It’s 2 degrees and dark. I drag myself out of bed and hop on my bike, hands chapped and  breathing frigid air fumes.

What for? To warm up my intellectual muscle at Next Wave’s Breakfast Club.

Next Wave is a biennial arts festival which celebrates independent, local artists and the Breakfast Club is a free event that’s happening over four weeks in June and July at The Wheeler Centre. It’s a forum for exploring how different social and intellectual issues can inform artists and creatives in their work and conversely, how art can interact with our every day lives.

Bright and early at 8am about 100 people gathered for coffee from Small Batch and a healthy breakfast pot by Yoghurt Culture (cost by donation) and a dose of artistic and intellectual discussion before most of us have had our first caffeine hit and checked our inbox. I was attending as a ‘Live Scribe’ and live tweeted the speakers and the group discussions I listened in on during the 60 minute session.

The topic for the morning was ‘Nurture over nature? How does your family shape your relationship with art?‘. During the hour we listened to Phuong Ngo, an artist who is second generation Vietnamese and son of refugees; Steaphan Paton an artist of Aboriginal descent; and Jo Case, an author who has just published a family memoir around her son’s Asperger’s.

Each person discussed their work and ended their presentation with a series of provocations to stimulate conversations amongst strangers sitting at each table.

You can listen to a podcast of the speakers on Soundcloud or iTunes so there’s no need for me to repeat what was said. But the speakers and discussions did get me thinking about certain issues – as a migrant, as an Australian, as a mother and as a blogger:

  • When you’re a migrant your family’s history includes a recurring theme of displacement and the tyranny of distance. Sometimes old photos are the only link to the past.
  • So many Australians have an immigration history or story. We really are a nation of migrants and we often forget that in social and political debate.
  • Many Australians know very little about Aboriginal culture and art. Even simple things like do you know whose traditional lands we’re on today? Do you know how to say welcome in that language? I’m certainly guilty of that ignorance.
  • ‘I don’t like it’ is often just another means of saying ‘I don’t understand it’.
  • When you write about your family, you need to consider the consequences of revealing private lives, your responsibility to represent real people in a certain way and when to reveal or not reveal information. A family memoir can affect the way the family sees themselves and you need to be ready for the fallout.
  • Artists are often educators but you can only work with your own experience. Often when you share your story you open up a conversation for others.

The speakers and the discussions convinced me to make certain resolutions:

  • I will make sure that my kids talk about and learn about both sides of their family history – second generation Chinese and seventh generation Anglo.
  • I will take my kids to visit galleries with indigenous art and read them more stories about indigenous culture.
  • If I write about my family I will involve them in the process and ensure that they are comfortable with the details that I’m sharing about their lives.

What surprised me about the discussions was that everyone was willing to share personal stories and very often the topic segued away from the topic to anecdotes about social histories, childhood experiences, interactions with indigenous culture, family dynamics and raising children.

There are no right or wrong answers to these big questions. What Next Wave’s Breakfast Club highlights is the intellectual, artistic, curious and sharing natures of Melburnians. I came away from the morning energised and loving the fact that Melbourne has the time and space to support these sort of stimulating discussions and that we live in a city that’s enriched by art and debate.

Book now for the last two Breakfast Club events as they sell out (though you can walk up on the day):

Image by Next Wave