My career: Cathy Craigie

From staying motivated to career advice, we take a look at the professional lives of some of the most prominent people working in art and culture in NSW.

Aboriginal arts and media specialist Cathy Craigie

Aboriginal arts and media specialist Cathy Craigie


Name: Cathy Craigie

Current job title: Executive Director, First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN)

Previous positions held:
General Manager, Gadigal Information Service/Koori Radio
Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, The Australia Council
Deputy Director, NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs

Describe your career in three words.
Living Life Large!

Did you always want a career in the arts?
When I was young I wanted to be an optometrist! I realised later, that the reason for this was, I was interested in designing the glasses and not the science of it! So I guess that I was always interested in art from an early age. I was also an avid reader and my favourite teacher in primary school was the librarian. I would even buy everyone in my family books for Christmas, knowing that I would end up with them. They of course weren’t as appreciative! From books, I developed a love of writing. My favourite subject at school was ‘Composition’ and I remember trying really hard to be as descriptive as I could. I think I described a storm with ten words in one sentence!
The funny thing is that even though I was interested in writing as my own artistic practice, I had a wider interest in other arts. This has often led me to not being able to develop my own craft at the expense of developing pathways for others.

What has been one of the most pivotal moments in your career?
I witnessed the power and passion of Aboriginal people in 1988, the Bicentenary year. The march to Belmore Park form Redfern was an emotional experience for many of us. I was living in the country with my newborn child and came down for the march. At the time, Radio Redfern was a program on a small community radio, Skid Row. This little radio service from out of an old run down terrace in Redfern, played a pivotal part in informing the thousands of people who had travelled from all parts of Australia. Unfortunately, the radio service could only be heard in the inner city. This was the inspiration for wanting to set up a 24 hour radio service for the large Aboriginal community living in Sydney. I moved back to the city, finished a communications degree that I had left for a few years and got involved in community radio. Two years later, we had a committee to start the process of obtaining a radio licence. These were not easy to come by and Sydney being the most saturated airwaves in Australia, we had to wait a long time for frequencies to become available. It took many years later before a community radio licence was available. We had a competitive process but eventually won the license. As it took many years before being successful, we were able to focus on developing an arts program. Today, Gadigal Information Services is still operating Koori Radio and delivering great artistic projects. When I am in the car and I listen to Koori Radio, I have a sense of pride that I was involved in getting it started.

How do you stay inspired and motivated at work?
I am presently working in a position where I get to read lots of books and interact with writers. For a kid who loved books, this is Nirvana!

When was the last time you had a creative outburst?
I am always having creative outbursts but being busy with family and work means that sometimes these outbursts remain words on paper!

How do you remain on top of arts and cultural trends?
It is important to keep up to date with what is happening in your sector. Networks are the best source of information and often I will hear about a great project or initiative through someone else. Developing strong relationships within the sector and also outside of it is crucial for information.

How do you switch off at the end of the work day?
Sometimes I don’t! I go through stressful times, especially with deadlines and might work into the early hours of the morning. However I have committed myself to having specific time off during the week where it is just family and being a lounge lizard!

How have you seen the NSW arts and cultural sector evolve over time?
I believe that we have moved on from the traditional European concepts of art. We are embracing new technologies and are now more accepting of other cultural influences. Our governments have responded and we are seeing more public art.

What do you see as the role and value of arts and culture in societies?
Unfortunately many people see arts and culture as being a lifestyle or an extension of choice in your life. We are all born with innate artistic characteristics. One of the first things babies respond to is music. One of the first things they do is draw (even if it is on walls!). Art is a necessary part of all our lives. What would the world be without arts? I just hope that our current government could see the value of arts to our wellbeing and not just in financial terms. People need a way to express themselves!

Best advice you could offer someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Always take every opportunity to learn as much as you can about your work or artform. Having knowledge on all aspects gives you a better insight into a process or method. I always loved the theory of anything and believe this only enhances your work as an artist.



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Published: 29 May 2015