Adamstown Arts: Mercedes Bullock and Rod Pattenden, By Ryan Williams / by Ryan Williams

If you’ve ever seen a TV, you may or may not have seen a little movie called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a movie about a giant factory where the staff make chocolate for a living. This factory is huge. Bigger than Onesteel. Huge.

When I went to Adamstown Church to meet Adamstown Arts co-coordinators Mercedes Bullock and Rod Pattenden this month, I couldn’t help but feel like I was Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But instead of chocolate-making equipment and Oompa Loompas, there are community action groups and live music venues. It is a huge creative hub. At the end of this month they host Inspiracy, a four-day creative festival, hosted at the church and surroundings. As I said before, I got the golden ticket and met these guys for a chat.

Mercedes Bullock

So as a small introduction – what is everyone's relationship to the church?

Mercedes: I have recently jumped on board as the Adamstown Arts Project Coordinator. I work in a church, but my role is separate to the church itself. For me, it’s a space used for wider arts hub and a live music venue. I met Rod through other creative people doing things here at the space – we connected that way. 

Rod: I’ve been involved in running Adamstown Arts for about four years now. It's an evolution of a long, long history of music and performance art here. I have a background in the visual arts in the Sydney industry; that's how I came to get the job here. 


Adam Price said the Dungeon was primarily was a jazz venue in the past?

R: Yes, Dungeon Jazz is something that people would probably connect with the space. Upstairs is being utilised as an auditorium at the same time – any week we can have a range from classical to jazz to contemporary stuff. Some small theatre and choir groups use our facilities for workshops and training – it's been particularly good having everything air-conditioned. We were running a whole heap of stuff here, so we brought it all under the umbrella of Adamstown Arts as a way to communicate that we are a creative space. 

We are very proud to say that we don't need to run poker machines to pay our bills and we can offer the space at a reduced cost. This is hopefully making some creative endeavours happen that may not have gotten on their feet in the first place. It's gotten to a stage now where we need some more help, hence hiring new staff in the wonderfully creative Mercedes. 


Andrew Brassington

It all sounds very open.

M: Absolutely. I think that's the most exciting thing about the Dungeon – it's so versatile. We have the ability to host all-ages events really easily, and the space to do it comfortably. We have the capacity to fit 200 people.  At the same time, it's still a really great place to have a few drinks and watch some live music. It's a really nice atmosphere and there is always so much happening here – from an all-ages surf punk rock show on a Saturday to a jazz concert on a Sunday.

I have a background in mental health and community development and I'm finding this space and community very supportive of amplifying social justice issues through creative platforms. Outside of my career, within my personal life, live music, art and creative activities have really been at the forefront of my identity for a very long time. At Adamstown Arts I have the opportunity to merge my love of the arts with my experience working in community development. I can mentor and support people as well as advocating some really awesome stuff to the community.


Can you tell me about Inspiracy?

R: Sure. Inspiracy is a four-day festival, this year on Thursday 17th to Sunday 20th of May. There is a really broad mixture of art, performance, conference talks, music and food we’re really excited about. This is the second one we've run here; it’s a big step up from last year.

Is Inspiacy a made-up word?

R: Yes it is! Kind of like combining the ideas behind conspiracy and inspiration. It's a little bit subversive. A slow change we might not be noticing. 

Is there a theme for the festival each year?

R: This year we've taken on the tagline 'A Climate For Change'. We're looking at the issues surrounding climate change, but there are other concerns as well. We have an Aboriginal speaker, and many performers with a refugee background or focus. There's a broad range of stuff happening. I feel if you're going to change the world in the face of climate change, there's more to it under the surface than that. 

What was the inspiration to start this?

R: We've been working with Jenny Burns from Merewether Uniting Church, who runs a Tuesday free meal for people doing it tough. They were beginning to integrate choir music and other things into the night. We wanted to go further into that: using creative arts to help people to empower their lives. That and networking with some other people who might be on the same path. To me, I really love the creative side of it. It enlivens people. 

