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Festival City Stories 07 Jan 2021

A Curious & Progressive Future

Festivals have helped Maybelline San Juan to see a future in South Australia.

The university student grew up in Adelaide – dancing, singing and excelling in sport all the way through school. Like many young people, her sights were firmly set on distant horizons.

“Everyone as a kid, especially in the performing arts, yearns to move somewhere else, move to New York City, perform on big stages,” she says.

When she completed high school in 2019, she discovered the Creative Industries degree at the University of South Australia. Two years into that course, since majoring in Festivals and Performing Arts and interning at festival organisations, Maybelline’s view of her home city has completely transformed.

“I’ve learned there is so much not only in Australia but in South Australia,” she says. “So, definitely learned to love my city so much more.”

This turnaround isn’t the only profound impact festivals have had on Maybelline’s life. One of her earliest memories of performance is courtesy of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which hosted Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga in 2012.

“My parents, being Filipino… grabbed the tickets straight away and so we went to her performance and I just, like, fell in love with, you know, cabaret,” says Maybelline.

Her embrace of the genre propelled Maybelline to watch a friend’s performance in the Festival’s 2017 Class of Cabaret, and then, in 2018, to herself join the Class of Cabaret in 2018, for which she devised and performed a tribute to her Grandmother.

These moments, says Maybelline, were formative and showed her the importance of diversity and representation on stage.

“Diversity is very important, being an Asian-Australian woman,” she says.

“I think that’s what hit close to me, that I could see a girl my age who looked like me on stage, telling a story, and that I could do the same the next year, and to see that there was space for that because it’s not like the traditional media on TV, where it’s very limited.”

Now, with ambitions to work in programming at major events, Maybelline is optimistic that she can make diversity, accessibility and sustainability a priority through her festival work.

It’s the capacity of festivals to be a vehicle for progress in Adelaide that has cemented Maybelline’s commitment to the industry – fuelling her transition from performer to behind the scenes.

“It’s a culture that is Adelaide-specific because of its people, because of our attitudes towards embracing art, and the attitude of being curious to continue to embrace new perspectives and become a progressive city,” says Maybelline.

“And in the future, I hope that does lead to being a more diverse place that welcomes everyone from everywhere, not just from Australia, but soon more people from overseas as well.”

She sees the tendency to discuss festivals in economic terms as a threat to this cultural purpose – warning that if a festival is pressured to “become a money-making machine, then it becomes less accessible”.

But with advocates like Maybelline lining up to take the reins of Adelaide’s festival culture and steer it into the future, threats like these feel a little less ominous.

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This article is part of the Festival City Stories series, a collection of reflections about Adelaide made by the people who make this a festival place. The project was funded through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Arts South Australia, Arts Recovery Fund, and delivered in partnership with the State Library of South Australia. 

Written by: Farrin Foster

Photography by: Thomas McCammon

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