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Will the arts matter to Canberra in the year 2050?

Jacqui Douglas

Innovate Canberra will tell you our future global ranking depends on our ability to cultivate a city known for innovation, creativity and art.

However, as any young Canberra musician knows, fostering performance culture in a small city is far from easy. A lack of population density and interconnectedness, physically and culturally, renders the development of an arts culture frustratingly elusive. As a musician and a Canberra lover myself, I start taking notes anytime someone cracks that code. Someone like Alec Hunter.

Alec has worn many hats in Canberra. He’s been a mentor to the Experimental Music Studio, an improvisational group that performed more extensively in 2016 than any other student ensemble at the School of Music (SoM). He’s overseen student collaboration with local arts organisations through the artsACT-funded Community Outreach Program, like the student-curated Collected Resonances series at the Ainslie Arts Centre.

Perhaps most significantly, Alec has inspired pre-tertiary students through his leadership of the SoM Open School. Also funded through ArtsACT, the unique pre-tertiary program boasts a staggering 94% student approval rating. And that’s all on top of Alec’s own performance and compositional career.

Image: Eric Pozza

Alec Hunter. Image: Eric Pozza

I did some digging, expecting a complex formula for Alec’s success. Instead, I realised he was just extraordinarily committed to a very simple answer.

“Musicians don’t belong in boxes.”

Ask composer Ellen Falconer, former president of the SoM Music Students Association. She pointed to Alec’s commitment to inclusivity; his development of a “creative and inclusive space for anyone and everyone who wanted it…a collective of people that wanted to create and perform and experiment in a positive environment.” And that wasn’t just ‘musicians’; Alec fostered strategic collaboration with other creatives, connecting players to practitioners of computer science and video art; to the Climate Change Institute and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies; and to “world leaders in experimental music…as professionals rather than mere students.”

Ask jazz player Melissa Keller-Tuberg, who walked away from the Open School inspired to study at the tertiary level – along with over half her cohort.

Not cowed by the rigorous curriculum, Melissa found herself energised and equipped by the inclusive community in the program, and the opportunity to perform for love, not just academic outcomes. A key example: regular performance opportunities Alec coordinated at beloved local jazz institution Smith’s Alternative.

Alec’s vision for creative freedom is equipping our young players to do more than perform. They’re composers, curators, or innovators – or all of the above. And they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in 2050.


Jacqui Douglas

Jacqui briefly entertained the notion of becoming a drummer. Fortunately, singing, writing and drinking coffee generally required less coordination. Best known as one-third of vocal trio Kaleid, Jacqui loves all things live music and dreams of opening her own venue. Her New Year’s resolution? Talk less, and say more. More about the Author

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