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Mudgee Underground Wants YOU

 It’s time to go underground. A new arts group in Mudgee is shaking up the arts scene there. Holly Manning talks to Regional Arts NSW about the guerrilla arts group, Mudgee Underground, and their big plans for 2014. 

Holly and Kyle Manning moved to Mudgee  from Orange in 2012. “The people here are vibrant, and it’s just so beautiful. But after a while we did begin to realise that there wasn’t much of an art scene that we found exciting.” The Mannings recognised the fine arts groups, theatre companies and galleries in their adopted home but couldn’t find the kind of grassroots arts scene that resonated with them in other locations.  “We have always lived in places we find culturally rich and we have had a philosophy of contributing to the culture and community where we live.”

The pair made the historic Roth’s Wine Bar their stomping ground in a bid to connect with locals, and it was there that they met artist and journalist for the Mudgee Guardian, Sam Paine, and graphic designer and photographer, Amber Hooper (The Mudgee Project).

“Over a few wines at Roth’s we were talking about this little shed they have out the back. There’s a stage in there, and I did a theatre degree at Charles Sturt in Bathurst, my husband is a professional musician… we get excited about performance spaces,” recalls Holly. “I was talking to this guy who works at the local paper (Paine) and I said, ‘that stage is just screaming out for theatre sports’. That’s where it began.”

Mudgee Underground was formed in the name of the foursome’s common passion for contemporary, community arts and a desire to create an arts scene that catered to the lack of youth art in Mudgee. The founding four worked around their busy day-job schedules and planned 6 months’ worth of regular events that were open to the public, including a theatre sports workshop and night, a photo treasure hunt, a mini chalk art festival and an art battle with a live auction.

“Sam Paine had been going down to Sydney to compete in Art Battles, and Amber Hooper had been working on this thing called The Mudgee Project (where she posts a photo from the region per week on the blog) which had been getting the whole of Mudgee excited. So we started planning things that we could do based on the things we were already doing.”

The inaugural Bogan Comedy Games Estravaganza took place in August 2013. “We got a theatre sports improv guy in to run a workshop, then performed later in the night. There was about 12 people, so we had 2 teams and the crowd loved it,” said Holly about the community event. “We get all sorts taking part. One woman had recently lost her job and came to build up her confidence again; kids and families came and we kept it all G-rated so that they could be part of it; a couple from the UK were visiting the region and wanted to get a sense of Australian country life, so they came along to the Bogan Comedy Games and certainly got what they were after.”

They are completely self-funded at the moment but recognise that they will need to start looking into funding to ensure that the organisation remains sustainable. They are also looking to reach out to other similar groups in the region. One of the priorities for the group is to connect with the youth in the area. Holly says, “This year we are going to sit down with the young people and ask them what they want.”

The group has observed the Mudgee youth culture and want to celebrate it creatively. “I’ve noticed there are a lot of girls on skateboards around here, and it’s so awesome. Mudgee is just flat, so it makes sense. I don’t even think the chicks notice it, they have just grown up here on a skateboard but coming from Glenn Inness – which is so damn hilly – I have really noticed it!”

She hopes that their ‘underground’ status will appeal to teenagers, and she is bursting with ideas for shaking up the creative scene with gorilla stencilling, flash mobs and dreams of reopening the long-closed art deco theatre in Mudgee. Mudgee Underground has a healthy respect for fine art, she says, but that’s not what they are about. What is core to their activity, is making art accessible, using simple technology like mobile phones for video and photography, in order for everyone to be involved. She qualifies with, “We’re not rebels, we’re just community arts enthusiasts.”

“I grew up in the country, Kyle is from Bathurst, Sam and Amber grew up here, so we all know what it is to be a teenager in a small country town and we think Mudgee Underground can offer them something.” They want to reach out to high school teachers and schools in the region to promote events like skateboard deck art and street art that will inspire the younger generation to get involved with community arts. “We’re not as young as them, but we are young at heart.”

The group promotes its monthly events to locals through social media, posters, their website and support from the local paper, The Mudgee Guardian. “We are reaching out, but we also don’t necessarily want to be in the public’s face. We want them to gradually notice the little things that we are adding to the culture.”

Holly says, the passion and need to create is intrinsically human, so she expects that overtime the groups numbers will grow to include a band of likeminded members. “The chalk drawings that appear sometimes or the occasional light projection; these will hopefully spark something in people and they will come to us wanting to know how they can be part of it.”

Mudgee Underground’s first 6 events in 2014 have been announced:

26 January: Life Drawing Class at Roth’s Wine Bar

23 February: Songwriting Workshop with ARIA-winner Mike Carr  (help them write a song  about Mudgee to be performed that night and played on the radio the next day!)

20 March: Close The Gap Day. Indigiearth  founder, Sharon Windsor, will join with locals to create a community dot painting representing Mudgee’s past, present and future.

19 April: The Mudgee Zoo. People are invited to create sculptures of animals and bring them to the zoo space on the highway to be part of a pop-up sculpture park. Fantastical animals welcome.

1 – 10 May: Mudgee Lights Festival. Everyone is invited to take part in the lantern-making workshops, twilight markets, a light procession to the Cudgegong River and projections around the heritage buildings in the town.

June: Community choice. What arts event does Mudgee want The Underground to organise?


5 Reasons To Go To A Mudgee Underground Event


Story by Estelle Pigot