Real stories, real people – Everybody Now!
Kate Baggerson Listen with your heart Bleach

Listen With Your Heart

Everybody NOW’s Co-Artistic, Director Kate Baggerson, was recently invited to reflected on this year’s Bleach Festival theme ‘Listen To Your Heart’ and the value of arts and community.

Kate’s essay talks about not just listening to your heart but listening with your heart. Leaning in deeply, to listen to your community with brave, loving, loud and joyous hearts.

” I’m sitting down to write this essay under a beautiful 100-year-old, maybe older, fig tree in Currumbin Valley at the back of my daughter’s school. My eyes are soft, my feet are bare, I am breathing in deeply. I attempt to let the sounds of this place wash through me, so that I can listen to my heart, or – as I will discover – listen with my heart.


I’m thinking about Bleach Festival and my love of festivals generally. I am thinking about community, about joy, about art (in all its manifestations – theatre, music, dance, visual arts, the traditional and the experimental), and I’m thinking about why I love this year’s Festival theme – Listen To Your Heart – so much.

I’ve sat under this tree before, long before I was a mother waiting to collect their kid from school. I was here as a festival producer with Busby Marou who Bleach Festival had programmed as Artists-In-Residence in 2013, I think.

Sitting here, I can still hear that sweet little ukulele riff of ‘Underlying Message’, the band’s hit song at the time, and the full school – a whole 120 strong – singing the chorus together. My body still remembers the connection between the musicians, Tom and Jeremy, and the grade six guitar student as they spent the time – really spent time, sharing that riff.

My whole being smiles with the memory of the infinite possibilities of that moment. It smiles, knowing that in sharing music, those young hearts have been united in a way that cements connections and make us better humans.

This is what arts does.

I’ve got a thousand ‘art’ memories that can elicit a whole-body response, just like that one. The kind of memories that make your heart feel like it’s pushing so firmly against your skin, that if you closed your eyes, you’d sway off balance with its swell.

It’s when I know that the art has reached the heart.

It’s these feelings that keep me on course and steer me back to what matters to me most. I’ve got to say, for me, what matters most is community.

When I am a part of community, I am at my strongest. My capacity to feel like I can make a difference and initiate change in the world – and change is needed – is at its greatest.

I know, that in community, my heart can be heard and I am open to experiencing the kind of joy that is at its best when shared with others.

My appreciation and understanding of what community is and can be, has come through the arts – as an artist and performance maker (nearly always working in collaboration with communities), as a festival producer, as an audience member and arts lover, and now as Co-Artistic Director and Founder of Everybody NOW.

It’s an evolving knowledge that I hope will be a lifetime’s work, deepening my understanding of how to grow and nurture communities; how to be a better participant and contributor to community; and how to heal and connect to culture – something that First Nations people know intrinsically, and where our listening and learning should start.

For now, though, I know that putting arts and artists at the heart of the matter, enriches our communities in a way that could not be more needed at this moment in time.

Something the last couple of years has really brought home, is that when our pathways into community are disrupted, it’s easy for our hearts to become weary.

Life is busy and noisy. Our hearts have a lot of competition for airtime, drowned out by the sound of fear, the unknown, the 24-hour news cycle. Our hearts can be clouded simply by the day-to-day business of serving our families, our communities – and if we ever remember – ourselves. We may intentionally or un- intentionally build walls around our hearts because we believe they will help protect us and ensure survival.But the arts is greater than those walls we build. The arts can provide us a pathway to the heart, a vortex even, so we can listen more deeply, more joyously and more courageous.

It’s not always easy what you hear. The arts are a place for celebration, entertainment and revelry, but they are also a place for healing, learning and truth-telling those necessary stories that have long been pushed to the side, or marginalised.

The arts and festivals particularly, provide us with a community to listen with and in community our hearts are safe. The individual and the collective can be lifted together. We can let down our defences and embrace a generosity of spirit that can sustain and nourish the deepest parts of our being.

We can call on those feelings, memories, connections, people, skills and creative expressions, in all sorts of everyday situations that we navigate trying to make a better world.

That memory under the fig tree is just one very small moment from a long and continuing series of moments in the arts that have become my gateway to community.

It’s because of this, that I believe ‘community’ is something worth firmly building and fiercely protecting.

When we are in community – whether that is defined by a temporary shared experience like a festival, or a long-lasting commitment to a practice like your sports team or music group, a geographical, theological or cultural community, or being thrown into new communities like a mothers group or the school P&C – our hearts are stronger.

I have realised it is the collective listening or listening in community, that is so powerful.  Listening not just to our hearts but with our hearts. Where we can experience the infinite call of the other. The sound of our neighbour’s heart.

Then – it’s the action after the listening, when we move forward together. When we accept responsibly to respond to what we have heard.

We need brave, loud, loving hearts for that task.

So breathe in deeply, let the sound of your heart be loud and joyous; or loud and longing, for when we are listening with our hearts, and listening in community, we can turn to our neighbour and say, ‘I hear you’.

Kate Baggerson May 2022