The Creative: Proximity Festival Curator Sarah Rowbottam

Published on January 17, 2012
Categories - Blog, Read About, The Creative

Sarah Rowbottam is one of those Perth people I really admire: she appreciates what this city has to offer and makes the most of the opportunities that are thrown her way, and at the same time, she works to provide more opportunities for herself and for other creative locals and further advance the arts in Perth. Today we chat to Sarah in the lead up to the Proximity Festival, which she is co-curating. Claire

Sarah at Edwards Farm, Manjimup (2011)

Official job title: Co-curator / Producer of Proximity and Associate Producer at Performing Lines WA.

But that’s not all you do! What other creative work do you do?

Gosh – where to start. Usually I am tied to at least one large-scale project every two-years. In 2009/10 I curated Rounds at PICA, an exhibition of 32 works and a 200-page publication involving 17 WA artists and writers.

In 2011/12 I have been co-curating Proximity at The Blue Room Theatre with James Berlyn and provocateur Kelli McCluskey. Proximity is Australia’s first micro-festival of one-on-one art and involves 12 independent WA theatre, dance and live artists. Performances take place in the bathroom, dressing room, office and theatre, and have all been custom-made for an audience of one. My work, Slowfood Sunday, takes place in the kitchen and involves cooking with audience members.

The festival runs every Sunday as part of The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights and Fringe World from the 29 Jan – 19 Feb.

Rounds, PICA 2010 (installation view) Photo by Traianos Pakioufakis.

Summarise your career background and how you’ve come to where you are now:

I actually started out as a musician, and wanted to play the flute for a living. But somehow I found myself studying art at Curtin Uni instead of music at WAAPA and, soon after, writing and publishing. When I graduated in ’06 I fell into the management side of the arts and started working with the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth (BEAP) as the Program Administrator.  Between ’07 – ’09 I floated between the Perth International Arts Festival, Tura New Music, STRUT dance and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in various roles. And for the past three years I have been producing my own projects, making art and working with Performing Lines WA, an organisation dedicated to supporting and producing the work of independent theatre and dance artists.

What are you currently working on with Proximity?

Right now Proximity is my life. We did a dress run of all 12 performances this week to a test audience, and it has put me into a perpetual high. I am utterly in love with this project and feel like we are able to offer audiences a really unique and intimate experience.

For Proximity I am making a new live-art work that involves preparing a 3-hour slow food meal in collaboration with 12 audience members, one at a time. At the end of the day, the table is set and everyone who helped prepare the meal sits down for a free Sunday dinner.

The produce used in the kitchen is all WA grown, locally harvested or donated backyard surplus goods. I have spent the last three weeks going back to the source of produce and visiting organic farms from Serpentine to Manjimup. Along the way I have met some amazing farmers. They are definitely unsung heroes of society.

Edwards Farm Manjimup (2011)

Describe your workspace/s:

I don’t have much of a workspace for all of my independent projects. Right now I am sitting in the living room behind an old wooden table surrounded by: a coffee, a bonsai tree and a copy of Home Made – the ultimate DIY cookbook by Yvette Van Boven.

Performing Lines WA is located in King Street Arts Centre in the ‘dance corridor’. We office share with lovely people from Buzz Dance Theatre.

What is the best thing about your job?

Making things happen.

Take us through a typical day of your work:

There is nothing really typical about my day except for starting with fresh juice and ending with the lingering thought “I should have gone to bed earlier”.

To give you a taste of a day in the life of Proximity – this was yesterday. 7am pack the car with kitchen equipment, props and produce; 8am reply to emails; 9am turn a typical workplace kitchen into a home kitchen; 10am meeting with all artists and production team; 10.30am rehearsals and set-up long table dinner; 12.00pm lunch and get 14 people to sign contracts; 1pm rehearsals, do a test run of Jen Jamieson’s work and have a shower in under 3-minutes; 3pm dress run and make homemade mayonnaise with Rhiannon, tabouleh with Arielle, potato and fresh herb salad using the mayonnaise with Kim, and cook chickpea flatbread with Tom; 4.30pm sit-down dinner with all test audience; 5.00pm feedback session with all artists; 6pm bump-out.

Proximity Forum & Workshop, The Blue Room Theatre (2011)

What music do you listen to whilst you work?

I haven’t been listening to much lately because it breaks my concentration and all I want to do is sing. If I feel like it though, probably something like Bonobo or BTS radio mixes.

What has been your proudest achievement?

Picking up the Rounds book straight off the print press.

Which local artists/musicians/creatives do you admire?

Yikes, there are so many. Those who come to my mind right now include my boss at Performing Lines WA Fiona de Garis, independent choreographer Sue Peacock, PICA curator Leigh Robb, independent dancers and housemates Rhiannon Newton and Jacqui Claus, long-time friends and artists Rebecca Baumann, Carly Hunter and Lana Logam, all-round festival organiser Caris Harper, and of course the 12 other creatives involved in Proximity – Claudia Alessi, James Berlyn, Janet Carter, Renae Coles, Russya Connor, Jackson Eaton, Jen Jamieson, Nikki Jones, Janette McGinty, Sarah Nelson, Helen Russo and Kelli Mccluskey.

Any advice for those trying to enter into the creative community in Perth?

If you want to get into arts admin/ programming/ producing – start interning at the places you want to work now!

If you want to be an artist – keep making stuff, even if you think it is crap. Show your work, ask for feedback and try not to take everything to heart.

Encounters (video still) Courtesy of the Artist, Sarah Rowbottam

Perth Questions:

What do you love about Perth? The amount of space we have around us is pretty amazing.

What does Perth need? More visits from my friends who now live in Melbourne.

Most frequented coffee spot? Cantina, Low-down, Tiger Tiger.

Best live music venue? The Bird or The Bakery, but perhaps Perth Festival Garden will be winner this year!

Favourite beach? South beach, always.

Rottnest or Margaret River? Margaret River – there are so many amazing farms around the area!

Hans Farm, Serpentine (2012)

Thanks so much Sarah!

If all this talk of Proximity intrigues you, here is the important info about the show:

Visit for complete program details.

Dates: Sun 29 Jan, Sun 5 Feb, Sun 12 Feb, Sun 19 Feb Times: 3pm, 4pm, 5pm

Tickets: $25 for a 1 hour (Select from Program A, B or C)

$66 for 3 hours (Includes Program A, B, C)

Venue: The Blue Room Theatre 53 James St, Cultural Centre, Northbridge

Book online: Phone: 08 9227 7005 In Person: The Blue Room Theatre


  • You really are an inspiring, talented, raw lovely lass & I am feeling very chuffed indeed to be around your genuine self. Your sweet smelling kitchen elicits memories and dreams.
    Thanks for the opportunity & inspiration

    by Sarah Nelson on January 17, 2012 at 10:10 pm
  • Hi Sarah – its amazing to see how much achievements you have made through out the years. You are a very respect person, seeing you achieved much much I recalled when we used to meet at the Leeming Recreation Centre. I knew there are something in and about you that far outweighs others. Keep up the good work.

    Sincerely and Kind Regards,


    by Jacob Y.M.Chieng on March 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm

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