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For Yolande Norris, Canberra’s creative heart beats not only from the uber new buildings of the city centre but from disparate and unexpected places like our research institutes and outer suburbs.
“Every second of every day, a new idea springs to life in Canberra,” she says.
“Whether it’s a drawing on a beer coaster or a multi-million dollar research project, envisioning – and then implementing – change comes pretty naturally to Canberrans.”
Unearthing the original, purposeful and progressive work happening right across the capital just became Yolande’s full-time job.
She’s the director of Canberra’s brand new innovation festival. Across 10 days in July 2023, the festival program will showcase a broad range of local organisations, institutions and businesses, uniting creative thinkers, innovators, artists and entrepreneurs. Yolande hopes the festival will take Canberrans to new intellectual terrains and introduce them to new creative forms. A multi-talented creative herself – she’s a writer, producer and curator – Yolande is a graduate of Australian National University’s School of Art and Design.
She was “an average artist but a really great writer and talker”, she says, and as her university classmates moved away to Melbourne and Sydney to go pro, Yolande decided to stay. She immersed herself in the administrative side of the arts.
“There’s no doubt staying here gave me the kind of opportunities that many of my classmates could only have dreamed of,” she says.
Yolande worked in marketing at the National Gallery of Australia, and was the program manager and administrator of Canberra Contemporary Art Space for many years.
In 2011, she curated a series of organic, experimental art experiences for the very first You Are Here festival. Yolande and co-producer David Finnigan were tasked by Robyn Archer with developing a festival that showcased the best of Canberra in the lead-up to the centenary.
You Are Here was a phenomenal success, continuing well after the Centenary, and still exists, though in a different format, today.
Canberra has — and continues to — play a critical role in Yolande’s creative growth.
To this day, she’ll “walk past a house in Ainslie and O’Connor and think, ‘I’ve been there before!’” Memories of once working on a random creative endeavour with friends at the house – or in its yard – will come flooding back.
“The suburbs feature hugely in my time in Canberra,” Yolande, who, like many Canberrans, grew up in a constantly-relocating military family, says.
“And I feel like a lot of the amazing things in Canberra actually happen in suburbia: in houses and neighbourhoods.
“It’s one of those happy accidents that comes with a city or a town that doesn’t have much infrastructure. People just naturally go, ‘Oh well, we’ll just use my house’.”
After almost three years of bushfire/COVID trauma, Yolande is hoping 2023’s innovation festival will provide the perfect platform for Canberrans to rekindle a love affair with their city.
“I want people to say, ‘Okay, what am I interested in? What do I want to reconnect with? Or do I want to connect with parts of the community that I’ve never been connected with?” she says.
“And offering a festival is a really wonderful way for people to do that.
“I hope the festival sparks inspiration – the Winter period is all about slowing down and thinking, what’s next? Where do I want to invest my energy? What’s really lighting me up? So that you can start to plan for spring and summer.”
Just like her experience on the You Are Here festival, Yolande will have the mammoth task of building the innovation festival from scratch – including a name, a brand, curation, marketing, operations and measuring success.
“It’s absolutely a formidable task but the content already exists,” she says.
“And we’ll unite it in a way that’s original, purposeful and inspiring.”