A new day ahead

Our Marketing and Publicity Manager, Catherine French was in Stratford with the Regional Arts Victoria team, for the Annual General Meeting and Member Celebration. She reflects on the day. 

We piled into the work car for the trip to Stratford, set with Muddy Waters and the 1001 Albums to Listen to Before You Die. It’s a way The Boss whiles away his hours on route to regional everywhere. After noting the best pie shop to stop at in Yarragon, the eastern landscape opened its doors to Gippsland’s wonder. There are beautiful towns, magical mysteries, and remnants of expiring industry.  All visual cues preparing our openness for the event ahead. Regional Arts Victoria was hitting the road in celebration of our Membership. We were hosting a forum alongside our Annual General Meeting about regional community resilience and the arts.

We shared the stage with Stratford. A small town fifteen minutes on from Sale, with a renovated Courthouse-come-Theatre resting on the banks-upon-Avon. It’s a beauty. We also joined artists and practitioners from across the state speaking to their methods of reparation. We were Welcomed to Country, thank you Nicky Moffat. The GunaiKurnai are a generous people. The Mayor Alan Hall welcomed us to the Shire through its artworks, he recounted the duplicity of skill inherent within country folk. And we introduced him to the artists within his bounds. Alex Wisser from Kandos, NSW – the Creative Producer of Cementa Festival – addressed us in candour, relaying the impact of the cement factory in town closing down. He used the arts as a means to generate conversation for change. Josephine Jakobi spoke to the transformation of Lake Tyers through a project called FLOAT. Pertinent to the panel discussion was the diversity of community assets requiring transformation. Ecological, Infrastructural, Social and Economic. There is wholistic context through which towns are viewed. There is such a thing as The Stratford Effect.

To expand on a few points from Alex’s chat – he drew attention as an outsider bringing change. He consulted after the art, and through navigating conflict and distaste, did he then affirm that community are the experts in navigating their own needs. Kandos was changing with or without them. Through his catalyst, permission was granted to feel, and articulate concern. Do we welcome the outsider in towns and who is the expert?

The day flew. We were graced with goodies by Duart Maffra, a quality local food supplier marking our breaktimes with gourmet delicacies. Local business is keen to support the arts, if you are keen to support the local business. The sentiment is everyone thrives together.

We then met our artists. The incredible youth who bring rigour to the meaning of our cultural testaments, and in so doing find belonging. Impact. To Andrew Garton, the filmmaker documenting the process of grief after Black Saturday, a moving tribute to The Blacksmith’s Tree. An internationally supported project that is still, still, emanating in relevance. Kareen Anchen, Lee McGill, and Tim Peel dressed the space with their artworks in response to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Delicate printworks gently thumbed by white gloves. Kingfisher spirits in wire and glass, refracting light as they carried the burdens away. And the exquisite fine metals forged from memorabilia. Moving and profound displays of soulful communities.

Meg Viney-Bell announced to standing ovation, that her contribution to Gippsland fibre artists in the form of a Fellowship is open from August this year. It was spectacular to witness the joy, and reciprocity in such a gift.

And we listened, captivated by the resonance of Bruce Esplin AM. The former Emergency Services Commissioner announced his retirement from the Regional Arts Victoria Board. True to lightning rod form, he shook the room with sharing and intimate stories of resilience. The small things that affect change in the individual, that ripple in waves through their journeys. Drawing from Meg’s sentiment he echoed, “people are not vessels to be filled, but candles to be lit”.

In the days since, appreciation for the conversation has flowed back to us. “It opened a lot of eyes as to the fact that Regional Arts Victoria is about supporting communities and artists”. It was “so very inspiring to be amongst such accomplished people that I’ve not stopped thinking about the issues raised and how to resolve them”. “I felt part of a community of makers and arts and cultural workers who seek to know each other, who know what it means to be and grow together rather than persist in ideologies that keep us apart”.

Thank you wholeheartedly to our members, for whom we work and represent. Thank you to our longstanding partner Wellington Shire Council in demonstrating with us the breadth of collaboration required for creative community. Thank you to the Latrobe Valley Authority for supporting the Travel Subsidies for members across Victoria to attend the meeting in Stratford. Thank you to the Victorian Government for the 2009 Victorian bushfires Community Arts Grants program funding for the 21 local government areas affected.

The aim of the day was to give people a voice, and ask them to share. Either through stories of their recovery, or through their art. Proudly, we did a good job. The space was held well. The arts is invaluable in Community Care.

When asked if he preferred a sunrise or a sunset, The Boss indubitably said, “sunrise because you’ve got a whole new day ahead of you”.

Catherine French is a cultural activist, working within marketing for behaviour change. At Regional Arts Victoria she works across marketing and publicity to grow experiences of the arts in regional contexts. And it is a great pleasure. Recently returned from working with festivals and events across Australia, Catherine now writes to share the experience of marketing in the arts, intending to grow support and capacity for peers working in the role across the industry. She graduated with a Master in Arts and Entertainment Management from Deakin University, having been awarded the Post Graduate and Helen Macpherson Smith Arts and Entertainment Scholarships.  She also has undergraduate degrees in Communications and Tourism through Monash University. Catherine is passionate about people, arts, music, trees and dancing.