different way that we’re used to – but it can shine new light on problems our world is facing.”
Bachelor of Creative Arts (Performance), 2008
Master of Creative Arts (Theatre), 2008
Master of Arts (Journalism), 1993
Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary), 2013