A whirlwind trip to the Wheatbelt
Before we begin this story, we would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Lands on which we travelled, the Ballardong, Wilman, Kaneang, Koreng and Njakinjaki people of the Noongar Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and sincerely thank all First Nations people we met on this trip, for sharing their knowledge and culture with us.
5 days. 1,084 kms travelled. 15 meetings. 11 towns. Our recent field trip to the Wheatbelt was a whirlwind!
Hannah and I have recently returned from a very solid trip to the Wheatbelt (and a bit of the Great Southern). We experienced contemporary dance in a community hall, have-a-go mural paintings, projections under streetlight, and captivating exhibitions showcasing local talents.
We also had many enlightening conversations with people who are making art happen in the regions. Here’s a recap of what we got up to over the week.
Regional Arts WA’s Investment Coordinator Hannah Chambers on a tech run of Chloe Flockart’s Painting with Light project in Merredin. Photo by Alanna Kusin.
Day one: York, Beverley.
Our first stop was into York to meet with Robyn at the York Community Resource Centre (CRC). Regional Arts WA has a longstanding relationship with the York CRC through its Shows on the Go program (now managed by CircuitWest), so it was great to catch up. There was a buzz in the office as they were getting ready for two big community events; their next show, the Golden Age Girls and Halloween.
After a quick stop in to visit the York Residency Museum to chat with their curator about funding opportunities, we were back on the road to our next destination – Beverley Station Arts!
There, Hannah and I got a tour of the venue’s facilities, which includes a performance space, green room, exhibition spaces and onsite accommodation for an artist in residence. During the tour, we brainstormed some marketing ideas for the venue to attract visitors from Perth and other surrounding towns (including targeted online advertising using location). Beverley Station Arts is uniquely situated in the town’s old train station and well worth an overnight visit, with the caravan park right next door and the hotel a short walk away. Find out what’s coming up on their website.
Day two: Narrogin, Williams.
We had two meetings in Narrogin; the first with the Kaata-Koorliny Employment & Enterprise Development Aboriginal Corporation (Keedac) to get an update on their Narrogin Emerging Artists Program which is launching soon.
Led by Francis Bolton, Wilman Noongar Elder, the Emerging Artists Program has been created for First Nations community maaman (men) to connect and learn about their culture. Participants will journey with Francis to the Dongalocking and Dryandra bushlands to gather wood and bark, and learn to create tapping sticks, walking sticks and didgeridoo. You can find out more about this exciting initiative on their website.
After a wonderful meeting with Keedac, we went for a stroll down to Arts Narrogin. Events Manager, Brad Flett and Communications Manager, Casey Thornton gave us the rundown on their coming year which includes a very exciting music training partnership with the Perth Symphony Orchestra. If you are living in or around Narrogin with an interest in playing music – make sure you dust off your instruments and get in touch to find out how you can take part. It was also awesome to hear about the success of their Take Your (Bus) Seats initiative, which is making a huge difference in the community. We ended our time with Arts Narrogin at their NEXIS Gallery where we immersed ourselves in the incredible We Three and Trees exhibition by local artists Dianne Strahan, Joyce Contos and Peter Denton.
Following our busy morning of meetings, we were off to the Williams Woolshed for lunch with Moodiarrup-based photographer, Astrid Volzke. Astrid was a recipient of a RAF Project Grant in 2021, so it was great to learn about how her Our Photo Stories initiative has grown since. In addition to Kondinin (which she received the grant for), she has delivered workshops in Mullewa, Lake Grace, Southern Cross and Hyden – with more plans on the horizon. Make sure you follow Astrid on Instagram to find out where she’s travelling next.
After our meeting with Astrid, we were back on the road to Katanning to check into our accommodation for the night… (because we know you’re wondering – no, we did not stay at the Premier Mill Hotel).
Day three: Katanning, Dumbleyung, Lake Grace.
Day three began with a meeting at the Katanning Public Art Gallery, where they were bumping in their latest ‘open invitation’ exhibition for local artists, Kinetic. After conversations with a few of the local artists (including David Papenfus whose murals can be spotted around the town) we sat down with James Wood, the Gallery Coordinator to get a sense of the arts community in Katanning. We learned that almost all artists in the community are hobbyists. James is doing a lot of work to support and encourage these artists to pursue opportunities to grow their practice. Katanning has a declining population, and James is a strong advocate for arts and culture tourism. You only have to watch ART ON THE MOVE and Famous Sharon’s wonderful video to know that Katanning has a lot to offer tourists already. The potential is massive.
Mural in Katanning by local artists David Papenfus and Margaret Innes. Photo by Alanna Kusin.
Speaking of ART ON THE MOVE, The Katanning Gallery has recently received funding through their Public Regional Galleries Improvement Fund. James has replaced the old carpet with new wood-look flooring and soon, the Gallery lighting will be upgraded to professional standards. Exciting!
After a morning of conversations in Katanning, we were back on the road for a quick pop-in at the Dumbleyung Community Resource Centre to discuss the Drug Aware YCulture Regional funding program. Then, we were on our way to Lake Grace Shire Hall for the very entertaining contemporary dance spectacular, BANG! BANG!
