Art as exchange
Wednesday 15 March 2017 Share FacebookDelicious Email

Learning staff are travelling to five regional communities to deliver digital storytelling workshops with secondary students and regional arts education roundtables with arts educators. The first round of host venues include: Cairns Regional Art Gallery, Pinnacles Gallery Townsville, Gladstone Art Gallery and Museum, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery and Dogwood Crossing. Miles will co-facilitate the program between 13 March and 5 May 2017. The new initiative, named ‘Art as exchange’ aims to better connect arts learning at QAGOMA with the work of arts educators across Queensland’s arts learning eco-system. Ebony Russell, Head Of Faculty – Visual & Dramatic Arts, St. Patrick’s College, Townsville, is one such innovator, who has taken the time to share one of the many success stories that are coming out of Queensland communities.

Art teacher Ebony Russell with several students studying year 12 Visual Arts in Practise at St Patrick’s College Townsville Kimberley Rocky, Jessie Blitner, Vronique Pootchemunka, Tayla-Jeanne Finemore, Jardena Hookey and Yalul Felton-Busch. Art teacher Ebony Russell with several students studying year 12 Visual Arts in Practise at St Patrick’s College Townsville / Kimberley Rocky, Jessie Blitner, Vronique Pootchemunka, Tayla-Jeanne Finemore, Jardena Hookey and Yalul Felton-Busch.

‘Distance’ and ‘isolation’ are words I often hear when people describe living in North Queensland. Indeed, we are many hours away from the capital city and the state galleries, where so many arts opportunities occur out of our reach. Although we are faced with these obstacles, in my past two years of teaching in Townsville, I have seen my students thrive on their engagement with a multitude of rich cultural opportunities available to them – in both local and regional touring programs, including Flying Arts workshops, Wearable Art Townsville and cultural events, not to mention Strand Ephemera and Umbrella Studio.

Laurie Nona sketches a design with students Pelista Pilot and Gongai Nona. Laurie Nona sketches a design with students Pelista Pilot and Gongai Nona.

In 2016, St Patrick’s College travelled to the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (CIAF), to take part in a comprehensive program involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and artists from right around the country. Soon after, I visited the Torres Strait and met Cr. Laurie Nona at the Badu Art Centre. We had seen his large-scale printmaking on exhibition at KickArts gallery during our visit to CIAF. My students were very impressed with the sheer scale of his work and the intricate patterning in his designs. Nona’s unique signature marks and Badu printmaking tradition of incorporating family totems and seasonal island stories were long remembered after the trip was over.

Nahkeeta Miller works on her lino while taking inspiration from Laurie Nona’s paddle design. Nahkeeta Miller works on her lino while taking inspiration from Laurie Nona’s paddle design.

When our education officer from the Townsville City Council’s Gallery Services contacted me and offered our students an opportunity to work on an exhibition of printmaking, I immediately thought of contacting the Badu Art Centre to see if Nona was interested in being our Artist-in-Schools. As part of the outreach program at Townsville City Galleries, the Artist-In-Schools program organises artists to work with students for these exhibition outcomes. Funds are used to employ artists who transfer skills to both students and teachers, encouraging the development of visual arts. Students are introduced to the Gallery environment, and are able to view their works on display.

The final print. Bringing together the designs of 24 students. The final print. Bringing together the designs of 24 students.

Fortuitously, Nona was available and offered to run a two-day weekend workshop with our students in Townsville. This workshop was planned, with its intended outcome being a collaborative large-scale print. Students were able to interact with Nona and learn about his culture and stories through the unique visual language of his prints, which present a dynamic depiction of the living culture in existence on Badu Island. Nona encouraged the students to create a ‘Fingerprint’, representing themselves and their Country and to explore mark-making and to develop a symbol to represent their place, home, past and future. With a diverse school community that includes a strong boarding population, the creative collaboration enabled these young artists to connect to Country and to each other whilst reflecting on and celebrating their diverse backgrounds.

Regional students may miss out on some opportunities, but with the assistance of Townsville City Galleries and the Artists-In-Schools outreach program, alongside generous and munificent artists like Cr. Laurie Nona, our students have had the world come to them. This has provided a wonderful opportunity to engage in the visual arts, which are central to identity, place and belonging. The outcome of this collaboration is a marvellous expression of a unique and continuing tradition.

Ebony Russell is Head of Faculty – Visual and Dramatic Arts, St. Patrick’s College, Townsville