Art transforms small Victorian towns, The Herald Sun, Michelle Pountney

The new gateway to Neerim South as part of the Small Town Transformation scheme. Image Daryl Whitaker

The new gateway to Neerim South as part of the Small Town Transformation scheme. Image Daryl Whitaker

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HEAVY trucks and mining equipment are the sounds normally associated with a quarry. Opera is not, unless you paid a visit to Dookie in central Victoria recently.

The town’s disused quarry, and many other buildings, were turned into performance venues as part of Dookie Earthed, an arts project transforming the Goulburn Valley town.

Soprano Isabel Hertaeg sang opera from the red rocky sides of the quarry, and also from the top of the Dookie silos, as part of a 12-hour arts extravaganza.

Music and performances, art installations and film screenings took over the local area and attracted more than 5000 people to the town, which normally has a population of less than 300.

Singer Isabel Hertaeg performed in a quarry.

Singer Isabel Hertaeg performed in a quarry.

Most Dookie residents were in some way involved in the project, from local primary school students who created an X in the quarry, to lifelong residents whose photographs were beamed onto the silos as part of the Dookie Behind Doors exhibition.

Dookie Earthed is one of five projects using art and creativity to transform and engage small Victorian towns.

The remote Mallee town of Ouyen celebrated their Mallee Up In Lights project coming to fruition on October 3, with a spotlight shone on the town’s iconic Roxy Theatre and its new public open space surrounds.

Avoca’s Garden of Fire and Water opened to the community last weekend, while The Verj at Natimuk will be unveiled on October 24, and the striking blue sculptural gateway Neerim Bower: Inspired by the Birds has its official opening at Neerim South on October 26.

Regional Arts Victoria director Esther Anatolitis said a third of all eligible small towns in the state (those with a population of fewer than 1500 people) applied to be part of the Small Town Transformation scheme.

“We wanted to inspire people about how art can transform a town,” she said. “Transformation is such a big vision and it needs real commitment from the community to think about how art can have a big impact on people’s lives.”

The diverse projects involved community members of all ages and artists from throughout the region who harnessed their creativity to explore the difference art can make to small communities.

“In Neerim South, what people will see first and foremost is a really breathtaking bower sculpture gateway to town. But that is the tip of the iceberg as workshops and community forums and art making and works involving artist and gallery have forged new relationships … and uncovered how many people want to be making art, seeing art and talking about art.”

Small Town Transformations Forum, The Conversation Hour 774 ABC Melbourne, Lousie FitzRoy and John Faine

(L-R) Tracey Lawson, Mark Long, Martin Bride, Jane Howe and   Janie Christophersen,  (  Louise FitzRoy   -   ABC Local  )

(L-R) Tracey Lawson, Mark Long, Martin Bride, Jane Howe and Janie Christophersen,  (Louise FitzRoy - ABC Local)

Do you live in a small town of 1,500 people or less? How would you transform your town if you were given $350,000 for arts?

Read original article and listen to the full conversation here.

Five communities in regional Victoria have or are about to transform their small towns forever with artistic projects.

From sustainable Chinese gardens, to reclaiming disused land to create cultural arts spaces, to large-scale installations, residents of each town have worked together to create these transformative art projects.

The Victorian Government's Small Town Transformations, delivered by Regional Arts Victoria, has provided funds of $350,000 to five towns of less than 1500 people including Avoca, Dookie, Natimuk, Neerim South and Ouyen.

The residents of each town have been involved in the vision, planning and delivery of their projects and a representative from each community joins Jon Faine on the program.

Chair of the Avoca local committee of residents, Jane Howe, one of the organisers from Dookie Arts, Janie Christophersen, community facilitator from Natimuk, Martin Bride, Neerim Bower project coordinator, Mark Long and community facilitator from Ouyen, Tracey Lawson form today's inspiring panel.


