The Creative Mountain Arts Exhibition opens April 12th with a gala night showcasing the talents of local artists and artisans. We chat with Sheila Guymer, president of the Arts Council of The Dorrigo, about this flagship event for the plateau.
Can you give me some background to the Creative Mountain Arts Exhibition?
Local painter Louise Stanton staged a one-off exhibition in 1987, featuring artists from outside the Plateau area. Then there was a break for a year before Binks Dowling and the Dorrigo Visual Arts Group took it up and named it the Creative Mountain Arts Exhibition. As it grew, it developed a dedicated subcommittee that draws on all the different groups of the Arts Council of The Dorrigo.
There does appear to be a big art scene on the Dorrigo Plateau. What does the art scene mean to region? Do competitions like the CMAE bring the artists together and help to keep this scene alive?
For a small community, we have an extraordinarily active arts scene. Of course, it’s not just people from the Dorrigo township that participate. The CMAE also includes artists and artisans from across the Dorrigo Plateau: everywhere from Mountain Top to Ebor, Hernani, Dundurrabin, Megan, Fernbrook, and more! (That’s why we’re the Arts Council of THE Dorrigo, because we include the whole Dorrigo Plateau.)
The CMAE really does bring the whole community together, especially at Opening Night. This year, Opening Night is at 7 PM on Wednesday, 12 April, and it’s definitely not a night to miss! Entry is only $2 and refreshments are provided. Plus, the exhibition is a great fundraiser for the Arts Council. We used profits from previous CMAEs to establish our new Gallery 2453. Named after the postcode of the Dorrigo Plateau, the Gallery also celebrates and promotes our local artists and artisans, but all year, not just at Easter. Since opening the Gallery, we’ve exhibited over 300 pieces by 41 artists. That gives you a hint of the variety you can expect to enjoy at the CMAE.
The CMAE ties in really well with the community’s Made in Dorrigo Day too, which adds a street festival atmosphere to Easter Saturday. Having the CMAE run for 10 days over the Easter holidays means that we get a lot of visitors to the area, and of course that’s great for the local economy too.
Quite a few of our artists are professionals who live on the Plateau because they love the area, but they exhibit nationally. That adds an exceptionally high standard to a lot of the work, although, of course, the CMAE also welcomes and encourages amateurs and students too. It’s a real community celebration. Encouraging broad participation helps create a really lively and supportive arts scene for everyone to enjoy.
Can you tell us the significance of this year’s theme “Ahead in the Clouds?”
Often as you drive up from the coast, you’ll see Dorrigo Mountain ahead of you wrapped in clouds. So we started with that idea, but played on it metaphorically to ask artists to imagine the future for the Dorrigo Plateau. What do they love about the Plateau? What would they like to see happen up here ‘in the clouds’? Or maybe it’s a dystopian interpretation: what don’t they like, or what do they fear for our future? Creativity and imagination are essential for building a good quality of life, and for solving problems with skill and insight. Artists are vital to every community!
Do you usually get many entrants?
Last year we had over 80 entrants, and remember that we only include people who live on the Plateau. The exhibition includes a wide variety of media: not just painting and drawing, but also glassware, woodwork and furniture, ceramics, sculpture, hand-woven and hand-spun items, felting and fabric art, jewellery, and etchings.
We also have working displays by local artists. So you can come and watch someone spinning or weaving, painting, or sculpting, and talk to them about their art form.
An extra dimension this year is a quilt exhibition. Several times a year, Misty Threads (one of the local shops) organises quilting workshops, and these attract participants from across NSW. Quilting is an important facet of the arts and crafts here, so we’re spotlighting that with a special display by local quilters.
Do the youths get enthused?
We included a Youth Art Exhibition last year, and this year we’ve built on that by having two workshops to support and inspire our young artists to get involved. A Community Grant from the Bellingen Shire Council helped to fund the workshops. They were led by Pamela Denise, with Sandra Pitkin (this year’s Convenor) and Melissa Hogan (art teacher at Dorrigo High School).
We were aiming for a small group of six to eight students, but 13 enrolled, and they’ve really risen to the challenge! It’s quite a task creating an exhibition in only two workshops. There are some fabulously talented teenagers here, and what they’ve created for us will be a real feature of the CMAE.
I love the notion of a shoebox sculpture – how did this concept come about?
We wanted to include a section that amateurs (and professionals) could really have fun and play with. It’s the brainchild of local sculptor, Sandra Pitkin, and it’s a sneaky way to get more people interested in sculpture, working in three dimensions rather than just two. There are always lots of quirky pieces, and we offer a People’s Choice prize to encourage our audiences to have fun too.