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Western Riverina Arts

Western Riverina Arts
Multipurpose Centre Wade Avenue
Leeton NSW 2705 Australia
PO Box 355
Leeton NSW 2705
Phone 0428 882 059
Website www.westrivarts.com.au

RADO Directors

Chair
Margaret Couch
City of Griffith
Treasurer
Linda Bell
Director
Kristy Brown
Griffith Community
DIRECTOR
Lyn Middleton
Leeton Shire
DIRECTOR
Julie Thompson- Briggs
director
Sue Kilham
Leeton Community
Director
Andrew Brown
Narrandera Shire

Regional Snapshot

WESTERN RIVERINA ARTS REGIONAL SNAPSHOT 2014

OVERVIEW

The total population of the Western Riverina Area is 41,303 (2011 census data) and the largest centre in the region is Griffith (population 17,616). The region covers the LGA of Narrandera, Leeton and Griffith. The major centres are the townships at the centre of the three LGAs: Narrandera, Leeton and Griffith. The region features a diverse cultural identity, with a significant culturally and linguistically diverse population in the western end of the region.

The region is geographically compact. North to south travel in the region is approximately 80kms, while east to west it is approximately 70kms. The main economic driver in the region is agriculture. Significant service providers in the region include but are not limited to: Kurrajong Waratah (disability services), the Multicultural Council of Griffith, Griffith Connections, and Murrumbidgee Medicare Local.

Arts and cultural practice in the region

The Western Riverina has a relatively small population but a reasonably high proportion of resident artists. Many of these artists do not produce artwork as their main source of income, but artistic practice forms an important part of their cultural identity and indeed social life. There are a number of visual art societies that host well-attended prizes and exhibitions and a number of amateur theatre and music groups that occasionally produce shows or concerts. There are also writers groups, and a few key annual cultural festivals within the region.

All three council LGAs in Western Riverina are financial contributors to Western Riverina Arts. There are no Cultural Officers employed in the region, although there are librarians employed in each centre, a part-time theatre manager employed in Leeton and a full-time theatre manager, gallery manager and museum coordinator employed in Griffith. All councils have strategic plans in place that identify increased activity and participation in the arts as a key goal.

Visual Arts

There are a number of active visual arts groups in the region including The Leeton Art Society and the Narrandera Arts and Creative Network. These groups exhibit members’ works regularly. In some centres local artists have maintained small galleries as a shopfront to private residences; however economic pressures have forced many of these artists out.

Visual artists are often inspired by the geography of the region, in particular the unique twisting riverfront and red gum forests – Anne Rayment and Vita Vitelli from Leeton are two artists working in the traditional mode of landscape painting. There are a number of highprofile Aboriginal artists in the area – such as Michael Lyons, William Ingram, David Williams, and Veronica Collins – and they also work within a heritage that has lived on the river for many thousands of years. There is scope for a greater emphasis and promotion of Aboriginal artists in the region. Many of the region’s Aboriginal artists are seeking to partner with other organisations such as a Regional Arts Board to help develop their professional practice.

Art prizes are a regular feature in the region, including those with substantial prize money (such as the recently established Penny Paniz Memorial Prize, as well as the Casella Prize), and generate much interest.

Professional gallery exhibition space is limited but the recent establishment of the community art space at The Roxy Theatre has enabled many artists to independently mount solo exhibitions. Western Riverina Arts has also built a pop-up gallery hanging system that allows empty buildings to be converted into gallery space. Artists in all centres are still keen to develop shared studio/workspaces.

There are loosely formed writers groups in each of the three LGAs. The incorporated Leeton Writers’ Group occasionally runs workshops; the Narrandera Writing for Pleasure TAFE Group regularly host writer’s workshops (often featuring touring writers from other areas), and there is another Narrandera-based writing group formed in 2014, ‘From Pen to Paper’.

The Griffith Readers’ Festival has been held in 2012 and 2013, and will hopefully continue in 2014.

Overall in the region, writers are strongly concerned with recording the stories of their families and their land. Many have self-published memoirs (such as Natalie Hopwood, who recently published her book detailing growing up in the town of Barellan) or other works of fiction (such as Leeton-based author Melanie Ifield).

Performing Arts

Western Riverina is lucky to possess functioning old theatres, and has the capacity to host medium-sized productions in all three LGAs. The Griffith Regional and Performing Arts group regularly produces community-based shows in Griffith and Leeton Amateur Dramatics will sometimes put together a show. There have been touring shows in the past (such as Critical Stages in 2012 and Monkey Baa Theatre in 2013) however improving audience numbers remains a challenge. There is scope for touring productions to each of the three LGA theatres, particularly contemporary dance and theatre productions.

Although there are some small music organisations (such as the Leeton Town Band) there are limited performance or development opportunities for independent or experimental musicians – the CAD Factory (see below) have staged Remote Spaces shows in the past (music performances in old or abandoned venues) but the music scene is for the most part dominated by cover bands playing pub gigs. In 2014 ‘Bidgee Binge’ (a local drug and alcohol awareness campaign group) will stage one of Leeton’s first largescale music festivals, ‘Bidgee Beats’.

