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Yirramboi ready to send Naarm into a Blak Out

Shannon McGuire -

Returning for its fourth iteration, the bi-annual event Yirramboi is about to crack open the heart of Naarm (Melbourne).

Yirramboi 2023 will rock the city with a ten-day festival featuring more than 300 First Nations creatives taking over Naarm laneways, streets and spaces from 4-14 May; creating a citywide "Blak out" with 170 shows taking place across 40 Melbourne venues and locations and more than 80 per cent of the program making an Australian debut.

Yirramboi, which means 'tomorrow' in the local languages of the Boonwurrung and Woi-wurrung people of the Kulin Nations, celebrates some of the most exciting First Nations creatives in Australia and beyond, giving the stories of 'now' back to the lands that have held them for over 80,000 years.

Leading the festival this year are Taungurung woman Sherene Stewart together with Wakka Wakka and Kabi Kabi man J'Maine Beezley. No strangers to the event, the pair met at the festival in 2017, working front of house and in ticketing before using the opportunity to gather experience and skills firsthand as they worked with creatives from all corners of the industry.

"We have been living and breathing this festival and the arts community since 2017," Stewart said.

"We have learned, witnessed and experienced every aspect of the festival. The opportunities it provides to creatives in the way of development are incredible."

Stewart and Beezley have worked tirelessly with their team creating a space that is culturally safe and inclusive, describing their approach to leadership to that of a community structure.

"We like to work in a way where we're decolonizing the mainstream ways of working and going, okay, let's work as a collective. A collective way of working, is essentially a black way of working," said Stewart.

"We don't do this alone. We understand that every creative plays a part in making this festival successful."

J'Maine Beezley and Sherene Stewart at Art Centre Melbourne. Credit: Marija Ivkovic

The growth of the festival credited to the hard work of the Yirramboi team over the years, also recognises the environmental growth throughout the entire arts sector in Australia.

"Now with all those opportunities coming up that we've created for ourselves and the black community has created for us all, the festival has been able to evolve with the current times," Stewart said.

"We're now seeing more engagement from the wider community, so there are more opportunities for us to develop works and to have more platforms for growth.

"That's why we've got to a point where we can support over 300 First Nations creatives now and the message that we're trying to send to the industry and the country is that there is an abundance of First Nations creatives out there who are working hard. One or two of our shows in a mainstream festival is not enough anymore.

"We were taught very early on by seniors of this community or the arts community, that if you get that opportunity ever in your lif to hold that window open for Mob, then you pull through as many people as you can. J'Maine and I say is that our goal in our careers to destroy that window so it doesn't exist and we can all walk through equally."

Yirramboi runs from the 4th to the 14th of May in Melbourne. Tickets are available online.

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