Community-led Practice and Making Space for Marginalised Voices with Jessica Ibacache

Jessica Ibacache is a first-generation Chilean, multi-skilled arts professional based in Naarm and co-founder of the arts group, Yo Soy Collective. Ibacache’s creative practice is driven by empowering marginalised voices, in particular creating more spaces for her Latin American community to connect, engage with arts and create together. In this interview, she shares about how the experience growing up in suburban Perth with a strong connection to Chilean and Latinx cultural identity, has informed her community-led arts practice; the process of curating accessible and inclusive creative spaces for communities; and she reflects on her organisation, Yo Soy – the events they have run and the ones they are dreaming up for the future. 

Fuego, Emerging Writers Festival. Photo by Gianna Rizzo.
  • Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the arts space.

I am a first-generation Chilean artist, writer, teacher, community-organiser, and arts worker based in Narrm. I am the Co-founder of Yo Soy, a collective for Latin American creatives; I run my own business of arts workshops for children and adults called So You Think You Can Paint? and I’m working as a Creative Producer at MAV (Multicultural Arts Victoria). I’m driven by a passion for social justice, intersectionality, and community-lead practice. For me, the arts play a vital role in community building and social inclusion. I am incredibly passionate about curated events and programs that are accessible for marginalised communities and that break down the existing systems of oppression and elitism in the arts.

Frida Kahlo Workshop at Footscray Community Arts Centre (2021). Video shot and produced by Jackie Dixon.
  • How did you start your entrance into the arts sector and why?

I was always obsessed with the arts as a kid so in a way I feel like it’s always been in my life. There’s no real reason as to why, I just know the arts are part of my soul and without it I wouldn’t feel like myself. After I completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Grad Diploma of Journalism, I started working in communications roles for arts organisations and continued to curate my own events and projects on the side. In 2018, Ruby Pivet and I started Yo Soy Collective and since then we have produced a series of events and projects that have provided more opportunities for Latin American artists in Melbourne and around the country. We created this collective because we felt Latin American creatives didn’t have much visibility in the Victorian arts community. We offer a safe space where we can connect with community, share our stories, and showcase our creative talents.

Adults workshop. Photo courtesy of Curago.
  • Where did you grow up and has it influenced what projects you work on?

I grew up in Perth, Western Australia and spent most of my life in a suburb called Armadale, where my parents still live today. My family came to Perth as Chilean refugees during the Pinochet dictatorship and come from humble beginnings. I grew up in public housing in the south eastern suburbs of Perth. My family was heavy involved in a local Chilean community club, so I spent my youth surrounded by family and community and participated in traditional dancing and played soccer. That experience definitely helped to cement my identity as a Chilean and Latinx woman, and I have my parents to thank for that. Growing up in lower-socio economic areas and surround by community has definitely influenced the projects I work on. I always ensure any project I curate is accessible to people from all backgrounds and provides opportunities for marginalised voices. I live by the ethos that the arts should be for everyone, not just a small elite group, and I think about that every time I develop a new project.

  • Tell us about your past creative projects. What has been a highlight so far?

I think for me the highlight was the first Yo Soy event we ever did in 2019. It was a live reading event called Fuego and was part of the Emerging Writers Festival. We were pretty nervous about curating our first event and were so overwhelmed by the turn out and support. I cried watching those readings because I realised that we had curated something really special and rare. For a lot of Latin American people in the audience, it was the first time they related to a story at an event like that. This was the event that made me realise how crucial our work really was for our community.

Fuego, Emerging Writers Festival. Photo by Gianna Rizzo.
  • Who or what inspires your practice?

My practice is inspired by my family, community and personal lived experiences. I really want to develop projects and events that inspire and touch people on a deep level, so I take on board feedback and do a lot of active listening for what people connect with. I’d say my project work is all for community and my writing is personal and more for me.

  • Where do you feel most creative?

I am pretty lucky to be surrounded by the most amazingly talented creatives 24/7. I really do feel like I am part of the arts community in Melbourne and most of the people in my life are creative in some way or another. I definitely feel the most creative when I see a project in action that I developed from scratch. That’s the moment when I can reflect on all the hard work and watch audiences enjoy the event – it’s my favorite part.

  • What gets you through challenging creative/industry times?

I do a lot of self-care and have learnt to take some time for myself, especially during challenging creative/industry times. I have a new rule where I leave Sundays for myself to take things slow and enjoy the simple things in life. As a community organiser and arts worker, I find that I can very easily over commit and give too much to others, particularly during challenging times, so I am trying to work on having clearer boundaries and taking care of myself and prioritising my own mental health. At the end of the day, the more I take care of myself, the more I can help others.

Yo Soy group shot, Love Valentine, Immigration Museum. Photo by Gianna Rizzo.
  • Whose work are you digging at the moment?

I’ve been digging Atong Atem’s work for a really long time and love seeing the evolution of her work over the years. I love that her work is centered on her own lived experiences and really genuinely feels like it’s for her community too. To me, she’s not trying to be someone else, she’s owning who she is and it means her work has a certain level of confidence. I think that’s why she’s been so successful.

  • What future projects are you looking forward to?

Yo Soy is working on some exciting projects this year. The first being a MAV supported development project, which included research into the experiences of the Latin American creative community and the results of that will be revealed soon. We are also working towards our first exhibition at Black Dot which will open in October 2022! I was also successful in getting a Sustaining Creative Workers Initiative grant to run free arts workshops for children and young people from marginalised social and cultural backgrounds. We are currently running free painting workshops in Coburg, Glenroy and in the City of Casey.

Fawknew Festa, Kids Workshops. Photo by Jacinta Keefe.

All images provided by the artist.