OUYEN: Known locally as the 'Jewel of the Mallee', the Roxy Theatre in Ouyen is renewing its town centre role through The Mallee Up In Lights transformation creating a new cultural venue for ongoing programming and events, including the creation of major public installations created by the community and arts participation workshops. Launched on Friday 3 October 2014.

DOOKIE: Across the town, a number of projects have been created, the main focus being the local quarry which is being repurposed as an amphitheatre. Dookie's local Hall has also been transformed into a vibrant arts venue that now regularly plays host to travelling performances, film nights and exhibitions. Stories of the locals have also been captured in a documentary on life in a small town, which will be premiered at the launch event. Launched on Saturday 4 October 2014

AVOCA: Under the guidance of Chinese-Australian artist Lindy Lee and artistic director Lyndal Jones the town has created a sustainable Chinese garden acknowledging their shared heritage in a central site in town adjacent to the area's first Chinese burial site. Across the year there have been a number of projects involving the community and schools to prepare the garden. Launch date: 12noon - 9pm, Saturday 11 October 2014.

NATIMUK: A central, under-utilised strip of public land in the centre of Natimuk township has been redesigned as a beautiful public space, The Verj, focusing on alternative power generation and bringing together the Indigenous and farming heritage of the town. The site now features seating, kinetic sculptures by Sam Deal, paving artwork led by Mary French and created by the community, and solar-powered tin can lanterns and paste ups in the skate park. Along the strip key cultural and community assets are located, including the Soldiers Memorial Hall, community centre, rotunda and skate park. Launch date: 4:30pm - 8:30pm, Friday 24 October 2014.

NEERIM SOUTH: A stunning landmark gateway will soon transform Neerim South with the Neerim Bower heralding the local arts activity that now characterizes the town. Inspired by the Satin Bower Bird, the smallest branch stands at 10.6m and has been constructed by a local metal firm. Community activities and an art competition based on the bower shape have been running alongside the construction process. The Neerim Bower is now complete, and will be launched on Sunday 26 October 10:30am - 5:30pm, to be opened by the Arts Minister Heidi Victoria and with a day full of activities.

Mining for art in regional Victoria, The Age, Dewi Cooke,

Images are projected on the wall of a quarry in Dookie, Victoria.   Photo: Serana Hunt

Images are projected on the wall of a quarry in Dookie, Victoria. Photo: Serana Hunt

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A rock quarry transformed into an audiovisual arena; a nature strip reborn as a kinetic sculpture park.

Five Victorian towns will receive $350,000 each for year-long creative projects, part of a state government-backed initiative to bring art to communities of 1500 people or fewer.

It's art on a small, but deep, scale and is vested with the ''exciting, ineffable'' mandate to transform the communities of Dookie, Natimuk, Neerim South, Ouyen and Avoca, Regional Art Victoria's Esther Anatolitis said.

''It's things like transforming people's anticipation and participation in the arts, it's about the way those artistic projects generate volunteering, business activity, local trade, tourism, the identity of the town, local resilience, health and wellbeing,'' she said.

In the Goulburn Valley town of Dookie, an old granite quarry will be reimagined as an open-air performance space and a canvas for multimedia.

''It's just a beautiful environment,'' Dookie Arts' Leticia Harmer said of the quarry. ''You can't help but be inspired.''

In the Western District town of Natimuk, the money will go towards ''The Verj'', a gathering place filled with sculpture built from farm machinery, a symbol of the town's heritage as well as its evolution into something of an artists' community.

''There was a strong sense that there wasn't a really central space,'' award-winning animator and Natimuk local Dave Jones said. ''So that was the thing, to create a space that … gives a lot of people a lot of reasons to be there.''

It will be the first and possibly only time the Small Towns Transformation program will be rolled out, part of a 2011-12 Baillieu government budget commitment. No funding has been committed to continue the project beyond its pilot, although Regional Arts is hopeful. For those involved, however, the potential impact cannot be overestimated.

''It's going to keep our little town alive,'' Dookie's Mrs Harmer said. ''It's going to be huge.''

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