In 2014, SSI established an innovative Arts & Culture program inspired by the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to develop their creative potential and participate meaningfully in Australia's cultural life — no matter where they come from, what language they speak, or their level of ability.
SSI Arts & Culture has supported over 100 newcomer artists, like George Karam. Photo credit: Anna Kucera
From humble beginnings, this self-funded program has grown to become the catalyst for a number of significant festivals, cultural events, creative workshops and arts initiatives across Sydney and NSW, adding greater diversity and richness to Australia’s cultural landscape.
Since its inception, SSI Arts & Culture has supported over 100 newcomer artists through the Creative Pathways Program to find their creative voice, cultivate their skillsets and connect with supportive and like-minded communities.
When Syrian oud player and qualified music teacher George Karam arrived in Sydney in 2017 after fleeing the ISIS caliphate, he struggled to find work and a platform for creative expression, despite his achievements as a renowned musician.
“When we first came to Australia, we didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any connections who could help,” he said. “But SSI helped by getting me work at parties and also at festivals and cultural events.”
As well as enabling artists to share their artistic skills and cultural heritage, SSI Arts & Culture facilitates a number of live arts events to increase community cohesion and help create a positive – and more layered – narrative around newcomers.
Since he was introduced to SSI Arts & Culture, George has managed to secure a consistent flow of live performances, including SSI’s annual flagship arts and culture event New Beginnings Festival and, most recently, at New Beginnings virtual Freedom Sessions, as part of the trio “Collusion”.
He claims that his proudest moments in life are when he is on stage. “When I arrived, not many people knew what an oud was so, when I go on stage to play it, I feel very proud. I love to present my art to people.”
George appreciates the opportunities his new country has provided; so much so that he is writing a song to thank Australia for all that it has done for him and his family. “It will be in Syrian and English and played with an oud, so it makes a connection between the two countries and between me and Australia.”