22 April, 2020
Arts Centre Melbourne is for all Victorians, and no one was a more strident supporter of this vision than Betty Amsden - a certified “arts angel” and chronic joiner-inner. The 2019 iteration of the Betty Amsden Participation Program, Those Who Rock, saw Hamer Hall erupt with rock music and spark a true community spirit.
A key supporter of Arts Centre Melbourne’s public programs, Betty Amsden shared her passion for the arts for more than 30 years until her death in 2017 at age 90. A passionate advocate for the human rights of creativity, Betty lives on through the projects that she so generously enabled.
In 2014 she founded the Betty Amsden Participation Program with Arts Centre Melbourne - an annual community event that inspires people from all over Melbourne to get involved and tap into their imagination.
“The Betty Amsden Participation Program produces high-caliber, large-scale works that are inclusive, fun, and filled with opportunities for creative participation by anyone – no matter their skill level,” says Arts Centre Melbourne’s Head of Creative Engagement, Angharad Wynne-Jones.
“It was my first major time on stage, and it was exhilarating.”
Rehearsal images from Those Who Rock, 2019
Those Who Rock embraced Melbourne’s love of live music culture, as well as the joy of learning, communing and performing. The project saw close to 200 guitarists of all ages from across Melbourne join together in one massive, free community concert.
Hosted by Brian Nankervis of RocKwiz on the Hamer Hall stage, Those Who Rock brought together nine different community groups from Frankston, Fitzroy, Dandenong, Werribee, Banyule, Broadmeadows, Sunshine, Doncaster and Furlong, under the banner of rock ‘n’ roll.
Participants ranged from 8 years old to 70 - from the Werribee Concert Band (who rehearsed in a garden shed), to the vocalist of all-female tribute band AC/DSHE. The project was an open invitation to anyone who plays the guitar, from literal first-timers to hardened rock-dogs. Each group spent two months rehearsing a different song from the Aussie and international rock canon, as well as a joint finale song – “For Those About to Rock” by AC/DC.
These community groups were joined on stage by Australian music legends Adalita, Vika and Linda Bull, Ella Hooper and Yirrmal, as well as members of the RocKwiz Orkestra and Paul Kelly’s band, performing the likes of John Farnham, Queen and Daryl Braithwaite.
“The feel of the community spirit was electric. It was quite possibly the best experience I have ever had and to be able to do it with my 12 year old son really was priceless.”
The Melbourne-wide participatory event was the brain-child of internationally acclaimed artist Joseph O’Farrell, who goes by his initials, JOF. Shifting his time between London and Melbourne, JOF creates large-scale installation and theatre works with and for communities. While he doesn’t play the guitar, JOF is an enthusiastic drummer and artist whose work engages with communities to celebrate diversity, often in hilarious and unlikely ways.
“What really interests me about an event like this is building bridges between buildings like Arts Centre Melbourne and the people who might not readily access a theatre space, a gallery space or a cultural building,” he said. “This project is a really exciting opportunity to engage a whole heap of people, welcome them through these big scary doors and go hey – let’s rock out on one of the biggest stages in Melbourne.”
The Betty Amsden Participation Program goes from strength to strength. “With Betty’s support along with other partners, these projects not only create large-scale, public participatory experiences, but critically, develop the capacity of Australian artists to create works of scale and deep engagement,” says Angharad.