Putting the pedal to the metal of a NSW arts career

Travis De Vries, 2016 NSW Accelerate recipient. Photography by Mark Gambino © British Council

Travis De Vries, 2016 NSW Accelerate recipient. Photography by Mark Gambino © British Council

If you wanted to pin down just what sort of artist Travis De Vries is, you might struggle.

A visual artist who spent three years as a dancer with Bangarra, a writer who also works as a curator at the Sydney Opera House, a choreographer and musician who’s also a photographer in his spare time – ‘multidisciplinary’ doesn’t really begin to cover it. Multi-talented? Now you’re getting closer.

De Vries has just been announced as one of five participants in ACCELERATE 2016, a triennial arts development initiative run by the British Council and the Australia Council in partnership with Arts NSW. ACCELERATE provides intensive professional development for mid-career Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts practitioners, helping them develop their leadership capabilities and build networks within the international arts community.

“I’ve had my eye on ACCELERATE for a couple of years now – I’ve seen a few people I know go through it. This year, I thought okay, I’m in a place within my career at the Opera House and within my artistic career that I’m looking for the next step of development,” says De Vries, who spent a year studying visual arts at Deakin University before switching to dance at the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association.

But when you’re Travis De Vries, how do you choose which of your artistic capabilities to develop? Despite a career that includes performing at the Lincoln Centre with Bangarra and the Australian Ballet, being listed as a finalist in the NSW Parliament Aboriginal Art Prize, and coordinating the Homeground Festival and Vivid Live at the Opera House, these days he’s pretty firmly focused on one particular project.

“I’m currently working on a collection of short stories, which is exploring Indigenous traditions in a contemporary setting,” he says, adding that his experience as an artist has helped him visualise the stories.

“I’m taking Indigenous myths and legends and gods and creatures and characters and popping them down in the middle of Sydney, in the middle of contemporary Australia and exploring them through a fresh point of view.”

This work, coupled with the three years experience in arts management at the Opera House, will guide the development opportunities he accesses through his participation in ACCELERATE. These include a three-day intensive leadership program, followed by a series of professional placements in the UK.

The leadership workshop took place in regional Victoria in August this year, and brought participants together with a facilitator to explore the concept of leadership in the arts, and to build their own leadership capabilities.

“Within both the arts and Indigenous community, there are a lot of different types of leaders, so how you fit into that kind of landscape is a choice. I think the three-day session was a really good way to sit back and take stock,” he says.

“It’s given me the tools and probably the insight to choose how to grow into a leader, and what that could mean.”

De Vries is now in the process of planning his UK trip, which he hopes will bring him into contact with some of his favourite creative practitioners, including Sir Fergus Linehan, Director of the Edinburgh Festival, and graphic novelist Grant Morrison.

Despite having lived the artist’s life for many years now, De Vries hesitates when asked what advice he’d give to those pursuing a creative career – he finds it hard to tell people how to approach such a deeply individual experience.

“It’s important to focus on what you want to achieve, and what the stories are that you want to tell. Don’t try to fit someone else’s mould,” he says.

“That, and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. That’s the only reason I’ve had any success in my career, and as an artist, is that I’ve asked other people to support me, and then worked hard to prove that they should have.”


In its seventh successful year, ACCELERATE provides Aboriginal Australians working within the creative industries with the skills and networks to generate, take up and excel in leadership positions. ACCELERATE is aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from across Australia who have at least five years experience in the creative industries and can demonstrate a bold vision for where they want to take their career and their community.

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Published: 16 September 2016