The East Gippsland Art Gallery is a magical place—filled with positive energy and creative potential.
At the time of the interview, the gallery is ‘closed for renovations’, but the place is far from quiet. Animated, joyous conversation is bouncing off the walls and the passion present is striking.
Gallery Director, Crystal Stubbs, laughs and says, “Technically, we’re closed, but it is all happening here. It’s always happening here”.
It’s not the first time I’ve been to the gallery. A month earlier, I wandered in off the street in search of some culture and a sense of belonging in a new community. Feeling lost after relocating from Footscray, I was welcomed by Sonia, part of the gallery’s creative team.
Crystal describes Sonia as ‘divine’, and the description couldn’t be more accurate. With an infectious energy that radiates warmth and happiness, it is evident that she loves what she does.
Sonia immediately set about sharing her knowledge with me, informing me of where I could get the best coffee, where the best shops are (Foundry, I am looking at you!), and most importantly, who I might be able to connect with in my area.
Essential information when you have just moved anywhere, but even more so in a rural setting.
The tagline on the gallery website is ‘Sharing the adventure of visual arts’ and it is clear the group embody this philosophy, eagerly working to connect creatives in the region, especially the younger artists amongst us.
They do this via several arts learning programs that they run outside of their standard funding. ‘Creative kids’ for the little tackers and the ‘stART’ program that is held once a month for 15-25-year-olds.
Sonia says, “We know that it’s hard as a kid to live in regional Victoria. You know, what do you do if you are a little bit quirky or a little bit creative and you want to find your tribe?
“In the city, it is easier to find a group. Whereas, when you’re here and you’re all spread out, it’s a lot harder”.
After funding was cut for arts at the Bairnsdale TAFE it became apparent that there was a massive art-sized gap that needed filling. Young creatives were coming into the gallery directionless. The stART program was created as an attempt to bridge that gap. As a testament to their love and faith in the arts, Crystal and Sonia both volunteer their time to the running of these workshops and they’re a space where more established local artists can share their knowledge with young artists.
“We are all very passionate and go above and beyond”, Crystal says.
“Art is for everyone”, she tells me. “We have the space. Let’s use it. It’s the community’s gallery after all. It shouldn’t be a sterile space. Everyone should feel welcome to walk through these doors”.
That’s why Crystal and the team are adamant that they will do all they can to keep the programs free and accessible to all.
“They are not all going to end up artists—that’s not the point of it”, says Crystal. “Art is a process… it’s healing, and the benefits to the community are wide-reaching. We want to tell the kids, if you are creative or struggling at school or if you have anger management issues or you have a learning disability—you can still draw, you can paint, you can sculpt or be creative in some way”.
Crystal jokes, “We are all a bit nuts at the gallery and I’m the first one to put my hand up and say I have no idea what I am doing”. She laughs and says, “I have no idea how I even got this job”.
But it is evident that Crystal and the creative team know exactly what they are doing.
Sonia shows me a poster they have pinned on the wall, ‘10 skills kids can learn from art’. It includes things such as collaboration, dedication and problem-solving. “But really they could be applied to everyone, not just kids”, she says.
Art can act as a catalyst for positive change within communities and the team at East Gippsland Art Gallery are the epitome of what community arts should be — informative, inclusive and accessible.
If you are a young creative in the area, pop into the gallery and say, “Hey!”. The awesome team will point you in the right direction.
If you think that you can share your skills or provide assistance via funding, then get in touch with the creative team: eastgippslandartgallery.org.au/contact.