In memory of Sylvie Stern

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THE Canberra arts community has been shocked to learn of the death this morning (January 21, 2015) of broadcaster, writer, photographer and arts activist Sylvie Stern, after a period of hospitalisation.

Colleagues at 2XX and PhotoAccess are planning a celebration of her life in the near future.

In 2013 Stern was one of the portrait subjects in artist Barbara van der Linden’s Centenary project, “Faces of Canberra.” The portrait is published here with the kind permission of the artist.

I was fortunate enough to interview Stern for the catalogue essay I wrote, and these were my words:

“There are few Canberra faces likely to be seen as widely around Canberra as Sylvie Stern’s.

A radio presenter for Community radio Station 2XXFM, she has also been a publicist, a singer and promoter of exotic installations in Civic, and the mover and shaker behind cultural institutions like Heaven nightclub, the Kahlo Club, ‘Artbeat’ in the Festival of Contemporary arts, Pulse youth dance events, international women’s day ‘Splash outs’ and Blackartz Day Out, a festival showcasing indigenous musicians and artists staged during reconciliation week 2004.

Born of mixed Spanish-Austrian heritage and the daughter of the distinguished Cambridge linguist Professor George Stern, she studied music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and enjoyed a remarkable career as a singer in London and New York, where she lived for 10 years, recording with Donna Summer and working with The Four Tops, Dr John and Bo Diddley.

After suffering a stroke, she moved back from overseas and to Canberra in 1993, where she quickly involved herself in the arts, especially those which bore on social justice and equity. As well, she changed the nightclub scene by bringing in sculptural installations and underground video projections into music events and environments.

On air, Stern is a critic, but an extraordinarily generous one who never, ever belittles artists or resorts to sarcasm. ‘I always try to bring out the artist’s own perspective of the work,’ she says.

‘Whether it’s visual arts, theatre, film or mixed media, I like to find out why they wanted to create it in the first place. What stirred them?’

Stern was part of the ACT Festivals Advisory Funding Committee, and was a member of the ACT Cultural Council for three terms, where she took part in forums on live-music issues facing the local sector.

A fervent advocate for the often-neglected hybrid arts, she has supported professional, emerging and grass roots artists and musicians. She was part of the team that, in 2007, was granted $70,000 for the re-fit of the 2XX FM studios with up-dated equipment.

Known by all as a humane and kind figure, in recent years she has juggled her community and on-air commitments with acting as a full-time sole carer of her late mother.

‘There is a symbiotic relationship between broadcasting and culture,’ she says, speaking for the whole industry. “We try to harbour and create a continuing, creative partnership with writers, performers, musicians and producers across Canberra and the surrounding region, and therefore contribute a shared enterprise with our audience.”

To Stern, radio was a labour of love.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

21 COMMENTS

  1. So sad – Sylvie was 2nd mum to me through the nineties. She was a wonderful person and had a huge sense of loyalty. We will miss you Sylv!

  2. She will be sadly missed by all of us in the LGBTQI community as she did so much, she supported us and encouraged us, sadly missed Sylvie.

  3. A true original, Sylvie is the reason I am where I am today, that is no over exaggeration. I was one of the house graphic designers for Heaven for a couple of years in the early 90’s because of her, she basically gave my career it’s first start. Miss you Sylvie you legend.

  4. Truly an inspiration to us all… Thank you for every little thing Sylv xxx you will live on in our hearts and memories forever and always xxx Love always “one of your kids” Emma Leigh Morris

  5. Rest In peace Sylvie, I am forever in debt to you for the opertunities you gave me at Heaven. You will be missed but not forgotten :'(

  6. Sylvie was a huge support to me and the other members of our circus troupe, Schmick As. She argued with us to update our costume, and after much negotiation, we agreed on an idea, and she paid for the lot. She got us work, invited us to places, and along with a handful of other amazing Canberrans, handed most of the troupe a career in the arts.
    She was great.

  7. Very sad to hear this news from back home. Such an amazing woman and a contribution to the arts that is so admirable. My heart is a little bit heavy at this news. Vale.

  8. Dear Sylvie, I, like so many people will miss you terribly. Thank-You so much for your encouragement & motivation in so many areas: to welcome & encourage me to DJ at Club Heaven for over 5 years; for encouraging me with & promoting my various artistic projects; to work alongside you at radio 2XX over the course of 20 years; for the extra support when I was doing the mega-stressful office admin roles – I can’t imagine being able to have done any of that without you; and for all the great conversations, for the uplifting energy, whenever we bumped in to each other. I marvel at how you lovingly gave so much of your time and energy to so many people. Canberra has lost a true & rare gem. I send best wishes to you and family for rest and peace. xoxox, R.

  9. Olav ha sholom. Thanks Helen for rounding out Sylvie’s story. For all her kick and energy (and volume!), such a gentle and kind person. And here’s hoping Canberra can smoehow pick up and make up for the loss of her constant & committed work with stray dogs at DAS.

  10. I’m so sad to hear of Sylvie’s passing. Sylvie was an inspiration of what a strong, independent creative woman could be. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and think outside of the box. I worked with Sylvie on a couple of radio shows and she was so encouraging and generous in sharing her knowledge. I’ll remember her huge smile & laugh. Sylvie will be much missed by many communities in Canberra and beyond. I will miss you Sylvie. Love Rosie x

  11. Ah, Sylvie. Bravely defending Heaven from a swarming pack of Summer Nats thugs.

    You were always doing that. Protecting, defending, championing. Good job.

  12. Sylvie Stern was one of a kind — a woman of many talents, generous with her friendship, vivacious, always cheerful — an inspiration to all who were fortunate to know her. She was very supportive of involving immigrant and refugee women of diverse backgrounds in broadcasting, and certainly showed a lot of spirit speaking out against social injustice, and against gender and racial discrimination. Her passing is truly a great loss to the Canberra community.

  13. Inexplicably, for the first time since living in Canberra in the late 60’s – 70’s, I just face book searched the name of Sylvie Stern, a friend from Mawson Primary School, and then learnt the sad news. I remember her as an outgoing, lovely person.

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