Sara Mansour was having trouble making herself heard, so she started talking in verse. “Spoken word is very powerful,” says the Punchbowl poet, who admits to being surprised by the strength and enthusiasm of the response. Mansour is co-founder of the Bankstown Poetry Slam, a monthly event in Sydney’s culturally diverse Western Suburbs that attracts a regular audience of between 300 and 400 people. It’s the largest event of its kind in Australia. Last year’s grand finale, at ICC Sydney, sold 900 tickets. “People really want to share their stories and connect,’’ says Mansour. “We are talking about people from marginalised and diverse backgrounds. Given the opportunity and the platform, they feel that they can share a little part of themselves and that is really important to people who have been silenced in the media, and silenced in society.”
Mansour cites her own experience as an example. “I am a visibly Muslim woman, I wear a headscarf and I have a Lebanese background. There is a lot I had to go through, growing up, trying to figure out my own identity and stuff, so writing poetry in my early teenage years was really important in the sense that it helped me grapple with those issues. It was just great to be able to express myself and feel heard.”
Mansour dispels the stereotypical image of the spoken word as the domain of angry young men. “Poets perform on every single topic imaginable— love, the environment, family. For example, I have a lot of poems on family and identity, my grandma, and the strong females in my life in general.”
ICC Sydney recently teamed up with Bankstown Poetry Slam as part of its Legacy Program, a dedicated resource that matches clients with opportunities across the Sydney community.
“We see the centre very much as a showcase for all the city has to offer within the five core legacy streams—Innovators & Entrepreneurs, Generation Next, First Australians, Sustainable Events and Creative Industries,” says CEO Geoff Donaghy.
“You couldn’t get a closer engagement with the host community than having creative people and artists from within that community perform and present and engage on a deep and personal level with delegates.”
Through the Creative Industries stream, ICC Sydney has also partnered with Dinosaur Designs to create handmade gifts; Sydney Festival, VIVID Sydney and the Talent Development Project (TDP), a joint initiative between the NSW Department of Education and the entertainment industry, which prepares students for careers in their chosen field.
Past TDP graduates include multi-ARIA awardwinning band Human Nature and Angus and Julia Stone. “We set out, with ICC Sydney, not only to create one of the world’s really great venues, but also to make a difference within our community,” says Donaghy.
“There has been an emerging awareness amongst convention delegates, when they visit a destination, not just to have three or four days of professional or academic enrichment within the walls of the centre, but also to have a much broader engagement with the city and community they are in for that period. So we have set up channels of opportunity so they go away having engaged with the community but also having left a lasting legacy and a suite of benefits as well. We see it as almost a closed circle of benefit, engagement and enrichment.”