Hey Mama...with Danielle Robson

I’ve known my gorgeous friend Danielle for a while now. We met day one at uni, both of us focussed on a radical career change. She waltzed in to class wearing a Sharon Jones & Dap Kings gig t-shirt and like kids at kindy, we became fast friends. Fast forward a few years, and Danielle’s a most excellent mama to two cute kidlets, wife to afore mentioned bloke, and a mama-juggler extraordinaire. Funny, fun, stylish and humble she’s one of my favourite people and hands down my favourite Basil Bangs ambassador. We caught up and to chat arts, mumming and life hacks.

So Danielle, while I dropped off the curatorial wagon YOU did it. You’re a bona fide Curator. It’s seems like everyman and their dog ‘curates’ now – there’s no such thing as simply making a playlist. No, we must curate it. So for the layman, what do you do exactly?

I’m a curator, creative producer and writer. Lately, my projects have been participatory arts projects for all ages. It a nutshell, I seek out talented artists, work with them to cook up ideas for projects, think about how to engage audiences, develop program ideas, and manage the project from concept through to delivery, pulling together a team of people where needed. Sometimes I pitch projects to clients, sometimes clients approach me. The goal is always the same: to create a meaningful experience and produce exceptional work.


What are some of your favourite recent projects?

Jurassic Plastic at Sydney Festival in January this year was my swansong project for my previous business and an absolute high. A comment on mass consumerism and waste, the artist, Hiroshi Fuji, filled Lower Town Hall Sydney with over 100,000 discarded plastic toys that he arranged into astounding patterns and dinosaur sculptures. It was an explosion of colour and fun, underpinned by a very serious message that people really responded to. My latest project was Fort Thunder: A Electro-Acoustic Playground with artists Lucas Abela and Keg de Souza, which only just finished at Fairfield Museum and Gallery. The artists riffed on playground equipment to create large colourful interactive instruments where you can twist, bend and play with sound. It’s a fun, chaotic, and totally bonkers work. I love it.

What is the name of your new venture, and how do people follow what you’re up to?

Three years ago I started an arts production company with a friend. After two years working in different countries, we parted ways earlier this year, which means I’m in the creative and free part of the process: exploring options and dreaming up what my next venture looks like. So, watch this space! At the moment, I’m findable on Instagram and Linkedin; feel free to ping me a message.


Did you have a ‘big break’ as such?

I was lucky to catch an early break curating SafARI 2010 and 2012, the unofficial fringe event to the Biennale of Sydney showcasing emerging and unrepresented Australian artists. It was voluntary, on a shoe-string budget, and everyone involved had full-time day jobs. But we had a firecracker team and were given carte blanche to make the festival anything we wanted. It was a very steep, incredibly rewarding learning curve.

What made you want to head into The Arts? Was there a moment of crystallization, or more of a ‘give it a go’ type exploration?

When I was five my Dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told him “an artist”. His response was that that sounded nice, but that I should have a back up plan, like being a lawyer. I forgot all about this conversation until I was in my late twenties, with a law degree and a blossoming career, but was ultimately unfulfilled. So I pulled up stumps, went back to Uni and took a leap of faith. That was ten years ago and I’ve never regretted it. (A sobering reminder of the power of words to lodge in teeny brains!)

Ha! How funny, that’s very similar to my ‘ask Dad for what to do when I grow up advice’ experience. Gotta love dads…and then to ignore them and go firmly in the other direction later in life! Do you have any fantasies of alternate jobs or is this ‘it’?

I majored in audio-visual production with dreams of becoming a sound designer for film. I still wouldn’t mind giving that a go. Or a biologist. Or maybe picking up some charcoal again.

In running your own practice, are there any business management tools in your toolbox that you swear by?

All of the tools! Everything cloud-based! G-suite for all the work apps. Appear.in, a virtual meeting room for group video conversations. Twist, a team communication platform that leaves email for dust. Trello, for all the lists for all the things. A very calm and very patient co-parent.

How do you stay creative when you’re being dragged down by business-ing/mummy-ing/wife-ing?

No bones about it. It’s h-ard. I find getting out and seeing exhibitions, talking to creative people and reading interesting articles are all good fodder for the internal soup that is sloshing about all the time.

What does a typical day look like for you? How do you structure your home/work life?

It really depends on what projects I have on, and what stage they are at. I could be researching artists, scoping and planning a project, presenting to clients, working with my project team, talking to suppliers, developing program ideas, visiting an artist in their studio or overseeing install. The days may be different, but the structure remains constant: drop kids off at childcare, run like mad through the day, pick kids up from childcare, aim for dinner/bath/bed with minimal tears, work more after kidlets are asleep. Remember to say hello husband.


What do you identify as your biggest life challenges in terms of juggling family/work/friend life?

Carving out time for myself and my husband, for sure.

There’s nothing like having your own business and having babies. ‘Maternity Leave’ as such doesn’t really exist… I have fond memories of chatting on the phone with customers while Astrid slept under my desk in her basket! How have you worked that whole work/life/family ‘schtick’ out?

I don’t think I have! One of the best things about running your own business is that you are answerable to yourself and can schedule your own time. One of the hardest things is that it’s all on, all the time. Work life and home life all slosh around together, which can make for some hairy moments. Once, when Pella was about 14 months old, I took a tricky call from a client on a day that she was home with me. She must have been making a lot of noise, because I remember hiding in the bathroom so that my client didn’t hear her and think I was totally unprofessional. Parenthood + self-employment = ducks. Above water they look graceful and serene as they glide across the water. Below the surface they are paddling like mad to stay afloat.

Are there any life shortcuts you use that you couldn’t live without, esp when life gets cray-cray?

In my dreams I am the kind of mother who effortlessly whips up delicious meals for my family while my children happily occupy themselves (aka Mrs Bangs). In reality, I have hangry children hanging off my legs as I stare into the fridge, declare that there is nothing in the house to eat, and promptly heat up a Dinner Ladies meal. Damn they are good!


Do you have a favourite Bangs product that you flog?

The geniuses who designed these things know family life! In all its unpredictable, pack-for-all-weather-conditions, everything-must-spill glory. I can fit everything I need for two kids to play, swim, eat, and puddle-jump for the day in the bag, and it still feels roomy. There is nothing more annoying than a bag with it’s contents squeezed in, which inevitably tumble all over the ground every time you try and find your kids water bottle. Calm bag, calm life. And it has a waterproof pocket! Genius addition for soggy swimmers / leaking water bottles / surprise-poo collateral damage. And they look GOOD. Not at all mumsy and nappy-baggish.