Explore and Create Stories #14: Victoria Firth-Smith
This creative lady’s ability to bring people together is amazing. I have never quite seen someone juggle the empowerment of others with such sass, care and integrity. Say hello to Victoria Firth-Smith as our latest #exploreandcreatestories interviewee. Victoria enjoys making people think while promoting the best in them. She’s a creative thinker who allows others to also explore their creative ways of experiencing and viewing the world. Victoria has a mission (and one that I so so so love). She wants people to feel part of a community, and to feel and express creativity, empathy, and trust (oh yeah!). Don’t you just love this? I do hope you enjoy this chance to learn from and with Victoria as she shares her explorations and experiences in bringing people together, swimming in ideas and the potential of things, and how being creative is her version of mindfulness and flow.
Tell us about what you do.
I’m a compassionate troublemaker trying to make the world a better place. I work at the Australian National University (ANU) and with the Canberra’s LGBTIQ+ SpringOUT Festival and have a few curatorial projects on the go too.
What are you passionate about?
Walking the talk. Building community. Creating learning spaces that are radically inclusive, empowering and creative. Advocating for the LGBTIQ+ community. Working with others to encourage play with purpose, courageous conversations and using social and emotional learning as an antidote to our current mental health crisis.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a revolution in Australian higher education, I aim to build a community of scholars across disciplines and levels that counterbalances the academic hunger games in the industry. In my mind, it all comes down to supporting robust conversations, questioning the status quo and promoting an embodied culture of respect in higher education. Currently I’m busy creating safe spaces on campus for sexuality and gender diverse students and staff, reducing sexual assault, harassment and bullying and encouraging researchers to prioritise their holistic health and wellbeing over all else. It’s a team effort as it should be, but know #changeiscoming.
What led you to your latest project or focus?
When I was eight, I wrote a manifesto. I was fed up with the Australian primary school system, and I committed to making changes. I promised myself to move to Canberra in 2010, so I could create a permanent shift in the Australian education system. Equal parts ambitious and naive, I’m committed to baby Victoria’s dream. Back then, I felt there wasn’t enough trust, empathy, creativity in learning spaces, I was doing tap dancing, volunteering at new migrant youth camps and in Mrs Everest’s class, I wanted more from all of these.
During my four years at the National Portrait Gallery, I completed a Master’s in Education researching student well-being and the arts. There are not words for the sheer delight I felt creating and delivering intergenerational programming to increase understanding and appreciation of the diversity of Australian people and visual arts. Spending my days focusing on identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity – through portraiture, it was bliss. At the ANU I’ve spent the last few years getting my kicks by innovating learning communities, forging inclusive spaces and programming that encourages shared curiosity and excellence in research. I intend to start my PhD to determine the emotional experience of community in higher education in Australia to inform how universities can better create programming that supports learning, knowing and being in the academy.
How do you approach creativity in your life (personal/professional/or both)?
I remember being young and asking my dad to draw me a picture so I could colour it in, he responded with – ‘why do children always want to colour in? Why don’t they colour outside the lines? Why don’t you imagine the lines? Why don’t you draw the lines yourself?’ it was a vivid lesson. Today, I imagine the lines. I am an innovative thinker and problem solver, pushing beyond the easiest and quickest solve is my creativity. Reimagining higher education as a place to become truly human, to expand humanities knowledge and achievement is a creative endeavour. Growing up in the Australian arts, so many people asked me if I am an artist, or if I am creative – I’d say ‘of course, I’m a teacher’.
Facilitating is my favourite creative outlet, I’m happiest when I’m with a group of people talking about what makes us human, our art, stories and knowledge. I spend my time in emotive spaces, where people connect with one another through their experiences, research and imagination; I keep busy with curating exhibitions and planning festivals on the weekends.
We talk a lot about "being in the moment" or “being" when creating. What does this mean for you?
My flow cannot be found on my own – I do better when working with others. Sharing space allows diverse ideas to be known, enacted and trashed without my inner critic. Teaching, doing improv, and project managing large scale events allows me to ‘let go’ and be present to the experience of others. Co-creating is my jam.
What defines you in terms of balancing creativity and mindfulness for flow? How do you do this?
It can take some sublime inspiration to get me in to the ‘zone’. I often joke I’m like a dog that goes round and round in circles before sitting down on the spot it has been on for some time. It has to feel right. For me, it’s not about focus pocus, I must be wooed by a muse. I used to want to have a tv show called ‘the vibe is right’ about this, finding my flow is a spiritual practice I’m yet to master.
What’s the biggest challenge you find in approaching your creative endeavours?
People to play with and the time space continuum. I was chatting to a dear friend who is a producer now working in London about this last week, we agreed that distance is hard, having limited people around us to co-create with is harder. I have had hundreds of likeminded kismet meetings with strangers, project ideas have been sparked in a myriad of places – but we often return to our homes and our daily vices and nothing comes from it. If I won lotto, I’d still do the work I do now, but I’d be able to travel more and fund projects that I am eager to collaborate on more easily. Last year alone I went to nine conferences, at each of them I walked away with a handful of ‘YES! We must do that!’ moments, how to have great sex tours of Australia, research data art sound and light installations, a trop fest film about mindfulness in Nowra, emotive wearable tech, reforming teacher education through Aboriginal 8 ways pedagogy - I wanna do it all and still have time for naps.
How do you find your zen?
Friends. Hong Kong. Laughing.
Tell us, who are you listening to at the moment? Why? Insights?
Having an old car has the benefit of a six CD stacker, in mine as of today, is:
Tell us, who are you are reading at the moment? Why? Insights?
Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought is on the top of the pile of everything she has crafted that currently lives beside my bed.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they aren’t creative?
Embrace that you are creative as a default and seek out opportunities to make and do stuff that feels good with people that make you feel good.