The First Friday Night group is a group operating out of Griffith, running a monthly program of visiting Jazz musicians. Similarly in Leeton local musician Dom Vella is operating a ‘Jazz Academy’, and hosting a performance by James Morrison in 2014.

There are a number of independently run dance studios in the region, mainly with a focus on traditional ballet and tap lessons for young girls.

Other Key Groups

The CAD Factory is an innovative cross-platform performing arts organisation based on a small property near Narrandera. Over the past few years they have been successful in securing major funding from a number of arts bodies, and have produced art projects in the region on a significant scale. ‘Tipping Point’, for example, was a show that combined visual artwork, music and the narratives of local Narrandera residents, all projected onto an old abandoned brewery. ‘Grong Grong Creative House’ was a week-long project that saw a group of artists take over a motor inn and produce an installation piece. The CAD Factory have also built a world-class recording studio on their property and this piece of infrastructure represents enormous opportunities for future program links and benefits to local emerging artists.

Cultural Infrastructure

The region benefits from significant physical cultural infrastructure in the western end of the region with a professional performing arts centre, regional art gallery, a professionally staffed museum and several high profile rural cultural festivals (these include the Griffith Readers’ Festival, the Leeton Art Deco Festival and the Narrandera John O’Brien Poetry Festival). Although there is a significant multicultural population in the region, and some arts participation via the Griffith Multicultural Festival and Griffith’s La Festa, this participation is limited and may represent a key growth area. Performing arts venues are reasonably well represented with the Griffith Regional Theatre and the Roxy Theatre in Leeton. The area is comprehensively serviced by libraries.

Upcoming/anticipated developments

Major redevelopment of the Country Women’s Association building in Leeton will see a multi-purpose centre constructed which will house numerous community groups and include office and gallery space for Western Riverina Arts. Work has only just begun and the timeframe for completion is unknown.

Narrandera Council recently purchased the old Masonic Lodge to repurpose it as an Arts Centre. There is a funding gap at present and an advisory group is working to secure extra capital works funding to bring the building to a functional standard. Once up to standard this facility will be an important venue for exhibitions, performances and other cultural opportunities

KEY ISSUES AND TRENDS

The key issue for the arts in Western Riverina is that there is a small base for artistic activity, performance and professional development opportunities. However, there is an increasing level of support for the arts in the general community, with the artistic community becoming more active and connected. The general community is supportive of artistic events but attendance and participation needs to increase.

There is a good level of cultural infrastructure in the region. There are also some building projects in the works and facilities that are under-utilised, indicating room for more activity.

The local Wiradjuri people have a strong artistic presence in the region, and there is also a large multicultural diversity in the population, and high-profile arts projects in the region (particularly public art) could provide greater recognition of these facts.

More education and training opportunities are needed for early-career and emerging artists in all mediums. This, combined with increased performance/exhibition opportunities in the area, will improve career options for artists in the Western Riverina.

SWOT ANALYSIS

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as identified by key sector representatives are as follows:

Strengths

  • Connected community of artists.
  • General community who are supportive of the arts.
  • Much of the population travel throughout the three LGAs regularly.
  • Good infrastructure base in each LGA.
  • Strong Indigenous cultural presence in the region (with high-profile artists in each centre).

Weaknesses

  • Small number of public artistic events.
  • Relatively small number of practicing artists in the region.
  • Limited professional development opportunities.
  • Perception that artists need to live in urban centres to survive.
  • Prohibitive travel costs for bringing professional to the region.
  • Demographics: there is a limited population between18-35, partly because there are no higher education opportunities in the region.

Opportunities

  • High proportions of artists are keen to develop their own projects.
  • Some existing cultural infrastructure is under-utilised.
  • Expansion and formalisation of a database of artists.
  • Potential for organisational partnerships
  • Potential for the arts and cultural activity to tie in with Tourism developments

Threats

  • Lack of employment opportunities for artists.
  • Population decline in some centres.
  • Social isolation.
  • Environmental issues affecting liveability e.g. recurring floods.
  • Lack of training and education facilities

Aboriginal Arts

Aboriginal Population and Language Groups

  • The Wiradjuri people are the traditional custodians of the West Riverina

Western Riverina Arts Overview

  • A joint project between the Murrumbidgee Division of General Practice and the Griffith Aboriginal Medical Service focuses on the professional development of community workers and enables them to recognise and support young people at risk and encourage participation in a suicide prevention program with a foundation in art.

Aborginal Arts Organisations

  • Griffith Local Aboriginal Land Council, Griffith
  • Leeton and District Local Aboriginal Land Council,  Leeton
  • Narrandera Local Aboriginal Land Council, Narrandera
  • Fringe Dwellers Aboriginal Arts and Artefacts, Murrumbidgee