Street Plan: The Big Brainstorm - photo by James Henry
Displacement affects everyone

In its fourth iteration of a 5 year preparedness initiative, this year Arts House’s 'Refuge' project will respond to displacement. By introducing alternative perspectives, ideas and processes, 'Refuge' creates a platform for artists to motivate and influence future planning for emergency situations and climate crisis.

Over the past 4 years, 'Refuge' has inspired experts from Emergency Management Victoria, Australian Red Cross, the SES and other emergency service providers to consider the different approaches that arts practice can contribute when preparing for disaster responses and recovery. As the climate crisis continues to amplify the impacts associated with displacement become more complex – it’s an ongoing urgent economic, social and existential threat to countries and people throughout the world. 

Everyone in Australia is impacted by displacement. It’s a form of social disruption caused by a number of factors that may include gentrification or people in exile, migration or political situations.

The climate crisis is a serious driver that now impacts displacement across the globe. It’s propelling an increasing number of people to relocate from vulnerable places to more viable areas in order to survive and build new lives.

Last year the World Bank forecast that over one hundred and forty million people in 3 regions (Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America) could be displaced due to the climate crisis by 2050. It will be people forced to move due to growing problems like water scarcity, crop failure, sea-level rise and storm surges.

Recently the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlighted that weather-related hazards worldwide (including storms, cyclones, floods, droughts, wildfires and landslides) displaced 16.1 million people last year. This month in Australia, ABC News reported that former Australian Defence Force chief, Admiral Chris Barrie, said Australia would be seen as the land of opportunity for many people affected by climate emergencies.

At their recent meeting (Tuesday, 16 July 2019), the City of Melbourne – Future Melbourne Committee declared that climate change and mass species extinction pose serious risks to the people of Melbourne and Australia, and should be treated as an emergency. While displacement is embedded in so many periods of Australian history, 'Refuge' identifies and acknowledges that displaced circumstances can positively shape and influence future progress and possibilities.

Discussions and conversations will play a large component of the 'Refuge' 2019 program, with the North Melbourne School of Displacement and Ruth Crow Corner being a focal point that will bring diverse communities, emergency services, experts and First Nations voices together. Offering an alternative way to learn, and led by artist, architect and founder of SquatSpace Artist Collective Keg de Souza and Wirlomin Noongar collaborator Claire G. Coleman (writer of the award-winning Terra Nullius), the North Melbourne School of Displacement is a communal retreat and massive installation of salvaged tents that will take over the main hall inside the North Melbourne Town Hall. 

With a series of discussions led by a number of experts focusing on dispossession and displacement, the North Melbourne School of Displacement emphasises that learning should not be confined to institutions and instead become more inclusive, accessible and connected to the community. Running alongside a range of family workshops, information sessions  and emergency preparedness activities run by Red Cross Australia and Emergency Management Victoria, Lorna Hannan’s Ruth Crow Corner is a space to share a cuppa and conversations with neighbours or friends.

For over fifty years Hannan has lived in North Melbourne and witnessed the evolution of the area which makes her the perfect host to share and retell her stories - and also a great magnet to extract other people’s ideas and experiences. Jen Rae’s Portage is a series of workshops, a walk and an installation in collaboration with architectural designers Mittul Vahanvati and Munir Vahanvati (Giant Grass), and intercultural master weavers Vicki Kinai, Bronwyn Razem, Dr Vicki Couzens, Kirsten Lyttle, Abshiro Hussein and Muhubo Sulieman.

Introducing survival skills for a climate emergency, Portage will teach participants to build sustainable structures alongside residents from local housing estates from The Venny, Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre, Kensington Neighbourhood House and North Melbourne Language and LearningOver 5 days, Portage: Raft Workshop will introduce basic building skills using bamboo as well as collaboratively constructing a suite of vessels that will form part of an immersive installation. Portage: Flotilla, which will also feature a soothing and meditative soundscape.

Peppered with real-life anecdotes and activities, Australian Red Cross team up with artist Kate Sulan to deliver In Case of… RediPlan Workshop which offers new practical, emotional and social approaches for people to be prepared during an emergency situation. Since 'Refuge' 2017, Sulan has worked with St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre students to review and suggest new ways that could be incorporated into the vital and simple RediPlan. These tips will keep people entertained, comfortable and feeling safe during a crisis.

Removing all the bureaucracy and red tape, Street Plan: The Big Brainstorm will challenge the community to take back the power and develop their own safety and emergency plans with the SES and local people using local knowledge to provide local solutions. 'Refuge 2019 – Displacement' will culminate in a community gathering over a meal hosted by Seini TaumoepeauWords Nourish Neighbours is a feast of words and food that introduces new ways to meet neighbours and prepare for climate crisis.

Take refuge at Arts House and leave with a plan! 'Refuge 2019 – Displacement' is supported with funding provided by: the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts and funding and advisory body; the University of Melbourne; and Emergency Management Victoria. It is supported by Resilient Melbourne; Australian Red Cross; SES Footscray Division; The Venny; Carlton Neighbourhood Learning Centre; North Melbourne Language and Learning; Kensington Neighbourhood House; Museums Victoria; and the City of Melbourne through the Park Rangers and Arts House

Dates: 24 August – 7 September 2019
Location: Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall 
Address: 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Bookings: or (03) 9322 3720

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