Ngaio Parr & Alexandra Winters, Make Nice Creative Directors
Meet the powerhouse duo behind Make Nice, Ngaio Parr and Alexandra Winters. Women with a cause, these creative ladies are smashing boundaries with their creative practice and the way they live. They took time out from their careers and Make Nice planning to share their stories.
What do you do?
Ngaio: I am an independent Designer, Illustrator, and Curator. My multidisciplinary studio works on publication design, illustration, visual identities, and set design - amongst other things. I’m also a Tutor for the School of Design and Architecture at the University of Technology Sydney, and am a contributor to Women of Graphic Design.
Alex: I am the Curator and Exhibition Coordinator at Brisbane Powerhouse, an artist and sign writer, I also work remotely for U.S based social practice conference Open Engagement as their Social Media and Blog Coordinator. I recently completed my Masters, focusing my research on the delivery of art projects in the public realm, using New York based non-profit Creative Time as a case study.
Ngaio: As you can tell we’ve both got so much time on our hands so we thought, "let’s organise a three-day un-conference!"
What was your motivation behind creating Make Nice?
Ngaio: We both returned to Australia after studying and working in the United States for a while and found it very difficult to feel supported, particularly by other women, in the creative industries. The support networks and friends we had made in a matter of months over there took years to cultivate in Australia.
Alex: There was a generosity of knowledge and network sharing in the States that we felt was lacking here. It is great to be competitive, dedicated and have drive, but not when it runs the risk of disadvantaging an industry from growing collectively.
Ngaio: We wanted to create something for women who are doing well - but perhaps working freelance, or working in a studio with no female role models, to connect with other creatives. In their own field and beyond.
What has been the best thing about working with each other?
Ngaio: Aside from the fact that Alex is probably the only person who is insane enough to agree to create Make Nice with me? I love working with Alex because we balance each other really well. I tend to be more lofty and idealistic about the process, and Alex brings a good dose of practicality and realism. This balance is the key to Make Nice existing – when I wanted to quit after the 100th setback Alex talked me back, and when Alex wanted to quit after the 200th setback, I talked her back. Working with such a great friend also means 20 hour Skype dates (yes, really) aren’t so bad.
Alex: We have different skill sets and specialties. Although we both met and started out in Public Programming within a gallery context, we have since taken very different paths. Which means now that we have joined forces we are basically superhuman, doubling what we know and are comfortable doing. What also makes this tireless project manageable is that we have the same celebrity crushes and music taste. Because Sydney is one hour ahead of Brisbane at the moment, Ngaio starts our communications for the day by sending me a new photo of a celebrity crush every morning. Seeing this first thing when I wake up puts me in a great mood, and then we start talking business. It’s a very effective morale booster!
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Ngaio: Other than the all-consuming love for everything Make Nice? I’ve just started a great book design project with my talented friend Amber Creswell-Bell, and I’m going to be knuckling down into a few personal projects too. I’ll be heading back to teach at University of Technology Sydney again in a few weeks as well once the semester starts - and that is always enjoyable meeting the new students who are so scared and excited.
Alex: Well I’m heading over to Oakland, California for Open Engagement in April before Make Nice in June, and will hopefully line up some work in New York for later in the year whilst over there.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Ngaio: I’ve left highly-paid, mostly fulfilling jobs twice and mixed up careers again and again. Both times – “If you don't build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs”, was the maxim that pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m definitely earning less money – and I work longer hours - but I’m slowly but surely building my dream and I’ve never once regretted those decisions.
Alex: “Master of all trades, Jack of you thinking I’m not” – my twist on the disparaging expression: "Jack of all trades, master of none". I am really good at more than one thing – deal with it. I don’t need to specialise to be at the top of my game, and because this isn’t the norm I have to remind myself that it’s an advantage not a disadvantage.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
Ngaio: My first degree in Fine Arts (Visual Arts) really shaped the way I think and work. Amongst many other valuable lesson it taught me to follow my interest, to think (and write) critically, to get outside my comfort zone as often as possible, and to make things happen rather than waiting and hoping they will. Without these skills I would definitely not be where I am today.
Midway through my second degree (Design) I saved up enough money to do an exchange at the Rhode Island School of Design. If you don’t know it – it is one of, if not the best design school in the world, and it really opened my eyes and challenged me in the best way possible. That time informs how I structure my day, my design process, the projects I want to work on, and most importantly, how I teach.
The third milestone would be a Skype call Alex and I had where we decided we would quit complaining and create what became Make Nice. Maybe if I wasn’t a few ciders in and we weren’t such great friends none of this would be happening!
Alex: Getting into art school straight out of high school to lay the foundations for the love of my industry.
Landing a gallery job straight after graduating to teach me the skill set I have adapted to so many different roles since.
Receiving grant money to travel to the U.S on what I was calling ‘self-directed education’, as an alternative to postgraduate study, where I attended conferences and interviewed organisations, organisers and artists that were doing what I was interested in. I pursued practical knowledge and actually met the people I would go on to write about in my Masters, it advanced my knowledge base immeasurably and also led me to work with Open Engagement.
What has been the best moment so far about creating Make Nice?
Ngaio: We’ve had a lot of setback producing Make Nice, and I like to keep two different moments in mind when the next inevitable setback comes around to remind me that it is all worthwhile. The first was receiving the most amazing email back from Adi Goodrich no less than five minutes after we’d invited her to present. It was filled with love and support and excitement – it was just so incredible and affirming to feel the love.
