Connecting through Colac’s Makers’ Space

COVID Recovery eNews: 11 December 2023

Located in the picturesque Colac-Otway Shire, Colac Makers’ Space provides a workspace for regional artists and undertakes community engagement with the arts. ReGenZ is a youth arts group run in partnership between Colac Makers’ Space and the Colac Youth Health Hub.

Four young adults in front of wall with a mural of a bunch of balloons painted on it.

The group attracts significant numbers of young people to its activities, particularly LGBTQIA+ youth who see this group as a safe space in a community where their options for organised support are limited. Support for this cohort of youth is critical, given the rise in youth mental health issues since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group is one hundred percent volunteer-run, and like many other organisations, Creative Otways and the Colac Makers’ Space were facing significant hurdles post-COVID-19, with volunteer burnout colliding with increased need amongst youth.

To meet this increased need, and in the context of ongoing volunteer pressures, Colac Makers’ Space embarked on a new project. By hiring a professional artist as a mentor to teach skills in various art forms including drawing and sculpture, supporting them in life skills and accessing pathways to work in the arts field, the program provided deep engagement for the youth participants of ReGenZ, while providing some relief for the organisation’s volunteers. The program was run with support from local mental health services and culminated in an exhibition of the students’ work as part of the 2023 Colac Art Showcase and Exhibition. Flowing on from this, an annual exhibition program will help support the long-term sustainability of ReGenZ.

Lynne Richardson, Project Manager at Creative Otways (auspicing Colac Makers’ Space), highlighted the importance of the project to support local youth and volunteers:

“As a volunteer organisation we struggle with a limited number of volunteers and without this project, our youth Art group could have easily gone into remission as our volunteers struggled with many pressures … this project kept the youth group going and allowed us to deliver more projects which engaged more youth and gave much needed support to both our volunteers and our youth.“

With 15-20 youth attending the program each week, and more than 300 students engaged over the course of the program, Outside the SQUARE- ReGenZ was able to connect like-minded youth from Apollo Bay with those in Colac, allowing them an opportunity to be themselves, be creative and build their confidence. Impressively, 256 of the youth displayed their work at the Colac Art Showcase and Exhibition with other professional and emerging artists, and many were provided prizes of art vouchers to encourage continuation of their arts practice. Wider benefits were also felt by the project, with students from Studio 92, an all-ability arts venue, also participating in the exhibition with the support of the ReGenZ youth: inclusivity and kindness were on display as well as art works in Colac-Otway Shire!

Colac Makers’ Space was also able to capitalise on opportunities as they arose. The initial plan was for a well-known local artist, Reuban Whyte, to provide the mentoring role, however he took up a new position as the youth engagement officer at the Colac-Otway Council. The project was able to hire another local artist, Jodie McGill, to undertake the mentorship role while also engaging Reuban in an in-kind capacity through his Council role – meaning the youth had two mentors for the duration of the project – double the benefit for ReGenZ!

Auspiced by Creative Otways Incorporated, Colac Makers’ Space successfully applied to FRRR for a $10,000 SRC Rebuilding Regional Communities grant, funded by the Australian Government, to support this project.