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RAF Highlight | If These Halls Could Talk Q&A with Natalie Bull

The Northern Rivers is a region of villages, most with a hall that lay at their heart. To celebrate and revitalise these spaces and their histories, Arts Northern Rivers delivered a region-wide season of contemporary arts events in seven community halls during 2016. Called If These Halls Could Talk, the program has continued on into 2017 with several regional gallery exhibitions.
The program was supported by the Regional Arts Fund, and saw a line-up of artists and creative teams transforming each of the seven halls into immersive, site-specific artworks which responded to the narratives surrounding the hall and its community. Spanning theatre to visual art, If These Halls Could Talk reactivated Northern Rivers community halls with bold, new contemporary art.
Regional Arts NSW had a chat to Arts Northern Rivers Project Manager Natalie Bull about If These Halls Could Talk and how the Regional Arts Fund aided the project.

Can you tell me a little bit about how the project came to be?

We had been looking for a region wide project that had strong community engagement and the idea of the humble community hall came up. Everyone we spoke to had a story to share about their local hall; firecracker nights, weddings, wakes and disasters, the hall really personifies regional communities. The idea of representing and enlivening that place with an artistic team, creating new histories and leaving a legacy took off from there.

The project involved international and local artists, and a variety of artistic mediums. How were halls and their communities matched with artists?

From the outset we asked the hall committee what type of work they would respond to and what would resonate with the local community, to get a sense of how the relationship between the artist and the hall would develop. Our investigation focused on three main elements: the community surrounding the hall, the past and current histories, and the physical capabilities of each hall.

It was a matter of visualising the possibilities of the halls and placing ourselves in the shoes of the artist, envisaging how the hall could hold their work and how the artist could reflect the story of the halls.Iit was an intimate collaboration between the hall and artist. Some of the halls and artists were an obvious fit from the beginning.

The project saw multiple creative outcomes, what was one of your favourites?

Now that’s a tricky one! Of course the diplomat in me says I loved them all for different reasons. We had an extraordinary list of artists involved in the project and seven very committed halls so choosing one or even two is impossible. However I can list my favourite moments at each hall.

The slowing of time at Tumbulgum Hall, the weaving of Indigenous and contemporary histories along the Clarence River at Eatonsville, the Eureka audience dancing at NORPAs Dreamland and the cast melting into the floor; the ingenious sea creatures from Broadwater; the poetic telling of Meerschaum Vale; the freedom of The Channon as vines grow over the honour board and kids run amok; and the excitement of a community, caretakers of the biggest hall in the remotest village… even horses are welcome at Bonalbo Hall.

It really was an incredible project! No favourites here.

Image: The cast of the Opera Q performance outside Tumbulgum Hall. Photo by Jules Ober.

Image: The cast of the Opera Q performance outside Tumbulgum Hall. Photo by Jules Ober.


How did the Regional Arts Fund assist If These Halls Could Talk?

The Regional Arts Fund was utilised for the creative development component of the project enabling us to match an artistic team with the seven halls of the project. It was imperative that the distinction was made that If These Halls Could Talk was an arts project not a history project; we wanted to explore the histories in a contemporary way honouring the community through a new lens.

How have the seven communities reacted to the project?

There was a common thread of openness. An openness to the possibilities of the project, the artists and the outcomes. Each hall welcomed us and the artists into their community, sharing their stories and what was important in the telling of the hall. The enthusiasm for the project was amazing as well as how open all seven halls were to the transformation of their hall. It was a huge project, engaging with over 3000 community and audience members.

What have you learned or gained from If These Halls Could Talk? Did anything surprise you?

I learnt that halls are full of complexity, hidden nooks and crannies and characters that make up the fabric of the hall. I gained an intimate look at community halls and experienced the feeling of resilience that sits at the heart of these halls, as they find their way in a changing place, and at times, transient community.

The biggest surprise however was how community led the works were; the collaboration between the artist and community took on a life of its own.

What would you say to someone considering submitting their project to the Regional Arts Fund?

That’s a big question! Put simply though make sure community and stakeholders are 100% behind the project, and ensure that you are not imposing the project on the community they need to be along for the ride.
The Regional Arts Fund opens Monday 19 June, 9:00AM AEST until Thursday 10 August, 5:00PM AEST. You can read the guidelines and apply for a Regional Arts Fund Community Grant here.
RAF Logo Simple (PNG)Image courtesy of Arts Northern Rivers.