Arts North West, Caroline Downer

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Arts North West facilitates the development of arts and cultural projects and initiatives across the whole region, building a rich cultural landscape in the New England North West and increasing participation in arts and cultural activities. FOCUS speaks with Director Caroline Downer about this wonderful organisation.

Tell us about Arts North West.

Arts North West is the Regional Arts Development Organisation for the New England North West.  Put simply, our brief is to assist in getting arts and cultural activity happening in our region. We are one of 14 organisations across NSW that are part funded by State Government and by contributions from local councils. We have been working in this region for 20 years, and we look after eleven council areas – Tenterfield, Glen Innes, Moree, Gwydir, Narrabri, Gunnedah, Liverpool Plains, Tamworth, Walcha, Uralla and of course Armidale. Our small staff of four covers 95,000 square kilometres!

What does Arts North West do?

Our role is very broad. Our core business includes a multitude of day to day enquiries, providing immediate and quality advice, information and professional support to artists and organisations, as well as the research, promotion and advocacy we oversee to promote arts and culture in our region.

We also provide an opportunity to forge key partnerships and networks across our region – we put people together so we have networks for literature, visual arts, theatre and key cultural leaders. We are a central resource for all things arts and culture in the New England North West – we have a great website full of interesting information as well as an Arts Calendar for our region.

Are there key areas that you focus on?

We also run four key programs, Aboriginal Cultural Support, Enable Arts, Country Art Escapes and Arts North West ON TOUR.

Our Aboriginal Cultural Support Program builds and improve opportunities for Aboriginal arts and communities in our region through extensive community consultation and strategic partnerships provided by our Aboriginal Arts Officer, Lorrayne Riggs.

EnAble Arts, supported by our Arts and Disability Officer Stephanie Brummell is a network of individuals and organisations which plans and implements a sustainable and supportive platform for arts and disability in the NE/NW region.

Arts North West ON TOUR is a regional network of performing arts venues in the New England North West coordinated by our Projects Officer Nicci Parry-Jones, who promotes and negotiates touring product. It improves sustainability of touring circuits, venues and supports our region’s network.

Nicci also manages Country Art Escapes, the regional art trail for this area and bolsters cultural tourism opportunities through highlighting the many and varied arts and cultural venues and activities in our region.

Has there been a highlight for you this year?

I really enjoy getting out and about, visiting our towns and villages, and seeing what is happening on the ground. Our professional development workshops this year focused on project delivery, and it was exciting to see what ideas people have for arts projects in their communities.

One of our highlights was CreativiTEA, a project in partnership with Centacare New England North West, The Ascent Group, Carers NSW and Schizophrenia Fellowship, which invited women from small rural villages to come together, have a cuppa and a chat, and get creative through a series of free workshops held in our community halls and villages. It was a wonderful bringing together of community. For many, the experience of sharing stories and discovering the joy of creativity was a huge morale boost and a much needed respite from the difficulties of the everyday.

Why is arts and culture so important?

The arts are extraordinarily powerful. They can bring people together and build a sense of community. You can express your emotions. They can be inspirational. They can be motivational.

A new study by Dr Christina Davies at the University of Western Australia shows that two hours a week of arts activity significantly increases your health and wellbeing. And two hours of arts activity can include going to concerts, galleries, creative-writing, or participating in arts or crafts activities.  It is just as beneficial as spending time in the gym!

An arts activity can be the basis of creativity – a skill that can be developed and which can be applied to so many areas of our lives:

  • Creativity is the driving force behind innovation
  • Creativity improves the process of solving problems.
  • Creativity leads to exploration, to outside the box thinking and to increasing productivity
  • Creativity can drive progress
  • Creativity can be a great de-stresser
  • Creativity is a way of thinking that allows you to see possibilities
  • Creativity is at the heart of every scientific discovery, engineering invention, business breakthrough, and artistic innovation.

Here in the New England North West we are lucky to have so many arts activities to choose from – theatre, music, visual arts, museums and galleries, dance, literature – it doesn’t take much to find something to do.

What are your plans for 2017?

We have a very busy and exciting year ahead – with a number of key projects.

In our Aboriginal Cultural Support Program we have an exciting project that has been funded by the Federal Government. Rivers to Ridges and the stories in between will use the traditional concept of songlines in a contemporary form of multimedia to share and document stories of Elders, artists and areas of Aboriginal significance in our region.

We are also working with young people on a number of projects – from working with remote primary schools on commemorating the Charge of Beersheba in 1917, to creating a collection of digital stories with writers and museums in the Stuff of Tales.

Our special arts and disability project Putting the Pieces Together will go on exhibition in Moree, Armidale and Tamworth – this is an art installation of 16 cubes made from 96 individual puzzle pieces, representative of building blocks of an inclusive arts sector.

And finally we are running Table Talk, a series of pottery workshops for refugees and new migrants to the New England North West of NSW which combine conversational English, making pottery bowls and adding traditional designs from their own cultures.

These projects have been made possible from funding support from Arts NSW, Accessible Arts, Multicultural NSW respectively.

Thanks Caroline.

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