Future directions - By Sue Scrutton, Coordinator Arts and Cultural Development, Shire of East Pilbara
Living in a remote mining town can certainly limit arts and cultural opportunities, something that the Shire of East Pilbara is more than aware of.
Four years ago Chief Executive Officer, Allen Cooper, approved an extraordinary project that became one of Australia’s richest artist in residence schemes – named Art at the Heart. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, a selected internationally-renowned artist was invited to the area to bring his or her talent and expertise to the vast area of the East Pilbara in Western Australia.
Mr Cooper said that the concept brought something wonderful and arty to the area that the community could actually participate in and appreciate: “It meant we weren’t missing out on at least one thing we would have had access to in metropolitan or city Australia.”
Each artist in turn travelled from the hub at Newman to deliver workshops at Marble Bar and Nullagine and ultimately exhibited his or her particular brand of art to a slightly bewildered but delighted audience at Newman.
For an artist like Yasuaki Onishi, coming from urban Japan to a dusty outback mining town, essentially in the middle of nowhere to him, must have been like boarding a spaceship to Mars. The 2015 artist delivered one of his trademark hot glue, rope, wire and plastic sheeting works as he interpreted the year’s ‘aquatic environment’ theme in the Newman squash courts, of all places.
Hannah Quinlivan, from Canberra, whose passport must be filled almost as soon as she renews it, forged not only her beautiful steel artworks but friendships and admirers, with her less ephemeral but equally creative pieces in 2014.
The final artist was flamboyant Nigerian-born Olaniyi Akindiya, widely known as Akirash, who travelled from his home in Austin, Texas in 2016 and astounded all who came in contact with his energy, output and presence. He produced 18 artworks while in the East Pilbara, enchanted school children at workshops, painted dozens of faces at a festival and entertained the audience at his installation/performance at the newly opened East Pilbara Art Centre (EPAC) in Newman. No more squash court exhibitions, probably.
The fourth and final year of Art at the Heart will bring all three artists back to Newman for a shorter combined residency period in September 2017, with an exhibition opening on Friday 22 September in the immense area of the EPAC known as the Void.
The wildly different artists will work with Melbourne curator Damian Smith to deliver one interlinked and powerful exhibition that will be open until Sunday 8 October. The on-the-ground assistance will rest with me, as the shire’s Coordinator Arts and Cultural Development.
I’ll give practical help to Damian to fulfil his vision. Later, I will work with him to give further life to the exhibition in a capital city, perhaps in 2018.
The exhibition will enrich the heart of the mining town locals and probably surprise grey nomads, as they slip in through the doors of the EPAC building and confront an exhibition worthy of any gallery in the world – 1200 kilometres from the nearest capital city.