For the Love of ACE – An oral history of one collaborator’s experience with Arts and Cultural Exchange

My public history project is a half-hour interview with a long-time collaborator with Arts and Cultural Exchange (ACE) about her experiences with the organisation. Hawanatu Bangaru, a filmmaker and social worker originally from Sierra Leone, has been involved with ACE since 2009 and has collaborated on many projects over that time, while benefiting from numerous opportunities including placements and training.

The ultimate form this interview will be presented in on ACE’s website has yet to be fully agreed upon, but will likely take the form of a profile of Hawanatu and a couple of short testimonies I have pulled from the longer interview, potentially in both audio and transcript form.

The argument implicit in my project is that the work ACE does in collaboration with marginalised or disadvantaged communities matters. It matters in the way the programs ACE runs provide opportunities to people who would have seriously struggled to find them otherwise: opportunities to learn and practice new skill sets; for career growth, guidance and networking; for developing creative outlets; for cultural rejuvenation and celebration. It certainly had that impact for my interviewee, Hawanatu Bangaru.

The main themes that emerged through the interview were of opportunities that would have otherwise been hard (or impossible) to come by; of long-term committed support and encouragement from ACE for the community of creative’s it has grown; of a dedication to inclusivity and overcoming structural barriers for disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. All of these themes link back to the central argument of the project, as they are proof of why ACE matters to the communities it services. The support ACE offers these communities is enduring, passionate and has a concrete, positive, measurable impact on their lives.

My hope is that the beneficiaries of this project will include ACE itself, the communities it serves (and hopes to serve), and potentially anybody who cares about the social history of Western Sydney. ACE will benefit by having a detailed testimony they can use in advertising, on their website and potentially when seeking grants. The communities it serves will benefit largely as a direct result of this activity – more grants equals more opportunities for the marginalised and disadvantaged communities of Western Sydney, while having the testimony on ACE’s website may convince individuals to reach out and get in contact with ACE. Despite the organisations significance and long history, it does sometimes fly under the radar in the local community (I myself only became aware of ACE as an adult, even though I live in the area and have a long interest in the arts), so any possibility another person can be convinced to get involved because of that testimony would be a significant service. My hope is that by providing ACE with the full interview – transcription, audio and video – for their archives, it can maybe be of use one day to anybody else seeking to explore the history of Western Sydney. In that context, this project may just be a small piece of a much larger puzzle, but that still seems a valuable contribution.

Arts & Cultural Exchange

I’ve grown up and lived the majority of my life in Western Sydney, and during much of that time I saw my area as being essentially barren when it came to the arts and any related opportunities. It often seemed to me that the disadvantages of the west were immutable and unscaleable. I was wrong, very wrong in fact, but it’s a pretty pervasive mentality out west. Deadset on proving people like young-me wrong are institutions like the Arts and Cultural Exchange (ACE – https://ice.org.au ) in Parramatta.

I first became aware of ACE by its former name ICE (Information & Cultural Exchange) through a band mate who facilitated workshops with Neurodivergent musicians – and it was quite eye-opening to find an organisation with the kind of facilities and programs that it does snuggled right in the heart of my West. I later had the pleasure of using one of its recording studios (for a later abandoned project, alas), and attending a night of First Nation punk bands performing in their space.

ACE’s audio suite

ACE has gone through several name changes and shifts in the methodology of its mission since its inception in 1984 – so much so that the arts and creativity were not strictly involved when it was founded as a van providing information to disadvantaged communities – but combating social injustice and embracing cultural diversity has always been at its core. Access to technology and information has also always been an important part of ACEs aims.

The venue, which can be reconfigured as a performance space

Today, ACE runs five program streams – First Nations, Youth Engagement, Multicultural Women, Neurodivergent Artists and Aged Care, and Screen Media – all of which produce interdisciplinary, intergenerational projects designed and run in collaboration with the communities in question. Many of these projects harken back to ACE’s origins when it aimed to provide information, but significantly expanded to include access to technology, skills training and creative, entrepreneurial experience. These projects are often groundbreaking in their approach and life-changing for the communities who participate. So my project idea is to profile individuals who have significantly interacted with ACE, and explore the ways the organisation has impacted their lives. Something that came up in my meeting with ACE was the feedback they’d received of how much love for the organisation and its programs there was amongst participants. It’d be great to tap into that love, and find out why it’s touched people so deeply for so long. These profiles can then hopefully be paired with ACE’s new website they’re designing to coincide with their recent rebrand.