ICS Seminar - Sara Mansour, Cecelia Cmielewski, Robert Nugent

Value, Politics and Autonomy in the Arts

Event Details:

Date and Time: Thursday, 31 March, 11:30am - 1:00pm

Location: this seminar will be held online via Zoom. Please RSVP via email to e.blight@westernsydney.edu.au to receive the zoom details.

Chair: Dr Zelmarie Cantillon

Presenter: Sara Mansour, Dr Cecelia Cmielewski, Robert Nugent


How is art shaping public dialogues about representation, racism, value and labour? This year’s boycott of Sydney Festival sparked debates about the ways in which the relationship between artists, cultural institutions, the state and the public is shaped through conditions of funding. Amidst ongoing cuts to state funding for the sector, artists are faced with the hard choice between the cultural industries model of free market competition and the patronage of government institutions. Both choices have consequences for how the arts scene in the country is shaped, what art is supported and made visible and what isn’t. The boycott suggests that not only access to funding but also its refusal – as an act of artists’ autonomy – can be used as a force to shape the arts sector.

This panel opens up a larger discussion about representation, political critique through art, the shaping of a ‘national arts scene’ and issues of labour and precarity. How do independent and community-led arts spaces provide an alternative to established institutions, and how are they dependent on these institutions through funding? The panellists will share their own experiences in the arts sector and discuss how funding decisions intervene into a very heterogeneous field of cultural production.


Sara Mansour is the co-founder and artistic director of Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS), Australia's largest poetry slam. Founded in 2013, BPS has partnered with a number of leading organisations and festivals over the years such as Youtube, Sydney Festival, the Biennale of Sydney, Sydney Writers Festival and the Art Gallery of NSW, attracting crowds of over 900 people. Having graduated from a Bachelor of Laws from Western Sydney University in 2016, Sara is also a practising lawyer and board member of Monkey Baa Theatre Company, the Crescent Institute and Sweatshop. She uses her practise and her art to shed light on issues of political and social importance and to drive change. Sara has been heavily involved in community work and the arts since BPS' inception, performing and facilitating workshops locally and internationally, and curating "Real Talk" - an award winning inter-school poetry program which uses performance poetry as a medium to discuss contemporary social issues and empower young people in Western Sydney to find and use their voices. She is currently working on an exciting new project which will deliver Australia's first national youth poetry slam, to be held later this year.


Dr Cecelia Cmielewski is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University (WSU) and an arts industry leader with over thirty years’ experience in the cultural sector. She is the author of Creative Frictions: Arts Leadership, Policy and Practice in Multicultural Australia (2021, ANU Press). Her current research role is on the ARC funded The Collaborative Museum – Embedding Culture in the City (2021-2025). Cecelia was previously the research officer and contributing researcher on the ARC project UNESCO and the Making of Global Cultural Policy: Culture, Economy, Development. She was the project manager and contributing WSU researcher on the ARC-funded project Recalibrating Culture: Production, Consumption, Policy, and was a principal investigator on the ARC funded Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere. She held Senior Policy and Project Management roles at the Australia Council, the Federal Government’s arts funding and advisory agency between 1998 and 2011.


Rob Nugent is a filmmaker grappling with entanglements, mainly between human and nonhuman places and situations. His films employ and critique various documentary forms and perspectives. They have arisen from purposefully taking a camera on speculative expeditions to remote locations in Indonesia, Guinea, Iraq, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tanzania and Australia. He has worked as a war artist for the Australian War Memorial in Iraq and East Timor. 'End of the Rainbow' was the story of an eternal gold mine, wandering from one place to another on planet earth. It won international film awards and screened in Europe, the US and Australia.  ‘Memoirs of a Plague’, tackled the Locust story, heretically proposing that these Biblically imagined insects actually don’t cause famine. His last film, ‘Night Parrot Stories’, sought to reconcile western perspectives on a rare bird, with other ways of knowing and thinking about Australian geographies. His next film project, part of his PhD enquiry at Western Sydney University, is entitled “Space and the cinema of Planetary regard”. Rob would argue that how we have come to imagine Space is an eminently cinematic proposition, and a logical progression from the strange contortions Gold, Locusts and Parrots have created in our minds.