Wheels in motion: new recruits at the Wheeler Centre
Veronica Sullivan, Hiroki Kobayashi and Stella Charls recently joined the Wheeler Centre’s programming team, but many in the industry will already know these three from their previous work. Sullivan was prize manager at the Stella Prize for almost three years, Kobayashi was most recently program producer at Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF), and Charls was the former marketing and events coordinator at Readings. Books+Publishing spoke with the three programmers about their careers so far and their plans for the future.
What will be your approach to programming?
Veronica Sullivan (VS): To be inventive, open-minded and bold, and to create events that forge connections between audiences and artists.
Hiroki Kobayashi (HK): I am very interested in collaborative forms of programming, so I hope to continue the Wheeler Centre’s work in forming partnerships with fellow arts organisations and community groups to co-curate and develop events.
Stella Charls (SC): I hope to maintain the high standard of Wheeler Centre events that audiences have grown to expect, while stretching the limits of what these audiences are comfortable with, and consistently engaging with new voices and perspectives. Approaching events from a programming role is new to me, so I’m incredibly excited to learn from my amazing team and support their ideas wherever possible.
What aspect of your new role are you most excited about and why?
VS: I’m excited about how wide-ranging the Wheeler Centre’s events program is, and the opportunities that presents to initiate public dialogues that are not occurring in any other live forum in Australia.
HK: The Wheeler Centre is such a dynamic organisation with so many different programs and I’m very excited to work in a team across such a varied array of content and forms.
SC: After two years as the festival manager for the National Young Writers Festival, I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to continue to support young and emerging Australian storytellers through the management of the Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowships and Next Big Thing program series. The fellowships are supported by the Readings Foundation, and after working with Readings for over six years, it feels fitting to now be coordinating this incredible initiative!
What do you think will be the biggest challenge?
VS: The Wheeler Centre is such a brilliant and respected organisation, and I hope I can do justice to its reputation and to the high expectations audiences bring with them whenever they attend a Wheeler event.
HK: The sheer breadth of ideas, issues, guests and event series that makes the Wheeler Centre so exciting will also be a great challenge to ensure I am curating the most engaging topics and people across four seasons of programs.
SC: I’ve worked in and around events for the past six years, but imagine that giving myself permission to express myself creatively will be a challenge, at least for a while!
What inspired you to pursue a career in arts programming?
VS: I did an internship with the Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF) as a creative producer in 2014, and have never looked back. When I undertook the EWF internship, I was studying a degree in creative writing, publishing and editing and was intending to pursue a career in editing. My experience at EWF affirmed for me that I wanted to work on initiatives and events that bring readers and writers together in real-life communities.
HK: A love of stories and the art of storytelling!
SC: I really love events in general, especially festivals. I’ve been drawn to working in and around events in whatever capacity I can muster since I started volunteering for Melbourne International Film Festival and MWF in 2013, and interned in the programming team at the MWF in 2014. The Wheeler Centre has always stood out for me as an organisation that doesn’t limit its programming and exists as kind of a year-long festival for both established and emerging artists. All events, all the time.
What are you most proud of achieving in your career so far?
VS: I’m really proud that I’ve had the opportunity to be part of organisations that support women writers and artists in particular, through my time at the Stella Prize and as part of the team responsible for establishing and running the inaugural Feminist Writers Festival in 2016.
HK: Previous to this I was the program producer at MWF and EWF. It was my first programming role and it was such an incredible opportunity to work with many amazing artists across two very different festivals.
SC: I’m proud to have managed the National Young Writers Festival over two ridiculously fun and challenging years. I’ve also learnt so much from the amazing booksellers at Readings—these people prove why independent brick-and-mortar bookshops are indispensable to our communities.
What trends or emerging ideas are you excited about seeing in live events at the moment?
VS: I love events that bring together multidisciplinary artists sharing the same stage—performance events that feature writers, spoken word poets, musicians, comedians and other creative practitioners. This gives them the chance to cross-pollinate ideas in real time, and to bounce off one another in interesting ways. I think there’s something really magical about that collaborative approach.
HK: I think it’s exciting to see literary festivals and organisations exploring formats beyond traditional panels and in-conversation style events to what type of spaces and presentation styles are best suited to the type of guests, content and discussions that are trying to be evoked.
SC: Last year I was lucky to be in the audience for Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music, presented as part of Melbourne Festival. I honestly doubt I’ll ever experience a more transformative live event. As someone who usually chokes at the thought of audience participation, Taylor Mac and his team demonstrated how joyful this connection between artists and audience can be. After the show, many arts workers commented that they were hoping to incorporate the inclusive themes from Taylor’s work into their practice—I think people are really craving a physical sense of community at the moment, and I’m definitely excited about seeing the evolution of these ideas in events.
If you could program any three (living) artists to speak at the Wheeler Centre, who would you book and why?
VS: Nick Cave, to talk about his literary influences, because he is a genius. Eimear McBride, because I think she is one of the most challenging and rewarding stylists writing today. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, because she’s such an incredible speaker on gender and race, and also has impeccable fashion sense (if you don’t already, follow her on Instagram, where she regularly promotes local fashion brands through her #WearNigerian campaign).
SC: There are three pieces of art from 2017 I can’t stop thinking about—performer Taylor Mac’s 24-Hour Decade of Popular Music, Irish author Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends (Faber) and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird (ok, I know this movie isn’t out in Australia yet so I haven’t seen it but trust me I’m still thinking about it every single day). I would love to pick the brains of either Taylor, Sally or Greta, please and thank you!
What are you reading now?
VS: I’m reading Sofie Laguna’s new novel, The Choke, and marvelling at her evocative descriptions of a natural world that is both enchanting and threatening, coupled with her ability to authentically inhabit the naiveté and insight of a child’s perspective. I’m also dipping into We Were Eight Years in Power, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ uncompromising collection of essays examining Obama’s impact on American politics and society.
HK: When not working at the Wheeler Centre, I am a theatre enthusiast and writer, so I spend much of my summer holiday reading lots of new plays.
SC: I’m hoping to visit the looming Adelaide Writers Week—director Laura Kroetsch always presents such a unique line-up of international writers and this year’s program is a stand-out for me. Rachel Khong is back in Australia (her novel Goodbye Vitamin is utter perfection—my highlight from 2017), and I’m hoping to read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire (Bloomsbury), Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? (Giramondo), Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy and Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner (Text) before the festival kicks off in March.