by Sophie Moeller
LAST week saw the announcement Lismore was to be the first regional centre in New South Wales to host Artstate - a new event engaging both metropolitan, and artists of our region, in a conference and festival building on the success of last year's ARTLANDS.
According the CEO of Arts Northern Rivers, Peter Wood, the decision by the State government to hold the inaugural cultural event in Lismore is a clear acknowledgement of the "cultural renaissance” that has been taking place in the region in the past few years.
Mr Wood said it was the reputation the Northern Rivers had built up that enabled us to be "first cab off the rank” after ARTLANDS was held in Dubbo last year.
"This is such a great opportunity and, given the timing, such a great message to say we are still here after the flood and producing amazing work, and especially with the new gallery opening in the heart of Lismore.”
Artstate is to be funded by Regional Arts NSW (RANSW) as a four year program working in partnership with four Regional Arts Development Organisations (RADOs) to deliver an annual regional conference/arts festival.
Its aim said CEO of RANSW, Elizabeth Rogers was "to shine a spotlight on the artistic excellence of regional NSW” by exploring and activating public spaces, community engagement, film, visual arts, theatre and music across multiple genres.
The three day festival will be open to the public and take place in Lismore from November 30 to December 2 2017 in partnership with Arts Northern Rivers and Lismore City Council. It aligns with the opening of the new Lismore Regional Gallery, the activation of the new Quadrangle space and the opening of the world premiere of NORPAs new production, Djura.
Each of the speakers at the launch, which included, Regional Arts NSW Deputy Chair Ben Roche and Parliamentary Secretary for Northern NSW, Ben Franklin, highlighted how "extraordinary” the artistic community was in Lismore especially in light of the recent "devastating events” but emphasised Artstate was about the whole of the Northern Rivers.
Lismore Mayor, Isaac Smith said the event recognised Lismore's "untapped potential” and it would take the city to the wider country.
"It's about what our community is and does and will be for the future,” he said.
WHILE down, "Lismore is definitely not out”, say the key players responsible for the region's main art bodies based in the city.
In fact, there are many positives to come from the recent flood that engulfed both NORPA's City Hall and the new Regional Art Gallery, currently under construction.
For Brett Addlington, the gallery's director, the recent event - which saw the bottom floor inundated and the new lift about to be installed destroyed - has "just sharpened our thinking around our flood preparation plan”.
Brett admits to having felt "sickened” at initial reports of the water levels, possible perceptions of the floods impact on the building, as well as the feelings of those working on the site. However, he says: it looks like the damage has only put the building's completion back four weeks.
"I see it now as a great test of the building ...but more importantly, it has demonstrated the strength of the arts community in this city,” he says.
"And, I think it will also play a role in boosting morale moving forward, especially with the opening at the end of October which coincides with the Artstate festival at the end of the year.”
NORPA's artistic director, Julien Louis, says the flood has made the national arts community more "aware of the significance” of our performing arts company.
What makes NORPA "distinct” has not changed, he says.
"Part of our mission is to make work that is highly engaging and relevant. We are a creative voice for the stories of the Northern Rivers region and that cannot be washed away. We survive as a result of our imagination,” he said.
Patrick Healey, NORPA's general manager, says the fact the company managed to bump in Circus Oz, as early as last week, despite operating from temporary offices, is "testament to the resilience and strength of NORPA's 24 year history”.
The company is "not fully back, however, and requires further support” says Mr Louis, but a bit like Circus "this is just another chapter full of challenges and risks in a really colourful narrative of the company.”