"Understand your motivations, question your values, and challenge what you might be taking for granted".
Country of Origin: Venezuela.
State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Fitzroy, Melbourne. Upon arrival: Surprised by the Leonard Cohen concert. It’s probably the best concert I’ve seen in my life!
By Trini Abascal
Eyal Chipkiewicz is an entrepreneur, designer, artist and cultural promoter. Since relocating to Melbourne, he has been an important element of the local cultural scene. He has raised the profile of the Latin American community by having operated Cruzao Arepa Bar, and by producing and promoting cultural activities. His most recent effort is the establishment of a not-for-profit arts organisation: Casa Cultura.
Tell us Your Story
Around 2007, I had had enough of the moral ambivalence that plagued the society in Venezuela and I decided it was time to find a new place to live and raise my son. My profile and professional background made me a good fit for the Australian Skilled Migration Program, having graduated as Mechanical Engineer from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. I had 12 years of graphic and industrial design experience and further studies in Fine Arts and Film. In June 2008, me, my wife at the time Yamila, and our son Chil packed it all up and moved here. When I arrived, I started a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Swinburne University. But when my permanent residency was approved 3 months later, university quickly dropped down the priority scale, and I only completed a Graduate Certificate.
My first job was as a casual graphic designer in a studio. Through a friend, I was later employed for a short contract to set up a design department for Solterbeck. In July 2009, in partnership with another Venezuelan and driven by the bug in every Venezuelan expatriate’s ear about setting up an arepa business, I started Cruzao Arepa Bar. The place was modeled on the urban aesthetics of informal Caracas, with a lot of color, authentically prepared food and drinks, and loud salsa music. It became a milestone music venue which hosted over 1,000 hours of live music and was visited by international acts such as Juan Luis Guerra, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Felix Baloy, Maelo Ruiz and Aquiles Baez. After nearly 3 years, Cruzao did not continue operating because its sustainability was challenged by the small size of its premises. Also, I realised that my priorities and decisions were not grounded on business objectives, but on cultural promotion and community development. In the 2 years that followed, while the dust settled, I co-produced Oscar Jimenez & Jose Nieto’s Canción Protesta and the Carnaval Latino for the Melbourne Fringe Festival. During my time at Cruzao Arepa Bar, I was drawn to explore the music. Since then, I have become an active musician. I regularly perform in bands including among others: The Funkalleros, the Core-Tet, Arroz con Mango and The Family Thorax. My work in these projects always involves finding ways to incorporate the musical heritage of Latin America into new and unusual sounds.
In February 2014, I set up the natural evolution of the work that Cruzao Arepa Bar had started: Casa Cultura Inc; a not-for-profit organisation that draws from the cultural values of Latin America to convey social change by bringing people together and developing projects that use the power of arts and culture. I was very fortunate to meet Karina Ojeda shortly after establishing the organisation as we share a passionate drive for community development. We have been working together since then to consolidate Casa Cultura as a valuable element in Melbourne’s multicultural scene. We are developing interesting, creative, and collaborative projects and addressing the needs of the artists (and art-lovers) involved in the organisation.
Professional career - The first couple of years I had to accept the professional retreat that moving to Australia means to many migrants. My years of experience as a designer were meaningless to the local industry. I was fortunate to meet people who pointed me in the right direction and helped me get some early experience.
Sense of community - My greatest challenge was to settle and to understand the new settings. I’m not sure I have fully conquered it yet. The cultural divide has sometimes made it difficult to develop strong professional relationships. Casa Cultura is the first real situation in which I feel that I – and the community that is slowly gathering around it – are developing solid relationships in the local society.
Acceptance - In Latin America, we have a deep understanding of multiculturalism and cultural evolution. Despite making fun of each other’s accents and language variations, we accept the “other” as a valid and valuable possibility. We are also very well versed in embracing the unforeseeable fertility of putting human differences to work together. I think this is the best contribution that any Latin American can offer to the Australian society: lowering unnecessary barriers, driving acceptance, and fostering collaboration in a young country juggling too many identities all too suddenly.
Cautiousness – To me the most difficult trait to adapt is the cautiousness with which most things proceed in Australia. I was used to making decisions rather quickly, based on their likelihood of success. Here in contrast, a lot of effort is put on thinking about the many possibilities of what could go wrong, so it often takes very long to satisfy all the possible contingencies.
Spontaneity - The restraints that Australian society sometimes puts on spontaneity have been a challenge to accept. I don’t think I have done a very good job at it, or I ever will. Honesty comes in many forms, and I don’t see a reason why it should ever be held back.
Professional humility - Everywhere I’ve been, the avant-garde has a tendency to flaunt. Here, in contrast, it gathers quietly in small rooms, just doing what it’s best at. If one is interested in being part of it, one has to go and find it. It may cause frustration to the newcomer but it really makes people give the better of them.
Piece of Advice
Contribute - Look for professional gatherings and meet-ups related to your field. Instead of approaching them directly because you are looking for work, find space to contribute to them and make yourself present with constancy and willingness to learn.
Personal time - Make sure you leave yourself some time for your personal interests. Go find people with whom you can connect through an art form, sport or hobby. Think about it as an opportunity to create bonds that work beyond cultural differences and language barriers. Australian society values personal time and space. By doing this you will be helping yourself find people with whom you share more than just those interests, and doors will start to open.
Get to know yourself - There is nothing more significant than our self-acceptance. Understand your motivations, question your values, and challenge what you might be taking for granted. As you become more intimate with who you are and what you stand for, you will also be much more sincere in your position and relentless in your steps toward your goals.
In the next few years...
Eyal will continue working hard to consolidate Casa Cultura. He plans to study a PhD in Community Cultural Development, with Casa Cultura as a research case. He will keep practicing and performing music, which has been one of the most important sources of balance in his life during the last few years. If you wish to contact Eyal email us at firstname.lastname@example.org