Held biennially since 1997, the Big West Festival has grown into Melbourne’s premiere community-based contemporary arts festival. 2009 sees the biggest program yet with 60 events over ten days, involving 325 artists and 500 collaborators from the many voices and cultures that comprise Melbourne’s western suburbs.

In the lead up to Opening night, Australian Stage’s Paul Andrew spoke to director, Karen Hadfield.

Karen HadfieldWhat features do you feel distinguishes Big West from other Melbourne Arts Festivals?
The fact that it's a community based contemporary arts festival sets it apart from many others. It is about engaging communities not just as audience but as creators of the work, it is process driven and the outcome is presented at the festival. Big West also provides a presentation platform for other community arts organisations.

Tell me about the festival's broad theme "Home is Where the Art Is" - who or what inspired this theme?
It is my attempt to demystify Art, it was a phrase that popped into my head – as a person who loves a pun – after I had been investigating the debate regarding art in the everyday. It was also a response to the varying attitudes toward art by the myriad communities residing in the western suburbs and realizing that the anglo-european approach to art was not adopted by many other cultures. It also speaks to the history of the western suburbs that of migration and dispossession.

Art isn't elite, it's the grace that surrounds us in a myriad of forms. The festival foregrounds the everydayness of art in our lives - how so?
By presenting work that is accessible, in your house, someone’s backyard, non traditional venues, out in the open, where everyone can engage with it. It is not behind closed doors or costs a fortune. We take the show to the people.

Can you tell me something of the most scintillating responses by artists to this year's theme?
Translations - Generations investigates the theme through generations of Vietnamese families and their stories;
John Bolton’s Life Lines, takes the performance into your home, you invite the audience that makes for an intimate and very special evening;
The Writer’s Pyre, set in a backyard. There is not the traditional performer/audience relationship rather everyone is part of the event. You are invited to bring some writing that needs to be exorcised; read it aloud and then commit it to the fire. The world will be a better place without it!
The Big Backyard showcases musicians from the western suburbs and in particular the Heartland Mix brings together musicians from the Horn of Africa Nations in one giant concert.
The program at the Dancing Dog is a diversity of music, theatre and readings; it’s a venue that seats 42 so its intimate and very personal.

Tell me about Big Knit - the artistic collaboration with textiles - this has a performative side too I imagine?
The Big Knit is the biggest project we have undertaken to date. Three artists have been invited over from the US to cover the stockbridge that crosses the Maribyrnong River in bright fluorescent PVC knit. 79 metres long 5 metres high knitting – can’t beat it! Its visual art but will have a performative element in that we will be celebrating the completion of the installation with a massive Flashdance across the bridge – silly I know, but a lot of fun!

And the Visual Arts stream that you think will be particularly engaging for audiences?
Art Vend is one of my personal favorites; a vending machine will be installed at the Footscray Station and for 2 bucks, you can buy yourself you own miniature piece of art to contemplate on your journey on the train to work.

The Festival kicks off with a stage spectacular on Friday 20 November
The opening on the 20th is actually more ceremony than spectacle, a smoking ceremony and Dragon Dance at the Quang Minh Temple where a massive land art work has been installed; a collaboration between the Temple Community and Glenn Romanis

What do you feel will make this year's festival memorable?
That is for the audience and participants to decide!

Any handy tips for this years festival goers?
See everything, do everything, December is for sleeping!

The Big West Festival runs Nov 20 - 29, 2009. Full program details»

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