Creative hotspots: celebrating our regional arts communities

Social, environmental and politically themed art works are provoking and inspiring regional communities across the nation.
Creative hotspots: celebrating our regional arts communities

An aerial view of the beach at Noosa on a clear day. Photo credit: Darren Tierney via Shutterstock

Across Australia, artists are contributing to social cohesion and enriching their local communities through a diverse range of contemporary practices.

As with their cousins in the nation’s major urban centres, artists and arts organisations in the likes of Wodonga, Armidale, Toowoomba and Narre Warren are responding to a broad range of themes, issues and identities – social, environmental and political.

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Here, we explore six regional arts events and projects, showcasing and celebrating those aspects of cultural practice that make every region unique.

‘WE ARE VALUED’

From Nobby to Oakey, Hampton, Millmerran and Goombungee, the Toowoomba region has seen a flurry of creative activity in recent months thanks to an innovative new project: The Regions.

Managed by the Alexandra Lawson Gallery, The Regions enables local, national and international artists to present to the regional communities of Toowoomba.

‘It can be a challenge to get the community to engage with something different, but the response has been extremely positive. ‘Sindikit from Baltimore, they found it such a positive experience,’ said Laura Black, Co-Director of the Alexandra Lawson Gallery.

The members of ‘Sindikit worked with a local community group, The Mulberry Project – a market garden in Nobby managed by newly settled migrants –to create a unique dinner experience, which ‘Sindikit's members found profoundly moving.

‘The migrant experience in America is different to the migrant experience here,’ Black said. ‘‘Sindikit took away so many ideas and material for them to work on further. And I think for that migrant community  – and for Nobby, which is a tiny little town – to have to artists come in from across the world to be interested, keen and engaged and work with them, it was very affirming for that community, and for that community to feel “we are valued”.’

Read: The Regions: delivering exceptional arts experiences to the community

AN INCREDIBLE WORLD UNDERWATER

Artist Vera Möller's latest exhibition explores the diverse ecosystems hidden below the waterline of Western Port Bay, part of the UNESCO Western Port Biosphere Reserve and located on Victoria's central coast. 

Commissioned exclusively for the Bunjil Place Gallery, A Thousand Tides features captivating paintings, works on paper and sculptures of imaginary underwater spaces and species inspired by the coastal environment of Western Port.

‘The aim of this show is to encourage the discovery of the significance of this particularly amazing biosphere that is Western Port Bay and to recognise it as a space for creative exploration and a realm that is worthy of everyone’s imagination and protection,’ said Möller.

‘I’ve tried to get the audience to shift their focus onto this incredible world that is underwater. The aim with it is to try to seduce them into looking at these really very crazy forms and otherworldly visual phenomena like bioluminescence, phosphorescence, opalescence, to get them to take an interest in it.' 

Read: Be seduced by Vera Möller’s underwater world

VENERATING THE ARTS

Residents of Armidale, in the New England region of NSW, have a deep respect and awareness of the value of the arts, according to Russell Bauer, Director of the New England Conservatorium of Music.

‘Perhaps because this is a university city, for some decades now there’s been a real respect for the arts and a respect for education – in fact, the veneration for the arts out here is something I’ve not seen in a regional area before,’ he said.

Embracing the arts in Armidale extends to celebrating the art of composition – the focus of a three day conference presented by New England Conservatorium later this year.

‘The Conference could almost be called, “From where do we draw inspiration?” because our presenters are going to talk about the things that inspired them as younger composers and then the directions that life and learning took them … While some topics will be quite broad, there will also be plenty of “nuts and bolts” and specific details as well, because we’re going to have composers present who want to learn some of the tricks and secrets of the trade – so there’ll be something for anyone with a keen interest in creating music,’ Bauer said.

Read: Fostering the art of inspiration at New England Conservatorium of Music

WHERE GALLERY MEETS ENVIRONMENT

Taking its cues from an environmentally alert community, Noosa Regional Gallery unpacks the global issue of climate change by bringing nature literally into the gallery.

‘We get a lot of visitors who come to Noosa for its pristine environment. This exhibition is an opportunity to scratch beneath that postcard image; to probe people; to think at different scales and consider how changes at one place or moment can have a flow-on effect to another,’ explained Gallery Director, Michael Brennan.

In another first, the Gallery has partnered with the ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE Festival in order to help the Melbourne-based festival expand its cultural footprint. Lifting a line from a Dylan Thomas poem, the resulting exhibition – entitled The force that through the green fuse drives the flower – explores the ways humans interact with, and coexist with, natural spaces.

‘Importantly, all regional galleries need to have a strong identity – they can’t all paint with the same brush. The community here in Noosa has a strong buy-in to protect the environment. Being an affiliated exhibition within the festival was an opportunity for us to be an example,’ Brennan said.

Read: Artists lend voice to critical CLIMARTE discussion

A SPACE FOR LOCAL CREATIVES

For 15 years, Arts Space Wodonga, a gallery and multipurpose space, has provided a vibrant program of creative public activities and exhibitions featuring works by local, regional and touring artists. This year the venue will undergo a major redevelopment so it can further enhance its arts program and support local audiences and creatives.

‘The gallery space that we have currently has one exhibition space, and the new gallery space will have two exhibition spaces plus a community space, so we hope that opens up a lot more opportunity for local, regional and artists further afield to come and exhibit with us,’ said Justine Ambrosio, a Team Leader at Arts Space Wodonga.

Despite the opportunities presented by the redevelopment, there’s a bittersweet feeling around its demolition.

‘There’s a real connection to this place – it’s been such a significant space for the local community so it’s a little bit sad to see it go, but I think people are really looking forward to the expanded exhibition space and enhanced public and educational programs we will be offering in the new venue,’ Ambrosio said.

Read: $10m Arts Space Wodonga redevelopment a win for the local community

UNITING REGIONAL VOICES

Arts Ablaze is a new regional arts conference hosted by Scenic Rim Regional Council and taking place at Kooralbyn Valley, in the Gold Coast hinterland, in October this year. A valuable gathering of the Queensland sector, it’s the first such conference for many years.

‘It is really significant that Queensland gets together now because it has been six years since the state has had that opportunity to shape things,’ said Scenic Rim Regional Council Coordinator Cultural Services, Bronwyn Davies.

'The conversation needs to be around "how do you fairly distribute access to the arts in regional areas?" But we also want to be responding not just to what’s happening in regional Queensland, but elsewhere in Australia and globally … It will be quite a powerful experience.'

Expressions of interest are now open for those keen to participate in the conversation, including speakers, presenters, and artists.

Read: Calling QLD artists and presenters: Arts Ablaze EOIs now open

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Twitter: @richardthewatts