At the moment we're looking for young people, aged 12–22, to enter the film competition we're holding as part of the festival. We're really interested in asking the questions: What is concerning our young people? How do you see the future?  

Is there a quality limitation to enter? You'd be happy to shoot it all on a phone?

R: Absolutely. The only limitation is the four-minute runtime. The subject matter will probably lend itself to a grungy style. That screening is on the night of Thursday 17th May, and it opens the festival. Nardean, an Egyptian-Australian spoken word artist, will be performing – I can see that the room will come alive with her. After that we'll look at the finalists and make the awards. If this goes well, I'd really love to make this an annual event.  

Can you take me through the rest of the festival program?

R: Friday is an eco-theology discussion. While it's a bit more religious, we think by activating local churches to think and discuss climate change, it can get a further message across. We have some of Australia's top speakers in that area coming along. Penny Dunstan, an artist who has just finished her PhD at UoN, is doing an installation in the church of a tree that has been burnt and bandaged. She's working on bowls made of earth and soil samples from around the Hunter Valley. As these lose their moisture they will crumble away back to earth, which nurtures all life. 

Friday night we will have Anne Elvey, a poet and eco-feminist from Melbourne, coming to read for us. Also Luke Vassella, a young contemporary songwriter, bringing his Johnny Cash style of performance along. He's really concerned with green issues and it feeds into his songwriting a great deal. As well as these artists we also have Andrew Styan, a Newcastle artist of the same vein. That night we'll have four artists, really investigating whether art changes anything – does it make a difference? Do things change through the actions of people who work with the imagination? It’s a great question to play with.

On Saturday we're going down to Merewether and we'll be doing a heap of workshops on sustainability. How to turn your backyard into your breadbasket, how to develop community gardens, how to be an activist and things like that. A real hands-on experience for a bunch of different concepts. Phil Glendenning, the president of the Australian Refugee Council, will be talking about citizenship: what it means to be an Australian in the face of refugees, climate change in the Pacific Islands, among other things.

Saturday night is Expresso – five lots of musicians performing in the Dungeon at the Adamstown Church. Trish Watts, a really amazing singer who has done a whole lot of work with choirs in respite care and hospices, is putting together a pop-up choir, which is really exciting. Roje Ndayambaje, a 21-year-old East African spoken word poet with English as his sixth language, will be doing a reading. He escaped his home with his mother in the middle of a massacre – he has some amazing work about being a refugee and coming to Australia, and what that means. Rachel Collis, Heather Price and Berias Masseque and his seven-piece Afro-fusion band will also be performing. I've also been told there will be gourmet Vietnamese refreshments on offer. 

Sunday, for people who are involved in the church, will have some services in the morning. Later Trish Watts will be offering workshops in expressing yourself through voice and community expression.

M: A big four days!

R: We've partnered with a lot of different community and climate action groups for the festival. We would love to engage as many different groups of people as possible to create a really open dialogue around these issues – how we are as a social structure. My hope is we create some sort of thinking and action around this, about what sort of world we want to live in.

It's not particularly religious, and that's really important to us. The church is involved, but we're not trying to convert anybody. It's about having a conversation around these issues. I really just love the creative side of it. It enlivens people. 

How can people find out more and buy tickets?

R: Check out our website,

M: In summary, my new role at Adamstown Arts is to activate and promote art and cultural activities. I am keen to amplify the all-ages live music scene and nourish opportunities for artists, musicians and creative groups. Newcastle is blossoming with creative people. There are many electric subcultures of artists, musicians and collectives in Newcastle. I become very dreamy and starry-eyed over the talent pouring in and out of this fab and growing city and there are many opportunities to influence social and environmental change through art and community cultural development. It’s such a thrill to be surrounded by so many creative, inspiring and eclectic humans. Check out our Facebook and Instagram for upcoming events.

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