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Meet Musica Viva: Anna Griffiths

Byline: Musica Viva

For the last 40 years, the Musica Viva In Schools program has strived to embed the joys of muic into the lives of all children throughout Australia. Every year since its conception, musicians have toured all over the country, bringing their unqiue, exciting and educational musical experiences to primary classrooms in every corner of Australia.

Enter Anna Griffiths. Anna has been one of the most important cogs in the wheel of Musica Viva In Schools for the best part of the last decade, heading up the Operations for every tour that takes place. From finding accomodation in the most regional areas of Queensland to hunting down a piano in the Kimberley region, Anna has done it all, but there is far more to her we wanted to find out.

What is your role at Musica Viva? What does a typical workday entail? 

I am the Operations and Artist Manager, Education. Working closely with my colleague Jo, we move the musicians, instruments and, occasionally, family members around the country for their performances in schools.  A typical day outside of touring season involves future planning, contracting, and supporting and preparing artists for the road. A typical day inside touring season is a bit more unpredictable, and amongst many things, may involve curious problem solving. Over the years there have been some interesting pickles to work through, just to name a few – we’ve rescued standard musicians when remote flights have been cancelled, found the only remaining motel rooms regional towns during annual festivals or conferences, sourced local childcare solutions, hired strangers to drive instruments or oversized cases to meet the artists when freight was not an option, phone counselling for frogs in toilets, snakes in kitchens and too many kangaroos on the road. One of the funniest pickles was when a group flew over the border between NT and WA, took no notice of the time difference and arrived at the school at 6am!  

How did you come to work at Musica Viva? Have you always worked in arts organisations? 

I started at Musica Viva as a volunteer for Café Carnivale, a wonderful world music program. From there I was absorbed into the Education team where I have been working in various positions for the last 9 or so years. 

Can you tell us about 2020 for you, professionally? How did COVID-19-19 impact your role and what did you do? 

I am going to be original and not talk about how hard 2020 was! Rather, I found it a year of discovering how much we were capable of when faced with such barriers. We converted more than 300 concerts from live experiences to online interactive performances in a matter of weeks, with everyone in the team briefly stepping into new roles or try new things to help execute our new way of delivery. It was such a success that we will now offer a new hybrid model of online and live experiences for students around Australia.  

Can you tell us about yourself outside of Musica Viva. Do you play any instruments yourself or create any art, and what do you like to do with your spare time? 
 
I don’t play instruments, but I do dance. I am drawn to all the Latin styles- Salsa, Tango, Cha Cha... I love to think that I was a Latin diva in another lifetime! Before COVID-19, I would be out most nights social dancing, but this was one of the first things to stop due to the restrictions and one of the last things to start up again. So, through 2020 I discovered Yoga, walking and online dance classes. 

In addition to my love of dance, I run a local art gallery called Peach Black Gallery, with my partner, Matteo Bernasconi. With such beautiful art as a backdrop, we quickly discovered that music would go hand in hand within the space, so we now program concerts that involve a variety of artists – musicians, dancers and poets. Occasionally, we fuse ideas and have live music while our students draw, just to offer the community something fun and different! 
 
Then finally, I produce large scale concerts or parties a few times a year. These often involve bringing together big bands or orchestras along with dancers and a dance floor for the audience. I love to curate and create experiences at events that I am passionate about and that I know will connect with my audience and get them really excited!   

What drew you to opening a gallery? Can you tell us about the space and the journey it has been thus far? 

There are many beautiful commercial galleries in Sydney, but not a lot of quality artist-run galleries and that is why we decided to open Peach Black. The gallery is currently situated amongst many other galleries in Chippendale, so it means we can contribute to the existing community and get involved in precinct events like Sydney Art Month, or local art tours/walks that happen.  

Matteo runs weekly life drawing sessions, along with workshops on painting and drawing, and we often collaborate with other organisations to create unique experiences. A recent collaboration was with Co.As.It, where the students signed up for an all-immersive language experience – a painting class taught all in Italian (Matteo’s native tongue). That was a lot of fun! And as mentioned above, we also have a program of music and dance that runs throughout the year.  

Anna (right) and Matteo.

Opening the gallery has been one of the best things we could have done. Not only have we created a beautiful space to hang works by Matteo and others, but at the heart of it is a thriving supportive community that come together every week to draw and attend events.  Weirdly, it was in the middle of COVID-19 that the drawing classes really took off- I think people were getting over their screens and missing creating art with their hands. The community grew so strong, that when the lockdown came to an end, we hosted a group exhibition of the work created by the students through that period with buzzing attendance!  

 What are your thoughts on the current landscape of Arts in Australia and what does the future hold?  
 
To be honest, I find this a hard question to answer, especially now when the priority in Australia seems geared towards saving the economy and keeping the nation COVID-19 free.  Of course, that is super important, but I feel that the importance the Arts plays in keeping Australia “alive” in this is often overlooked.  Through my role at Musica Viva, observing what our program does for thousands of young students around the country, to witnessing the people who walk through our gallery each week to draw and observe, to my own weekly practice of dance… I believe that creativity, often gives a voice and reason where words and logic fail. This can provide grounding and peace in unsettling times and we need to do more to support this. 


Read our last feature in the Meet Musica Viva series with Sonia de Freitas from our Education team right here.