Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Creative in Residence at State Library of Queensland, Australia

This year we have the distinct pleasure of hosting updates from Dr. Matt Finch, with whom we’ve worked on a number of LAIP features, as he serves as Creative in Residence at the State Library of Queensland, Australia. He’s working to support the work that State Library staff do to plan and implement large-scale cultural programming for a huge swath of the Australian library community. Enjoy! ~Laura

by Matt Finch

What is a library, except a gateway to other worlds?

Libraries are the place where experience meets narrative – where the “real world” touches stories, imaginings, memories, histories, designs, plans, and dreams. That’s not being fanciful – it’s the hard and painstaking work of careful curation, building partnerships on a limited budget, and trying to address the pressing issues of our time in a lively, inventive way.

It used to be that books were the principal medium by which we helped people to visit other worlds, but now libraries embrace everything from food and play to digital media and cultural programming on the most provocative themes.

This year I’m Creative in Residence at the State Library of Queensland, Australia – “SLQ” to its friends. I’ll be sharing the adventures of my residency with you at Library as Incubator over the coming months.

Our official purpose is inspiring Queenslanders’ creativity forever, and serving, too, as custodians of the state’s history and memory.
(I’m profoundly impressed by whoever convinced the bureaucrats to phrase our mission that way).
Despite this cosmic goal, we’re library underdogs facing a spectacular challenge. We’re based in Brisbane, Australia’s third city after Sydney and Melbourne, and in addition to serving the state capital, we also support librarians across Queensland’s 715000 square miles. (For perspective, that makes us about three times the size of France).
We have more large regional population centres than other states and that means it’s especially important for us to engage communities outside of the capital. This is something Australian cultural organisations sometimes struggle with, tending to focus on city centre venues or, at best, to use digital media for broadcast instead of conversation. This can force regional Aussies to be passive audiences to city-made content.

As Creative in Residence, I support the library’s Signature Team, which devises themed cultural programming for each calendar year. That can be anything from World War I memorials to community banquets or Fun Palaces, delivered in partnerships with all kinds of corporate, community, artistic, and governmental allies.

This year’s theme is Belonging, a celebration of Queensland identities, landscapes, and histories of migration and travel which have shaped our sense of who we are.

mattfinchThe Five (or Seven?) Fingers of Deadly Librarianship

 The hard-tweetin’ Signature Team @slqld

“Don’t just stand there,let’s get to it.Strike a pose,there’s nothing to it”

— Matt Finch (@DrMattFinch) February 26, 2016

The “Sig Team” behind this theme includes:

Naomi Takeifanga: A senior curator currently completing a PhD in community co-creation of arts programming, Naomi devises exhibitions which celebrate Queenslanders past, present, and future – from an iconic magazine cover brought to life to a survey of historic portraiture.
Naomi’s fellow curator is Kevin Wilson, whose most recent exhibition bore the deceptively tranquil name Peace and Quiet. Conceived as a sequel to last year’s celebration of Queensland soldiers in the 1914-18 war, Peace and Quiet explored the history of pacifism, activism, and protest across our state.
Project officers Emma Constance and Erin Gibbons are the dynamic duo behind our upcoming feast night. Representatives of Brisbane’s migrant communities will teach professional chefs to prepare unique recipes for a banquet in the heart of Brisbane.

Excited to see @slqld colleagues Emma & Erin’s plans and schemes for April— Matt Finch (@DrMattFinch) February 15, 2016


Erin also leads a partnership with Australian’s public broadcaster the ABC, which launched with a debate on migrationon 21 March – while Emma is in charge of SLQ’s Fun Palaces.

Senior Programming Officer Brendan Ross is currently preparing for a special market event in June. Stallholders, crafters, and creators from around the state will be visiting SLQ to share their wares – but that’s not all. The “Big Day of Belonging” will also be an opportunity for visitors to swap, share, and donate their stories to a series of literary, theatrical, and artistic projects based on community narratives.

These five heroic library workers are like the five fingers of a seasoned martial artist, ready at any time to clench into a hard-knuckled fist and deliver a deadly strike against the forces of boredom and ignorance.


They’re supported in this library-martial-art by Linda Barron, our Executive Manager, and Anne Pensalfini, an improv artist and youth worker who also provides administrative support to our team.

I guess that makes seven fingers, which would sound weird except imagine what a martial artist with a seven-fingered fist could do.

Adventures in the Borderlands

While the team do the good work of helping to spice the State Library’s cultural offering for the year, I spot new opportunities and investigate odd corners of our vast territory.

Two days after flying in from London, I visited Mungindi, a town on the Queensland-New South Wales border, where six hundred people live between the laws, institutions, and even timezones of two states. (If you walk across the town’s river bridge during Daylight Savings, you move an hour backwards or forwards in time).

I think it’s important to explore a place like Queensland from its edges, not just its centres of power, and Mungindi didn’t let me down.

By sundown on my first night, I was drinking with a Viking-like tattooed butcher and starting a journey which would lead to me getting a cookery lesson from the gay, adopted, Aboriginal acrobat (“I’m a triple threat”) who is ringmaster at our national circus.

All this, too, is part of exploring Queensland’s memory and inspiring its creativity. As I range across the state seeking new partnerships and opportunities for the library, I hear wonderful stories from Queensland’s past, present, and future, which I share at the newsletter Marvellous, Electrical.

I’m really pleased you’ll be joining us at the State Library of Queensland for my 2016 journey. Follow me on Twitter at @drmattfinch and keep up with new developments at

from Library as Incubator Project

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