The second has been the amazing response we’ve felt in the past few days after our soft launch. We’ve received emails from complete strangers thanking us for the work we are doing, support from women in the field that we look up too, and an overwhelming approval for our first curated lineup.
Alex: I can’t pinpoint one overarching moment yet, I feel like every time we hear from someone telling us they love the idea and want to support what we are doing, means we are on the right track. I also get a lot out of constructive criticism, which is always going to find its way into your inbox when you create something provocative and public. Working with Ngaio and our greater team to articulate a response as to why we are doing what we are doing further cements why Make Nice is onto something. Also – every time we Skype with our idols, be it other conference directors from around the globe who are willing to give us advice and direction, or people we are collaborating with, makes me realise that the very process of creating this event, is demonstrating and building that network and exchange of ideas and knowledge that we want Make Nice to do. So the preparation leading up to the event has already been super rewarding and valuable, and something I’m sure Ngaio and I will continue to reap the rewards of for years to come.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Ngaio: When I first started working independently, numerous friends and colleagues recommended I stick to a good routine. Of course I instead resisted scheduling my day and creating routines for as long as possible. Well - they were all completely right. My routine and schedule are what keeps me moving, and gets my work done – without it my life would be nothing but Law & Order and pyjamas.
Alex: Take care of your health. (Ngaio: I totally told you this earlier HA)
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
Ngaio: I do – but I’ve worked really hard to make it.
Alex: I do – but it’s only been a very recent thing. I worked independently and in obscurity for a long time. Once I knew it was possible, I surrounded myself and reached out to strong, proactive women and it’s led to great things!
What is your long term vision for Make Nice?
Ngaio: Ultimately I’d love for it to not be needed anymore.
Alex: Yeah, to put ourselves out of a job.
Has there been a mentor in particular who gave you great advice for Make Nice?
Ngaio: One of the first speakers we approached was Jess Scully, Curator of Vivid Ideas and one of my idols. We hadn’t floated the idea of Make Nice with many people at all – and having such immediate and overwhelming support from one of our heroes in the industry really gave us the confidence to push forward when things got tough. She is also outrageously intelligent and lovely – with great advice every time we talk.
Alex: Probably Kat Gordon, Director of the 3% Conference, when she told Ngaio and I to "Be kind to each other". It’s crazy how hard it is working in different cities, with different weekly schedules. We have put in so many hours over the past year – but no matter what, our friendship will out-win any missed deadline or overlooked typo. It’s hard to see that sometimes in the heat of the moment.
Ngaio: Kat also mentioned that it is important after Make Nice to sit back for a day and let it wash over us. Alex and I (and I am assuming Kat) are very much "Yep, Tick, Done, Next" type people – so planning on sitting back and congratulating ourselves is a foreign, but worthwhile, idea. We will likely do this with rum.
Any dreams for the Make Nice 2017 lineup?
Ngaio: We have a never-ending list of talented women - some of which we were talking with about 2016 and we just couldn’t pull together enough funding to bring them all over this year. Top of my list is Danielle Pender, Tuesday Bassen, and Miranda July. I call bullshit on whoever tells you it is difficult to find female speakers for conferences.
Alex: Oh man, I would love to program some leading ladies running festivals. I think that is a tough industry that I would like to know the intricacies of more.
What is your dream project?
Ngaio: I have so many! I’d love to do some editorial illustrations (most dreamily for Riposte Magazine, Rookie, Broadly and Lucky Peach). I’d kill to do a big project with Studio Mash, Round, or Confetti. It’d be a dream to work on some illustrations with Romance Was Born. I want to write a book, and I want to design more books. I want to curate some exhibitions. I wanna do some murals! And I’d love to do some more music-based work. I want to be on panels and talk about the issues I care about. But overall – I just want to work with powerful, engaged, and intelligent women. Who am I kidding – I just want to collaborate with Miranda July, Karen O, and Jessica Hopper.
Alex: I want to pull off a large scale collaborative mural. Hey Ngaio I see that’s on your list – maybe we should do that after we pull off Make Nice?! My next goal is to work for Creative Time! I have been lucky enough to meet and pick the brains of some inspiring females on their team and would love to land a role where I can be mentored by such women. That’s my next step – I have so much to learn.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
Ngaio: I finally got around to reading Jessica Hopper’s The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic which is absolutely incredible. I’m juggling a few other great books at the moment – including The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, How Music Works by David Byrne, and Faithfull by Marianne Faithfull – I have a short attention span! I’m listening to a lot of Father John Misty, Paul Simon, Gillian Welch, and Kurt Vile at the moment, as well as being pretty addicted to Serial (of course) and You Must Remember This podcasts.
Alex: I just finished M-Train by Patti Smith and Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon. I now have a couple of books on the go: Power by Nato Thompson, Counting for Nothing - What Men Value and What Women Are Worth by Marilyn Waring and I’m re-reading Wetlands by Charlotte Roche – also I’m watching the third season of Broad City!
Ngaio: Yas Queen!
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
Ngaio: I want pay equity! I mean – how can the pay gap have increased over the past decade? How is this not on every meeting agenda, on every billboard, and on everyone's minds?!
Alex: I want to see women in visible leadership roles. And can we please get a little bit more angry about the fact that the national gender pay gap is at a record high right now!