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Transforming regional towns with the arts

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Brooke Boland

The arts can transform regional communities through different approaches. Here are four strategies that often work.
Transforming regional towns with the arts

Katia Molino, Theatre Kantanka, Obscene Madam D.

There are many arguments for the importance of the arts in regional Australia. Now we give you clear examples of what strategies work for some of Australia’s regional communities.

1. The residency program that engages

Each year around 300 artists stay at Bundanon Trust as part of the Artist-in-Residence program. ‘They become a rich cultural resource for the local area,’ said Chief Programs Officer John Baylis.

‘One way that our resident artists engage directly with the local community is through our Bundanon Local program, conducting workshops with the Shoalhaven community and leading ambitious creative projects resulting in local performances and exhibitions.’

‘For example, Philip Channells, Damian Barbeler and Sam James, who have all been artists-in-residence with us, are currently collaborating with local artist Annette Tesoriero to work with local people living in the Shoalhaven 60 years old and over on a project called 60+ Performance.  Their work together will ultimately result in a public performance for the local community involving music, song, media and dance.’

The residency program also links to Bundanon’s public events and education program, allowing resident artists to participate in concert series and providing local children with insight into the careers and practices of Australian artists. ‘Part of the young people's Bundanon experience is a visit to one of our artist-in-residence’s studios. The artist discusses their work and their process with the young people and responds to their often-insightful questions,’ said Baylis.

Read: Opportunity for artists' residency

2. The regional award

Regional awards are also a way for galleries to engage with a national conversation and show new contemporary work to local residents. The Contemporary Wearable Biennial Award hosted by Toowoomba Regional Gallery achieves this by showcasing cutting edge design practices in wearable art and culminates in a touring exhibition of work.

Sabine Pagan, judge of the 2015 award, said it is significant that Contemporary Wearables is located in Toowoomba as it helps regional designers stay connected to contemporary practice. ‘I think it is very important that we don’t always see the metropolitan area as the end point for showing these [design practices]. On the contrary, it is important to show in different places and one of the strengths of the gallery in Toowoomba is they fund this award,’ she said.

‘It means that more regions are becoming interested in these things and we give them equal access. It is very important for the growth of places and for individual practices in general.’ 

Read: Contemporary jewellery goes to the people

3. The month long community event

For this one, it really is all hands on deck but the pay off for small communities in regional areas makes it worthwhile. During the month of May, all of Gippsland becomes connected through creative networks that stretch from community to community. The Come and Play – All of May program, run by Creative Gippsland, brings a suite of exhibitions, master classes, talks and performances to create a month long celebration of arts and culture across the region. The program also includes local community artist residencies to help forge a stronger arts network. ‘It really develops and fosters a sense of community,’ said Arts and Culture Coordinator Andrea Court.

Ned Dennis from South Gippsland Shire Council said the large program can help overcome some of the isolation individual people and even regional communities often feel.

‘When smaller towns see other smaller communities [engaging with artists during Come Play in May 2017], they feel like if ‘it can happen there it can happen here’. So it actually opens up the potential for people to get involved in the creative works that otherwise might have by passed them. And that helps with that really critical part of the world of our work is encouraging people from some pretty isolated areas and they are seeing that there are other ways you can engage with the art or artist,’ said Dennis.

Read: Gippsland communities welcome artists

4. The exhibition premiere

Nothing puts a regional gallery on the map quite like a premiere international exhibition.  The upcoming landmark presentation of Hockney’s Words and Pictures at Tweed Regional Gallery is an example of how a regional gallery can turn themselves into a destination.  The exhibition features four major suites of artists’ prints produced by David Hockney from 1961–1977 borrowed from the British Council Collection.

The exhibition is just the beginning though, and Tweed Regional Gallery encourage community engagement through supporting public and educational programs.

‘Openings are coupled with curatorial introductions to the exhibitions, weekend artists talks, artists demonstrations and workshops, most of which are offered free to the public. The Galley also offers a series ‘Art in the Pub’ which is held in Mullumbimby, to add reach to audience reach,’ said Gregory Puch, Gallery Officer at the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Arts Centre.

Read: Looking into art's most popular face

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. She recently completed her PhD on gender, translation and women's writing and has tutored undergraduates at Victoria University and the University of NSW.

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