Interview: Sam Rodgers

February 2011.

Sam Rodgers is one of the founding members of the Format Arts Collective, an Adelaide based group dedicated to participatory culture and the merging of various social groups under the banner of art, expression and community involvement.

Format emerged three years ago from a weekend zine fair held as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. In its fourth year, organiser Ianto Ware expanded the fair into a two week festival and recruited Sam to coordinate the zine component. Since then, it has expanded to become a year round organisation, with Ianto and Sam, along with Chloe Langford and Simon Loffler, officially founding the Format Collective in 2009.

After spending some time sharing office space with Merge Magazine downstairs from the German consulate, the group was soon out on its own and growing up fast. In addition to putting on the annual Format Festival, which won both Adelaide Fringe and Arts SA Ruby awards in 2010, the Collective now plays host to various art and music events, a writing press and a permanent zine and indie bookshop in its central hub space at 15 Peel Street, Adelaide. The current directorial team of volunteers includes Steph Lyall and Stan Mahoney along with Sam and Chloe, while Ianto is now focused primarily on his other project, Renew Adelaide.

The Format Festival was originally inspired by other experimental and activist based events like This Is Not Art in Newcastle and Next Wave in Melbourne, Sam says. Format was based on the idea of encouraging participation and putting on events able to attract a large and broad range of people. The idea was to provide Adelaide’s relatively small population with a local hub for different subcultural and artistic groups, which might otherwise remain disparate.

These are still the Format Collective’s key goals, says Sam. The main task now is finding ways of fine tuning the organisation to better achieve them. It’s not always easy to reach a truly broad cross section of the community, particularly in an environment where social networking provides the key source of free publicity, which Sam tells me can sometimes exclude certain people and groups who may not be as “plugged in” to that online world.

Also, a constant need for rent money and other funds mean the Collective has to focus on music events and alcohol sales to keep afloat, which can exclude people who may want to support Format but are not necessarily attracted by nights on the town and live music. Aside from the occasional grant, bar and one off-bake sales, Format receives no funding to cover ongoing costs like rent. However, recently the group has expanded its financial support base through the crowd funding program Pozible, which facilitates easy online donations for various creative groups and individuals. Already, Sam tells me, most of those who have pledged through Pozible are people not seen very often at the group’s in-house events.

But the biggest challenge remains keeping Format running through both financial and practical support. Without increased funding to hire staff, Format will continue to rely on the dedicated efforts of volunteers, all of whom have their own paid work and personal projects to concern them. Sam’s day job is teaching ESL, while he is also a writer who started off doing zines, finished a masters in creative writing last year and is currently working on a longer manuscript project. All while simultaneously coordinating the zine shop, organising various events including Format Murray Bridge last year, as well as handling the group’s publicity, which he describes as “almost a full time job in itself.”

What Sam would like to see are dedicated people willing to step up to the plate and help Format survive. People like Steph Lyall, who volunteered for the zine shop before it opened, “wrote a resume, took it seriously” and is now part of the collective proper. “We just want someone else like that to come out of the woodwork,” he says.

There is certainly much to be excited about for those keen on being involved and helping participatory culture to thrive and expand. Sam says the most positive things to come out of Format for him have been interacting with certain groups in Adelaide that he would not have otherwise seen or had access to, as well as seeing those people interact with each other regardless of differences like age or cultural background. There are also the various overseas groups who Sam networks with on Format’s behalf. All of these people and groups, both local and international, Sam describes as positive and proactive. Sam also thinks that Australia is definitely on par with art collectives around the world, which differ in their success and influence depending on local funding arrangements and various cultural factors. There’ll always be the big centres of New York, London, Berlin, he says, but “the rest of the world knows that good stuff is happening here.”

So come out of the woodwork, buy a beer, donate and get involved to help keep a great local collective up and running.

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