Touring as part of CircuitWest’s Shows on the Go program, BANG! BANG! featured two short dance performances. The first performance choreographed by Shona Erskine included dancers from Dumbleyung and Lake Grace, who put on an amazing show. Hannah and I were especially excited to see four young boys so enthralled in the dancing, even standing up on their table to get a better view. At the end, they stuck around to meet the dancers and exchange dance moves. There was a lot of love, smiles, and laughter in the room. These touring performances are so crucial for regional communities, so a huge kudos to CircuitWest, the Lake Grace Artists’ Group, Rave About Arts and Annette Carmichael Projects for coordinating this show.
Day four. Lake Grace, Newdegate, Hyden, Narambeen, Merredin.
We set our alarms nice and early so we could make it to our first meeting for the day – 8am, with the Lake Grace Artists’ Group. Our main topic of conversation was about the lack of funding for arts administration and overhead costs. Like many small arts organisations in regional WA, the Lake Grace Artists’ Group runs on the goodwill, hard work and dedication of volunteers.
Lack of funding for core costs is a key issue for us at Regional Arts WA, one which we are consistently advocating for. We are huge supporters of the Paying What It Takes report – ‘funding indirect costs to make long-term impact’ and hope to see these recommendations adopted by funders.
While in Lake Grace, we were also treated to the Artists’ Group’s latest exhibition, Bush, in their gorgeous gallery. If you’re travelling through the town, you can’t miss its pride of place on the main street. Do make sure you pop in and say hello to the talented and dedicated volunteers that run the space.
After a 30-minute drive, we were in Newdegate to meet with Steph Clarke-Lloyd at the CRC. There, we got an update on another Cultural Tourism Accelerator Grant Project, the (sold-out and hugely successful!) Newdegate Centenary Event which included an exhibition, film premiere plus music from The Eastern Line and The Waifs.
Our next stop was the Hyden CRC and a surprise visit to the newly opened Katter Kich Gallery. The Gallery is run by Noongar man Michael Ward, who grew up in Hyden and has worked around Australia as a Cultural Facilitator. In addition to running the Gallery and Cultural Tours of Hyden, he works at the local primary school as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer. The Gallery is a place for him and his wife to display their collection of First Nations art. The next step in their plan is to organise workshops and yarning sessions at the back of the Gallery space, so stay tuned for that. You can find out more about Katter Kich on Facebook.
A hop, skip and a jump later, we were in Narembeen for a quick catch-up about Drug Aware YCulture Regional and then back in the car to Merredin! Arriving at our accommodation, we were met by local artist Jessie Spring preparing a mural for a community painting session. We also met the wonderful Julie and Chloe Flockart from Meridian Regional Arts. Chloe is a recipient of the Regional Arts Fellowship and that evening we got to see a sneak peek of some of the work she has been doing over the past year in Merredin!
Chloe’s Fellowship project titled Painting with Light is a walking tour of Merredin that brings stories from local members of the community to life. This is realised through recorded audio, illustrations, and animations projected on buildings. Throughout the night we were moved by beautiful anecdotes paired with enchanting visuals, that conveyed people’s deep connection to the town and one another.
As we walked the tour, Chloe attracted attention from drivers by who would stop to say, “this looks great, good on you!”. Later, two local police officers hopped out of their vehicle to see what the excitement was. And after a short while of watching the projections and listening to the stories, they asked how they could support the project. It was such a lovely moment to witness and an awesome way to end the day.
Day five. Merredin, York (again!)
After a very restful night’s sleep, we drove down to the Merredin Visitors’ Centre where Meridian Regional Arts’ resident artist Jessie Spring was running a community mural painting day. Hannah and I had a ball talking with the locals young and old, as they popped in and added their splash of paint to the mural. We even had a go at painting ourselves, so we can proudly say we have made our mark on the town!
Mural artist Jessie Spring leading a community mural painting workshop in Merredin. Photo by Alanna Kusin.
We were then back on the road to York for our final meeting of the trip, with Jenny Garroun and Will Yeoman from Wheatbelt Arts and Events. It was great to see the streets of York were absolutely pumping, we almost struggled to get a park! In the meeting we got an update on the very successful 2022 York Festival. We also heard all about their amazing plans for 2023 which will see even more events spread out across the year. Make sure you follow Wheatbelt Art and Events, and The York Festival on Facebook to keep up to date on some exciting new developments!
This adventure was a fantastic opportunity to connect with our colleagues in the regional arts sector. Our conviction that communities are hungry for arts and culture was strengthened.
We felt the excitement and pride of community members in every town when talking about their local arts scene. To this end, we were impressed to see what each artist and organisation was achieving for their communities with minimal resources. But, we couldn’t help imagining what things would look like if regional WA received the investment it needs to realise its full artistic potential.
The three core issues that arose from consultation during our field trip were:
- We need more core funding for more organisations, adopting the recommendations of the Paying What It Takes report.
- Continuation and expansion of the State Government’s Regional Arts Fellowship program. So that artists like Chloe Flockart can develop their practice, and continue their important community work.
- Better, accessible funding for infrastructure, so spaces where arts activities happen are appropriately maintained, and fit-for-purpose.
If these issues relate to you, and you would like to keep up-to-date with our advocacy work, become a member of Regional Arts WA.