In early August Gippslandia hosted our first event ‘Creating Future Success’, as part of the Victorian Government’s Small Business Festival. Organising the afternoon was a mostly enjoyable exercise with a spike of pressure right before our gathering at the well-designed Moe Library began.
Down a speaker, festival director and creative consultant, Ros Abercrombie jumped in to save the day, joining our stellar lineup of Brian Vella, Steve Sammartino and John Calabro. While we had a fluster of stress in trying to sell our sixty seats, Ros took time out from organising Artlands Victoria, a biennial event that shines a national spotlight on Australia’s regional arts. Her willingness to assist our lil’ informative shindig was incredible, and as our understanding of the breadth of Artlands grew, we began to look forward to sharing more on Ros’ event with you too.
The following is an interview with Ros, the Artlands Victoria Creative Director and her colleagues on the impressive regional arts project that runs in Bendigo and the surrounding districts from October 10 to 14. Of notable interest was the deep inclusion of the region’s Aboriginal people and the ‘Cultural Pharmacy’, which promotes the value of the arts to our mental health.
Why is a vibrant art scene valuable to regional communities?
Artlands Victoria: Through arts and cultural events, places may attract not only visitors and tourists but also investments. A vibrant arts scene can result in financial benefits and dissemination of artistic and cultural heritage. The creative industries generate and support employment and economic diversification. Connecting arts and regional industries that exemplify growth, productivity and innovation and curating a conversation that actively positions the arts, cultural experience, health and well-being are valuable tools for regional communities’ sustainability and future success.
The arts build capacity through strengthening communities, encouraging participation, building relationships and connecting the corporate, private and public sectors.
The benefits are many:
– Encourages local engagement;
– Generate a sense of community and place;
– Contribute to the artistic, cultural and community capacity;
– Raise cross-cultural awareness;
– Showcase contemporary multi-arts;
– Connect the place and the people through engaged arts programming;
– Maximise access and equity by producing an accessible program and creating open and safe spaces for participant and audience alike;
– Build local community and capacity;
– Increase visitation.
It is important to value our regional arts practices and practitioners by showcasing and celebrating the amazing depth, variety and quality of work that they produce. We can create sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships – we can work together and foster a better understanding of shared values.
Ros, what did you learn from the process of developing an art event framework with Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan as a key influence?
My first meeting for Artlands Victoria was with Rodney and Barbara from the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. We met early for breakfast in what is now one of my favourite cafes in Bendigo. Rodney had two books on the table, a copy of the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan and a beautiful coffee table book on Dja Dja Wurrung Country. We chatted, and when we wrapped up Rodney suggested that we meet again when I had had a chance to read the books.
I read the books that day, and then re-read the country plan several times. It became so clear to me that Trent Nelson’s (Chairperson of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation) Welcome in the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan was exactly what I understood Artlands Victoria to be all about.
“Dja Dja Wurrung People learned much from land and shared their knowledge, traded resources and exchanged gifts with neighbouring clans and mobs during times of ceremony and gathering together to mark special times.” – Trent Nelson, Chair Dja Dja Wurrung Corporation, Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan 2014 – 2034.
Over several weeks we chatted, and I floated the idea that Artlands Victoria work alongside the Dja Dja Wurrung Country Plan and adopt the tagline:
‘Sharing knowledge, trading resources, exchanging gifts at a time of ceremony and gathering’
This has set both the framework and the tone for all the decisions and programming that has followed.
Artlands Victoria engages across disciplines to promote critical reflection on practice and to encourage agenda-setting discussions.
Sometimes you need to trust what is already there and take the time to understand the layers and connections. To have the confidence to start your own creative process from a known place rather than implement or introduce a new one.
What is the purpose of the Cultural Pharmacy?
Enter the Cultural Pharmacy and open your mind to the transformative and restorative powers of creativity and culture.
Created by visual artist and set designer Darryl Cordell in collaboration with Eliza-Jane Gilchrist and Mark Penzak, from the Castlemaine-based performance ensemble Such As They Are, the Cultural Pharmacy gives viewers an immersive and sensory experience where ailments are symbolically distilled and transformed into new, restorative creative experiences. Each visitor will receive a prescriptive dose of arts-antigen, a health-giving arts tonic.
Supported by VicHealth, this project, located in the Conservatory in Rosalind Park, encourages interconnections between arts, health and well-being and will be open for delegates and the general public.
What do the artists hope to achieve through the Cultural Pharmacy?
Using the visual aesthetics of a 19th-century laboratory as their starting point, the artists will create a visual pun on the idea of pharmacy. The installation plays with the preconception of medicine as chemistry and pills by suggesting an alternative where art is a tonic that improves wellbeing.
Set in lush foliage, a magical distillery made by Darryl, huffs and puffs as it turns handmade objects into cultural tonics. Beautiful, organically shaped display counters and dispensaries further demonstrate how art can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Constructed from recycled cardboard by artist Eliza-Jane, these sculptural forms are where the creative fuel is made and dispensed. Ensemble performers directed by Such As They Are will help animate the pharmacy and assist the audience to find immediate and long-term cultural tonics to integrate into their lives.
The Cultural Pharmacy honours the hand-made, the well-crafted and the inventive. It is a place where the joy of making and playing is designed to encourage the audience to see the arts as a fun way to have a healthier and more fulfilled life.
How do the arts benefit our mental health?
Carolyn Dew: Artlands coincides with Mental Health Week and we are committed to making this connection.
Kyneton-based writer and author of The Arts Apothecary, Jill Rivers, reminds us that the arts are a vital prescription for the health and happiness of society, as well as for individuals. Did you know that looking at a painting for ten minutes or listening to a piece of music can lower your cortisol levels and protect you from the negative health effects of stress? Integrating art and culture into your everyday life is like taking a pleasurable elixir or a soothing tonic that will greatly improve your general wellbeing.
Art washes from the soul, the dust of everyday life.
 – Attributed to On the Heights by Berthold Auerbach, 1861.