What is FReeZa Sonika and what did you have planned before COVID-19?

The City of Ballarat’s FReeza Program “Sonika” is a part of the Victorian Government funded FReeZa initiative that gives young people the opportunity to lead the planning and staging of live music and cultural events within their local communities.

We started the year inducting 32 volunteers. And just before COVID-19 hit us, we held our annual Volunteer Camp, planning and designing activities, pitching events, and aligning budget to get a good plan of what the year may look like. We’d also completed our first event for the year at Begonia Festival and were very close to our next event delivery “Walk with Us”.

What did you do to prepare for the challenges of COVID-19?

With changes and restrictions due to COVID 19 anticipates in the last 3 meetings face to face we prioritised design thinking activities, and came up with ideas we could action should we need to, and set up how we would meet online going forward. This is how Fully Sick came about.

So when restrictions were actioned and their events were cancelled, there was excitement and vivid activity, rather than disappointment as they enjoyed working outside the box and learn new ways of potentially doing things differently.

Everything we do is about thinking creatively and being open to change, pivoting and having fun and experimenting. Who cares if it doesn’t work? Having no fear of failure. SONIKA is a safe space to test and trial ideas.

The biggest thing I have learnt is, if young people aren’t at the front of a project, there is no point in doing it. It is tiresome, drains time and energy. When young people are passionate, leading and invested in their own ideas it is like working WITH the tide. It flows, it’s easy, it happens and it is a success that is youth led.

fullysick week5

Image above: Fully Sick Music Festival Week 5's Promotion of line-up. Supplied by Authors.

What did you learn from running Fully Sick Festival?

Fully Sick Festival helped us think about how we could do gigs online, what platforms to use, what could it look like etc. And how can we keep paying young artists and musicians to perform gigs even with COVID-19 restrictions.

It was unknown terrain, a whole new learning experience and something we had not envisioned beforehand. And we envisioned it to get off the ground quickly as well to respond to isolation taking its toll on young people and the community.

And a great side effect was from planning through to delivery, every live stream they would grow in confidence and self-esteem seeing those events unfold week after week during restrictions.

“Who knows how long we’re not going to be having live events for? So let’s keep supporting young artists to produce this content online for us, do what they love, and it helps them in this time of hardship. We’re trying to keep our community engaged and connected so they’re not feeling lonely. We can still do things together online, so it’s a good distraction and a way of keeping people informed.”

–Corey, SONIKA Volunteer

How has this built stronger and more connected community relationships during COVID‐19?

We have been able to use the opportunity to partner with our Unique Message Makers (UMM) in Action program funded by ENGAGE. Youth facilitator Kiralee created the intro and outro of the videos and assisted to put systems in place for streamlining submitting and editing videos. This film maker also created tutorials videos to help communicate effectively and show young people can film and submit videos with us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWbIATxZXD0&t=9s

With musicians and artists,we have relied upon our committee of young people who are actively involved in the live music scene. And as a team, we reviewed our artist registry from past gigs and delegated who booked which act as well as putting calls out for contributions to open mic sessions. We also had a lot of interest and many young creatives including some who have never performed before got involved and used the opportunity to have a go.

Our online community presence has exploded, reaching further than we ever anticipated, and have had much higher engagement and followers already online that we hope will boost actual attendance to live gigs when they recommence.

“Fully Sick has been a lifeline for young artists trying to make a career during lockdown. It’s opened up more opportunities that might not have been available even before lockdown, and has helped showcase up and coming artists.”

–Brodie, SONIKA Volunteer

What’s next? What are you planning to keep in place post COVID‐19?

Young people in SONIKA are now looking for creative ways to be able to do things offline again while adhering to the restrictions in place.

I think online will have its place, but right now the young people I am working with are craving to come offline, and are finding creative ways to deliver events with drive in gigs, front yard gigs, busking where the community is most active and wanting to help support people to perform at lunch times at their schools.

We will definitely continue having online meetings, and creating spaces where more people can access our work. I am curious to see if having an online fest once a year is something our young people want to do post Covid-19. But that is a conversation at a later stage.

For now, we want to celebrate all they have achieved through these unprecedented times, how they have embraced the challenged put to them and taken our programs to a whole new level, all youth inspired and led while enabling local emerging artists to create a small income.

For more information on FreeZa SONIKA, head to the https://www.facebook.com/freezasonika/videos/ page and check out their live sets. Further info on Fully Sick Fest is also available via https://linktr.ee/SONIKA