Introducing Andrew Parker, the President of Uralla Arts Council Inc. He gives us an insight into the organisation’s history and the areas of art that they are currently committed to.
What is the history of Uralla Arts?
Uralla Arts has been around since the mid-to-late ’90s, but I guess we have to go back to what was happening before that. Uralla has quite a reputation for being a creative community and a bit of an artist haven. This really was built on what was happening in the ’80s, when there were a heap of people pursuing artist careers, from potters to painters and sculptors. There was a lot going on. This slowly dissipated through the ’90s and into the ’00s, as people got ‘real jobs’ or just moved on. Now there is a handful of career artists remaining. Uralla Arts initially formed as a reaction to processes around the development of a community design known as the ‘Creative Village’. Uralla was visited by a creative team consisting of an architect, a landscape architect, an artist and a group of architecture students. Their visits resulted in a unique and visionary plan for the development of the village of Uralla. Eventually the plan was left with the community, with different elements of the community taking divergent interpretations of the plan forward. The frustration of many artists at this watering down of a fantastic vision left a desire to form a group that could take autonomous actions. This passion had a positive outcome in the formation of Uralla Arts.
What is your current focus?
It is a little difficult to pin down our current focus, because we are working on several different projects. One of the major focuses, and a role we haven’t taken before, is to contract to Uralla Shire Council to develop the shire’s cultural plan for the next few years. This proposal is currently under consideration by Council. We reckon it would be a pretty smart and bold move for Council to contract expertise from within the community to develop the plan. A more usual approach in local government is to contract a consultant from outside the community – people who don’t know the community. We see several advantages in locals planning for the future cultural direction of community. One is that we have a very long and deep knowledge and connection to our community – its history and expertise – and a sound relationship with Council. Council knows that if they pay a local cultural group to do its cultural plan they will get something back that can be used, and there will be a commitment to drive the plan from within the community, not just another plan on the shelf. Also, the money they pay will stay in the community and will most likely contribute to implementing the plan.
How has the group’s involvement with sculptures progressed?
We first became involved with sculpture when we had the opportunity to partner with Council and NERAM to bring the internationally recognised New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth to Uralla in 1998. This was a three-week artist in residence program that produced a work at The Glen, on the northern edge of Uralla village. This was the beginning of the sculpture park. I found one of the most striking features of working with Chris was his emphasis on consulting with the community regarding the work – and especially his meticulous consultation with the Aboriginal community. In his speech at the public launch of the work, the local Aboriginal elder Les Townsend mentioned that it was the first time he had been invited to represent his people at a public event in Uralla. This was 1998. Since then, a number of sculptures have been added by the local sculptors Carl Merten, Joan Relke and Michael Jarochowicz. Work is due to resume later this year on an ongoing project, Constellation of the South. The Constellation project, initiated as part of Armidale’s Third City of the Arts program in 2004, consists of eight sculptures with the unifying theme of star constellations unique to the Southern Hemisphere. Two of the sculptures have been completed and an application for funding another two is pending.
How is your community choir going?
The choir is going from strength to strength under the experienced musical tutelage of Cathy Welsford as conductor. Cathy’s vast experience and skill has turned us into a very cohesive choir that can hold its own – as we have recently demonstrated at the Chorale Kaleidoscope in Port Macquarie. We now have an official name – High Spirits – and have been singing together for about two years, with 20 to 25 singers on a good day. Thanks to Cathy, we have a repertoire that is varied in both complexity and style. Our next gig, on 27 November, will be at the Music in the Markers concert at the Uniting Church in Armidale at midday. The choir is always open to new singers, regardless of experience.
For those who haven’t been, describe your lantern parade.
The lantern parade is a very charming event. It is quite unique, as it’s not about great excitement, where things go ‘bang’, but rather a gentle, joyous spectacle. It has a very quiet ‘wow’ factor, engaging all levels of the community from the young to the very old. There is an elemental impact of this event that is difficult to put into words. It’s about the universal elements of fire and light that were captivating for the very earliest people and have remained so for thousands of years. We start working with the schools from across the Uralla Shire before the event to build the lanterns. Anticipation builds during the week, and finally on Saturday evening the kids get to bring their families to participate in the parade with their lanterns. The parade always culminates in a spectacular finale, and everyone goes home happy. We are very proud of the fact that in spite of its being our most expensive event to run, we keep it free and accessible to everyone.
October has been a frantic month for us, with involvement in Armidale’s Sustainable Living Expo and a wonderful sell-out concert with singer-songwriter Susanna Carman. For those who missed out on this one, we have a real coup coming with Mic Conway (of Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band fame), Robbie Long and Liz Frencham (Jigzag) performing at Eastview Estate Winery in Kentucky. Mic is a seasoned trouper of the Australian festival circuit, with his great music and madcap antics. Our winery gigs are always great fun, and there’s no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
How can people get involved with Uralla Arts?
Uralla Arts is a great platform for launching creative ideas and endeavours. The success of Uralla Arts is a result of the efforts and commitment of the people involved. There are a lot of opportunities for volunteers either as being part of the committee or getting involved for specific events such as the lantern parade, which require all hands on deck. There is potential for young volunteers to gain practical event management experience. The best way to get involved is to get in touch through the website at: