What it takes to be a leading regional centre of culture

Brooke Boland

We take a closer look at an amazing array of cultural events over the next two months in Bendigo.
What it takes to be a leading regional centre of culture

White Night will take place in Bendigo for the first time this year. Image: White Night Melbourne 2018. Supplied.

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This year, the wider Bendigo region — the country of the Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung peoples —was selected as the Regional Centre of Culture in Victoria and the host city along with Castlemaine for the Artlands Victoria Conference in October. And it’s not hard to see why as its arts and cultural tourism has rapidly grown in recent years. 

In 2016, Bendigo was the most searched destination by Australians on Trip Advisor. And in 2017, the region welcomed 2.7 million domestic day trippers, an increase of 52% over the past 10 years, according to Tourism Research Australia. There was also a 38% increase in overnight stays.

But statistics aside (as impressive as they are), we’ve been waiting to ask arts programmers and curators what it’s like to live and work in a growing regional centre like Bendigo, and how exhibitions and festival programs — both ongoing and new — impact the local community and help brand Bendigo as a leading cultural destination.  

Bendigo Writers Festival

10-12 August 2018

Bendigo Writers Festival has become known as a regional festival with an international bent. It brings international guests, like street-farm pioneer Michael Ableman and North Korean refugee advocate Hyeonseo Lee, who will be at the 2018 Festival this August, and places them alongside some of our national greats, like Benjamin Law and Tracey Spicer.

This year more than 150 writers will appear across 100 events.

‘It can be big enough to provide lots of options for audiences, and we also know that the events will be well supported, and that our audiences are very interested, so that means I can program Richard Denniss talking about neoliberalism alongside Timmah Ball talking about creating zines for new writing, alongside Helen Caldicott talking about nuclear weapons alongside Charlotte Wood talking about laughter as an ethical choice,’ said Rosemary Sorensen, Director of Bendigo Writers Festival. 

‘And we are big enough to be able to invite internationals, which always adds extra panache to the weekend. We've got crime writer Ann Cleeves this year, as well as the extraordinary Lemn Sissay, Jewish singer songwriter Bente Kahan, Sarah Sentilles, Matt Haig, Carey Gillam, Hyeonseo Lee and Michael Ableman. That's so good to be able to invite such a variety of interesting speakers. 

Bendigo Writers Festival, 2017. Supplied.

Sorensen said Bendigo Writers Festival began seven years ago at an interesting time in Bendigo’s cultural development, when ‘the city was about to invest significantly in buildings to support the increasing need for quality events.’

Clearly an investment that has paid off. 

‘From the first year, the Festival changed perceptions. With the Capital Theatre as the base, and with Ulumbarra Theatre coming into the picture, the hope that writers and audiences would enjoy an ambitious festival quickly became reality.’

Find out more at bendigowritersfestival.com.au

White Night Bendigo

1 September 2018, 7:00pm to 2:00am

For the first time, White Night will take place in Bendigo in 2018 – the second time White Night has been presented in a regional Victorian town.

This September, projections that light up the town’s stunning heritage buildings, live performances, and art installations will take place in the centre of Bendigo, extending from the cultural hub of View Street, down the main boulevard of Pall Mall, and spilling out into Bull Street and neighbouring Rosalind Park. 

Celebrated Artistic Director and Producer David Atkins OAM said that from past experience, he expects White Night to have a ‘significant affect upon the city, commercially, creatively and culturally.’

He also noted that the level of engagement and participation from the local community, arts organisations, and the City is different when curating an event like White Night in a regional city like Bendigo.

‘Regional communities have been much more open and more willing to take ownership of the event and ensure its success. For the most part, they are more willing and more enthusiastic participants, supporters and contributors to the event. This in turn has an impact on every aspect of the event and makes a regional event more unique and more collaborative and ultimately more important to all involved.’

‘It’s really palpable the level of excitement and willingness to be involved, and to see this as an important event for the city and its artists and performers and residents  and for those who will also come from outside Bendigo to contribute to the event. There is also a very strong sense of pride in the city and its people and that is also demonstrated in their approach and attitude to this opportunity,’ said Atkins.

Find out more at whitenight.com.au/bendigo

Bendigo Art Gallery

Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise

7 July - 16 September 2018

Just because a gallery is regional doesn’t mean it shies away from presenting challenging work. Bendigo Art Gallery is a great example of that especially considering current exhibition Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise, curated by artist Ben Quilty and Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre, Michael Dagostino.

