"Engage with Australia, try to fit in, without losing your identity"
Country of Origin: Venezuela.
State of Residency: NSW. Favourite place in Australia: Mullumbimby & Byron Bay. Upon arrival: Surprised by how Australia is much more than sand, sun, and surf. Photo by Will Perez Ronderos
By Trini Abascal
Frank Madrid is an active audience developer for Latin American cultural content in Australia and Australian culture in the Americas. He pioneered the introduction of Latin American artists into Australia. He has been recognised for his efforts to develop closer ties between Australia and Latin America and for highlighting Latin Culture in Australia. He is the CEO of talent and production house FAMA. Frank has worked on radio, TV, film, and directed festivals in Australia, Venezuela and the US. He is currently running as a candidate for the Australian Senate for the ACT representing the Arts Party.
Tell us Your Story
I arrived in Australia in 1993. I was seriously besotted by an Australian (and still am!). I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the Anglo world having spent time in the US, Canada and the UK. Upon arriving here, I felt that Australia was the country of the future. It was at the forefront in many areas: Indigenous, women and gay rights, multiculturalism, the arts and the environment. I truly believed that there was no country as exciting as Australia. This faraway place captured my soul. When I arrived, I was fluent in English and I migrated with an Australian partner - by consequence connected into an existing network of family and friends. However, my migration journey meant starting from scratch, as when you work in the arts, you are only as good as your last show. Local experience is vital. I left Venezuela as an established arts administrator working for an international organisation. I was arrogantly and somehow naively convinced that breaking into the Australian arts circle and being noticed was going to be very easy. I had no idea that Latin America was not on anybody’s radar. There was a small Latin night scene and very few visiting acts. If you wanted to see a Latin band you had to bring it yourself. Eventually, I did.
Speaking other languages helped me to get a job as international flight attendant with the Australian airline QANTAS. This allowed me to have a decent income, travel around the world, and most importantly have contact with many Australians. Through this, I better understood the country’s idiosyncrasy. In 2000, I quit my job to follow my heart. Because of the Sydney Olympic Games there were many opportunities in cultural engagement. While volunteering for the Olympic Arts Festival, Dr Justin Macdonell (an Australian colleague from my time programming festivals in Venezuela) offered me a permanent job as producer with the Australia Latin America Foundation. Justin, a pioneer in developing Latin America as a market for Australian artists, became my mentor and I learned a lot from him. I was soon promoted to associate producer. After delivering many great projects with the Foundation, Justin moved to the USA. The Foundation was put on hold and I started working on different independent projects in the USA, Venezuela and Brazil.
In 2004, I decided to come back to Australia as I felt there was still work to be done in terms of showcasing Latin culture to Australians. So, I started my own company FAMA. I also completed postgraduate Marketing studies at the University of Canberra and later a Master of Arts Management and Policies at the Australian Institute of Music at the Sydney Opera House. After presenting radio with SBS, working in film and even playing a role on the TV show The Wiggles, I now manage a catalogue of extraordinary Australian artists presenting them at key platforms in Latin America, in a wide range of genres including: cabaret, variety, puppetry, music, theatre and contemporary dance. I have also presented Latin American artists such as Andrea Echeverri, Fernanda Takai, Los Amigos Invisibles, Desorden Publico, Orquesta La 33, and the Cuban National Ballet to Australian audiences at almost every major festival in the country. It has been a busy, hectic and at times, frustrating ride. But looking back, I am glad I did not give up the dream to pursue a career in the Arts in Australia. The rewards have been plenty and many, including becoming a recognised voice in the Australian cultural sphere. I am now about to embark upon the biggest challenge: a political career running for the Senate as candidate for the Arts Party to fight for appropriate funding to secure access to arts and culture for all Australians.
Adjusting - I had to get my head around Australia and its people, its values and how compatible they were with my own. Being away from my family was, without a doubt, the toughest test. My friends became my “chosen family” and then, thankfully, some of my siblings moved here. I seriously believe that the support of my partner and family, and having a strong sense of identity, of who I was and what I had to offer, helped me achieve my goals.
Rejection – When knocking at doors I soon realised I was going to have to develop very thick skin and learn to deal with rejection. The arts industry networks are as tight-knit here as they are anywhere in the world. Something I kept in mind was my mother’s favourite motto “Pa tras ni pa coger impulso” (never go backwards, not even to gain momentum).
Decision making - I feel that we Latinos are more emotional when it comes to making decisions, regardless of what data or budget projections show. We often go with our intuition. My Australian colleagues want to see results on paper, numbers on spreadsheets. Trying to find a balance between the two approaches is challenging but my instinct still plays a key role to make decisions.
Identity - Australia, although it has the world's oldest living culture, is considered as a relatively young country. So, Australians are still defining their identity, which often explains the country's fears and insecurities. Latin Americans have a robust sense of identity that perhaps comes from being around for a few more centuries than Australians. Both my countries, Venezuela and Australia, have been recipients of migrants, so I am aware of the many benefits of the diversity that comes with multiculturalism.
Attitudes - Australians are polite, reserved and punctual. Whereas, Latinos tend to be too direct, we say what we feel; and arguably have a more ‘fluid’ concept of time. After living in an Australian-Venezuelan household for 25 years I can tell you we have managed to magically make it work.
Piece of Advice
Be prepared - Anyone considering moving to Australia should disregard the many myths that surround migrating Down Under. It is a land of opportunities, but as any advanced economy, it is a very competitive environment. Qualifications and experience together with a very strong command of English are important. Building and nourishing networks and connections is paramount to succeed.
Try to fit in - Determination to engage with Australia, to fit in, without losing your identity is important. In fact, the more confident you are about who you are the easier it is to fit in.
Reinvent yourself - Australia offers an opportunity for reinvention, so use it. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas, this country offers you the ideal environment where those dreams can turn into reality. It is not easy! But, if you have the energy and enthusiasm to overcome challenges; and if you can still laugh when the situation becomes difficult, even better.
In the next few years...
Frank wants to continue deepening the cultural exchange with Latin America. He is also turning his attention to politics to highlight the need for a more diverse representation around decision making in all spheres of the Australian public life. He is interested in delivering opportunities for all Australians to enjoy the many benefits of the Arts. If you wish to contact Frank email us at firstname.lastname@example.org