Meet alumna Jessica O’Brien, Channels Festival 2019 Program Manager

Banner image: Almagul Menlibayeva, Transoxiana Dream (video still), 2011.
Courtesy of American-Eurasian Art Advisors LLC.

Rolling out over twelve venues across Melbourne, the 2019 Channels Festival highlights Australian and international artists working across video and performance from 24 August–15 September.

Channels Festival Program Manager and Master of Art Curatorship alumna Jessica O’Brien introduces us to some of the program highlights and explains how this festival reflects on the urgent, unstable and fluid nature of our times.

Jessica O’Brien
Jessica O'Brien, Channels Festival Program Manager
and Master of Art Curatorship Alumna, Photo: Dave Baker

How did you get involved with the 2019 Channels Festival?

Since graduating from the Master of Art Curatorship program in 2011, I’ve had a real mix of arts-related jobs – from working at a fine art auction house, to working on touring exhibitions and running an international residency program. I have always wanted to expand my experience working in festivals, so when I saw the Program Manager role advertised last year I applied immediately.

What does a day in the life of a Festival Program manager look like?

This role is incredibly varied, but essentially involves tracking the development of the festival while keeping a close eye on deadlines and budgets. My day could involve everything from liaising with artists and partners, to sourcing equipment, applying for a grant or learning how to install VR equipment.

In order to work successfully in a role like this, you need to be able to problem solve and work collaboratively, while working towards delivering the best program possible.

This year we were fortunate to secure a desk at ACMI X, ACMI’s co-working space, through their partnership with the University of Melbourne. It’s been a really fantastic experience to share an office with so many other creative people, and the collaboration and networking opportunities there have been invaluable.

What advice would you have for people keen to break into the arts festival world?

I would recommend jumping on any opportunity that will help you learn new skills and expand your networks, even if it isn’t traditional paid work. The art world can be incredibly competitive, so volunteering, becoming involved in Artist Run Spaces and developing your own creative projects is a great way to expand your experience once you’ve graduated.

Some of the 2019 Festival team: Clockwise from top left: Kelli Alred, Jessica O'Brien, Laura Couttie, Pamela Arce, Maria Teresa Tavares. Photo: Clare Rae
Some of the 2019 Festival team: Clockwise from top left: Kelli Alred, Jessica O'Brien, Laura Couttie,
Pamela Arce, Maria Teresa Tavares. Photo: Clare Rae

Why have a whole festival dedicated to video art?

When the festival was founded in 2012 by three Melbourne-based artists there was nothing of its kind in Australia. Operating with an artist-collective model over the last six years, Channels Festival has built a strong community and expanded the appreciation of video art practice in Melbourne and beyond. At its core, this festival is about using contemporary technology to explore contemporary concerns and ideas.

For the 2019 festival, many of the artists are using creative strategies to reimagine, reclaim and reassert new narratives, foregrounding First Nations, feminist and queer perspectives.

CROSSLUCID, PRIMER, 2019. Courtesy of the artists.
CROSSLUCID, PRIMER, 2019. Courtesy of the artists.

What are your program highlights?

It’s hard to pick just a few, but as you read this (we are two thirds of the way through the festival) there is still time to check out some great exhibitions and events:

Longitudes, Latitudes and Legacies – Saturday 7 September: This one-day symposium held at the National Gallery of Victoria includes video art screenings, lecture performances and panel discussions. Rarely seen historical works by artists such as Marina Abramovic and Joan Jonas will be interwoven with commentary from contemporary Australian artists. Highlights include a special lecture performance by video and performance art pioneer Mike Parr.

Video VisionsSunday 15 September: Video Visions is Channels Festival's flagship open-call program, running since the inaugural festival in 2013. Presented as a feature-length cinema screening at Cinema Nova, the 2019 program showcases the current energy and direction of video art.

Composite Acts – Saturday 21 September: This one-night-onlyexhibition and performance will present a newly commissioned video work by David Rosetzky. Choreographed by Jo Lloyd, this video work will be accompanied by live performances by Shelley Lasica and Harrison Ritchie-Jones, sculptural works by Sean Meilak and a live music composition by Duane Morrison. This special event will mark the close of the festival.

Channels Festival takes place between 24 August–15 September at venues across Melbourne including the NGV, ACCA, Abbotsford Convent, The SUBSTATION, BLINDSIDE, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Blak Dot Gallery, ACMI X and more.

View the full program and purchase tickets.

Channels Festival is offering Faculty of Arts alumni free tickets to Longitudes, Latitudes and Legacies (Sat 7 Sep), Video Visions (Sun 15 Sep) and Composite Acts (Sat 21 Sep). Enter the code MelbUniCF2019 at checkout. Two tickets available per person. Available until allocation is exhausted.