Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal
The Circular Head Community has gone through some difficult times recently, with the downsizing and closing of some major employers following floods and bushfires in the area. A street art installation in the main street of Smithton brought the community respite from the empty shopfronts and buildings that were still in need of repair. The community wanted to find a way to encourage artistic expression, bring the community together and encourage visitors to their town, while building on the creative art that already existed. With the incredible talent they have locally, it made sense to put on a three-week celebration of visual, creative and performing arts in what became the ‘Art About Town’ festival. Circular Head Council hoped that the project would not only provide employment opportunities for local artists but would also help to improve community engagement and social cohesion and boost tourism and the local economy. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from FRRR’s ‘Strengthening Rural Communities’ grant program and funded by the Sidney Myer Fund, the community was able to do all that and more.
The Art About Town organisers spoke to local schools, old and young artists, musicians, teachers, students, members of the Circular Head Heritage Centre and Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation to provide a diverse and well-rounded program of events and activities.
As part of the celebration, four original artworks were commissioned from local professional artists. The last one was a whole community art installation, led by a local artist in collaboration with the local school and wider community. Locals could enter portraits into the ‘Chartchibald Prize’ exhibit, which was shown as a local café and had upward of 30 visitors per day. Members of the community were also given the opportunity to have their artworks and photographs displayed in a local shopfront makers space and in a gallery space, with a youth and open age category with prizes available for entries. There was also an arts trail for locals and visitors to enjoy.
In the many years it takes to rebuild a region following a disaster like the 2009 Victorian bushfires, success in driving tourism back to the area can be make or break. It takes a concerted effort from a cohesive community to start seeing positive growth again.
In the Kinglake Ranges, the Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, held for the second time in 2015, achieved both of these important factors of recovery – driving community engagement while supporting wider economic development in a unique and exciting way.
The three day festival held last October (16th – 18th) attracted 1,500 attendees, 70% of which were visitors to the region. It included a Bush dance, music workshops, Bluegrass concerts, local produce, local talent, street performers, community concerts and a beard competition to support the Charity White Ribbon to raise awareness and funds to help stop violence again women. It brought local musicians back out in the open and connected a huge range of groups in the area, from the Kinglake CFA and Police to the Mountain Pickers Association of Victoria and the Australian Bluegrass and Old Timey Music Association. Many local food and accommodation businesses were booked out or sold out of products.
President of Foggy Mountain Inc, Brad Quilliam, said, “Overall we were extremely buoyed by the positive feedback from all involved and the festival achieving so many of its goals. The micro businesses in our area had rave reviews from all visitors which enhanced their confidence.”
Funding support came from a variety of sources – from the Rotary Club of Kinglake Ranges, CERT, CFA, SES, Kinglake Neighbourhood House, Kinglake Foundation, and Kinglake Lions, with in-kind support from local organisations and businesses, and an estimated $6000 of volunteer labour – vital to the festival’s smooth operation.
Children given a voice through song
Foggy Mountain Inc applied to FRRR’s Grants for Resilience and Wellness program (GR&W) in order to run a special part of the music festival program – the song-writing program for local primary schools, which would culminate in 100 students performing their songs at the Sunday Community Concert at the Foggy Mountain Bluegrass Festival (with free entry all day to ensure the whole community could participate.)
GR&W granted $4,850, funded by the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund, to support workshops for six primary schools in the region (Kinglake East, Kinglake West, Middle Kinglake, Strathewan, Toolangi and Flowerdale Primary School) as well as a sound engineer to record the children’s songs and stage for their performance, as well as chairs and an MC for the Community Concert. The workshops gave their students the opportunity to learn song writing skills and were facilitated by the acclaimed Carter and Carter.
“The workshops give the children a voice through song and in 2014 the children wrote about what they had lost and now what they have gained” Mr Quilliam reported.
Mr Quilliam said the students were the highlight of the day!
“It was a perfect platform to encourage participation, give self-confidence and show the work that the students had done in the song writing workshops leading up to the festival. The children were so excited to be performing to a capacity crowd in the main marquee.”
The community day also included workshops to learn new musical skills, benefitting up and coming musicians of all ages, and a Gospel Concert. Organisers are already talking about running a program for youth in production and video to expand on the value the festival can give to the area’s young people.
“This part of the program gives the locals a sense of pride and optimism,” Mr Quilliam said.