Naked City Guide


Mariam Arcilla

*Arts Worker*

Hails from: Mermaid

What do Jason Priestly caricatures, the Gold Coast’s best dressed list and animating empty spaces into creative projects have in common? That’d be Mariam Arcilla – arts worker, curator, artist, arts writer and tireless advocate/cheerleader for all things relating to cultural development on the Gold Coast. Aside from being one of the drivers behind Rabbit + Cocoon multi-arts hub, and previously Co-Directing 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace and tinygold artist-run initiative, scores of other projects wouldn’t have happened without this arts ally propagating ideas and dizzying enthusiasm all over the place. Mariam talks with Naked after being announced a 2011 Arts Queensland award winner for her volunteering work (cue numerous attagirls and fist bumps).


Naked: Did you grow up on the Gold Coast?

Mariam: You could say that. I moved to the Gold Coast when I was 14. My mother was a stewardess, and my father an artist, so their lifestyles meant I was threaded around six schools in four countries. This caused me to grow up with an intermingled accent, which some people find curious.

We bet you the kind of youngster who was always cooking up lots of daring schemes. Or were you a late bloomer?

I’d say I was definitely into schemes. At my primary school in the Philippines and Singapore I would make pocket money by selling my grandmother’s brownies on the school bus, drawing caricatures of teachers in return for extended library loans and producing ‘zines in which my classmates would live happily ever after with the famous American TV actor at the time, Jason Priestly. Having monstrously horrible handwriting I recruited the help of a calligraphy student, who dictated my words into elegant ‘zine captions and thought bubbles. I rewarded her with a caricature of Jason Priestly. It was then that I realised two things, I had a passion for making creative things, and I liked to collaborate with people. As I became older I increasingly felt we were put on this world to make meaning and pursue a passion that is distinctively ours. And that is why my present work life, home life and relationships are infused with creative activities, most of them beginning with a dare.

‘Creative activities’ generally mean scrapbooking classes or sewing a nice cushion cover. But you co-founded tinygold artist-run initiative and 19 KAREN, and now rabbit+cocoon. Can you tell us what it took to get those projects to fly? 

I strongly feel that in order to succeed in the arts industry you must believe that what you are producing, or committing to, will hopefully leave a creative stamp on the community. Relish in innovative thoughts, be an active part of the city by supporting local projects. Have a gutsy heart, be open to taking risks, and be willing to match ideas and vision with passion and resilience. I suppose what I lacked in industry experience starting out, I made up for with initiative, an appetite to learn, and fervour to involve like-minded people. Giving flight to these projects, including Streetcube and Nine Wives, was a combination of these things.  Furthermore, having an utterly supportive partner has enabled me to juggle this all, and still remain sound.

There’s a lot of talk about uni degrees being less useful ‘in the real world’ compared with volunteering and internships. As a creative arts graduate (Griffith) where do you stand in the debate?

I believe in the benefits of both. Seeking work experience and mentoring gigs early in my career gave me this wonderful sense of resilience, drive and flexibility. Volunteering has enabled me to throw support behind projects that promote cultural value, and to come across, and work with people who inspire me. At the same time I’m very appreciative of my art school degree. It instilled in me the value of structure and discipline, and it also became a taste-tester of fine art, experimental design, performance, film, web development, arts writing and research. I feel this multimodal way of learning encourages students to voraciously mix interests, and respond better to an ever-adapting industry once they graduate.

In the next few years, what would you like to see happening among this city’s creative practitioners?

I would love to see the Gold Coast recognised internationally for its reservoir of artists and healthy cultural achievements. Hopefully we see more cultural philanthropy and multi-arts consumption from the public and private sector so artists can continue to produce innovative works. More importantly, I’d like to see more artists STAY on the Gold Coast, and for those who left ages ago to return and give our city a second shot.