‘Exhibitions such as this demonstrate the importance of the arts in highlighting social, cultural and political situations. This exhibition helps to humanise Myuran Sukumaran and shed light on the person he became while in Kerobokan Prison in Bali. The exhibition also raises questions about incarceration and the notion of restorative justice. The reason we all work in the arts is because we know the power it has, and this exhibition is a prime example of this power and the importance of having spaces like galleries and museums for talking about and challenging difficult ideas,’ said Bendigo Art Gallery Curatorial Manager Tansy Curtin.

Curtin moved to Bendigo 12 years ago and has seen the city change ‘quite dramatically’ alongside growth in the Gallery’s visitation. Under the renown directorship of Karen Quinlan, and thanks to the efforts of a talented team, Bendigo Art Gallery has influenced the cultural representation of the town.

Another Day in Paradise, Campbelltown Arts Centre. Image: Document Photography. Supplied.

‘I love living and working in Bendigo, for me working in a regional gallery of this calibre has afforded me the opportunity to work on many levels – negotiating with some of the most significant museums in the world while still feeling connected and engaged with my local community. Bendigo now has so many wonderful festivals and cultural events so there is something to see and do all year round.’

Find out more at bendigoartgallery.com.au

Enlighten: A festival of projection

29-31 August 2018

The latest to find its place in Bendigo is Enlighten, a three-day festival of projection art. 

The Enlighten Festival is supported by the inaugural Regional Centre for Culture Program, a Victorian Government initiative in partnership with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and the City of Greater Bendigo. 

The format is community driven and this has become one of the programs key strengths. 

‘There is something really special about working in the arts in a regional City. The entire community know and support each other, attending each others events, spreading the word about callouts, and feeding into each others creativities,’ said Molly Braddon, Projection Festival Officer for the City of Greater Bendigo.

‘The spirit of the arts in regional centres like Bendigo is honest, raw, open and inclusive – every artist gets a look in, no matter their status or discipline.’

The overall goal of Enlighten is to bring people together and encourage connection to country. It’s an empowering project to work on, said Braddon.

‘Being able to respond to that connection curatorially, and provide a platform for artists to communicate themselves through an event like Enlighten, is one of the most empowering things (in my opinion) a city can provide to its people.’ 

Enlighten 2016. Conservatory, Rosalind Park. Photo by Julie Andrews. Supplied.

It is also providing important opportunities for local Bendigo and Central Victorian artists to develop new skills in public projection thanks not only to the new platform for the presentation of work, but also initiatives like a projection masterclass and ongoing development support.

‘People are so embedded in the community and have such local focused arts practices. We’ve been able to plug into that art community and give them an opportunity for artistic expression in a bit of a different way through public projection. Some have been able to develop their practice into completely different territory – a new discipline, the public realm, participatory works – as well as developing a projection-based practice. We’ve given support to aid in expanding their skillsets, adding further depth to their work, and connecting them with wider digital media networks,’ said Braddon. 

‘All this activity; in a strong, close arts community; has been able to further enrich these connections people have with each other, not to mention the wider city.’ 

We’re thrilled to also be combining Enlighten within White Night on Saturday 1st September, to create four days of light and projection in the heart of the city. Enlighten will be based around the Bendigo Town Hall and Conservatory Gardens and will celebrate the cultural diversity of Bendigo as well as young, emerging and established artists within the local and central Victorian communities. 

Find out more at bendigotourism.com

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music

7 – 9 September 2018

The performance of premiere and rarely seen long form works makes The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (BIFEM) one of the most innovative festivals of virtuosic concert music in the world.

The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music started in September 2013 and immediately won critical praise from around the world, delivering festival and broadcast audiences a visceral experience. BIFEM platforms virtuosity in musicianship and innovation in composition. The highlight this year is the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO), coming to Victoria for its first ever appearance. The ASO’s 40-player BIFEM residency will feature two stunning lyrical programmes at the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo on the 7 and 8 of September 2018. The opening night features a remarkable string ensemble work by the Taiwanese-Australian composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, a world premiere from BIFEM Founder David Chisholm, and the Australian premiere of the late British composer Johnathan Harvey’s exquisite Tranquil Abiding. 

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music (BIFEM). Image supplied.

The second programme features two rarely performed North American 20th century iconic pieces: Morton Feldman’s intimate portrait For Samuel Beckett and Claude Vivier’s haunting Lonely Child, sung by Australian soprano Jane Sheldon in her BIFEM return. USA conductor Eric Dudley, also returns to BIFEM for his first collaboration with ASO.

Find out more at bifem.com.au

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.