We explore the history of Bellingen’s iconic Nexus Community Gallery and chat with some of the long term volunteers that contribute to the gallery’s success. Pictured is Maggie Porter, just one of the valued gallery supporters.
The Nexus Community Gallery has been exhibiting art works at the Old Butter Factory in Bellingen for more than 10 years. The Gallery is run by the Bellingen Community Arts Council (BCAC), which is a not-for-profit volunteer organisation. The BCAC began its life in the mid 1990’s. Its desire to support and exhibit the works of local artists began with art exhibitions initially being held in vacant buildings such as the Commonwealth Bank, and in other locations around the town. Eventually a more stable home was established in the front of the Bellingen Framing Studio in Hyde St – where the Gelato Bar now is.
This continued for three years with regular member shows as well as monthly exhibitions. It was innovative and exciting and offered opportunities for young and aspiring artists as well as professional artists to exhibit their works. Openings were frequently coupled with music events, bringing people to Bellingen and creating a reputation for artistic engagement and the membership and number of artists involved in the gallery increased. “Coming from Sydney to Bellingen, about 13 years ago, I can remember the first time I went to an exhibition at Nexus Gallery, in its rather smallish home in Hyde Street and being very impressed with the standard of the work,” says Maggie Porter, long term gallery supporter. Maggie decided to join the BCAC, “I’d never ever been on a committee before but seeing the enthusiasm & commitment from some of my friends who were already part of it I joined the team. At times it was hard work but always fun, especially organizing the Annual Bellingen Art Prize, which became a bit of a legend. It was wonderful to see our local artists exhibiting with others from interstate and even overseas and frequently winning the coveted prizes.”
The Nexus Community Gallery first opened its doors at the Old Butter Factory in August 2005, which Maggie described as “like coming home.” Artists and volunteers installed picture rails and lighting, made minor repairs, freshly painted the walls and had a gala opening on Friday, 19th August 2005. The opening event was a Members’ Group Exhibition in conjunction with the Bellingen Jazz Festival
From the beginning the narrative of the Nexus Gallery’s success lies in the support of its strong grassroots artistic community. “This is reflected in the annual clean up and painting of the gallery, the regular volunteers who look after the gallery and all the volunteers who ensure the exhibitions run smoothly,” says Shelley O’Keefe, another valued supporter of the gallery. In the words of Joanne Bowes, a regular volunteer at the gallery since its inception 10 years ago, when talking about what kept her coming every week – “I really enjoy talking to people from all over the world, I learn so much about art, the exhibitions change all the time and are so diverse. The environment is beautiful”.
Over the years the Nexus gallery has earned a glowing reputation as a sought-after exhibition space among artists within our region and beyond. Exhibitions change every month and include a wide variety of quality works of art to enjoy. It showcases regional talent and exhibits works that range from funky ceramics, crafted jewellery, and innovative textile art to 3D works, graphic works, paintings and multi-media pieces. It is the perfect place to browse, enjoy the beauty of the works on display and, perhaps, reward yourself with a purchase.
The current gallery administrator Andy Livemore is acknowledged for running this tight ship. Local ceramicist Tamasin Pepper describes Andy’s typical day “he opens and closes 7 days a week and excitedly calls with reports of sales- all as a volunteer. He has a great eye for making exhibitions flow visually and is very supportive of artists exhibiting there.”
So, what inspires the volunteers. Maggie particularly loves the members shows which she describes as “very inspirational,” with the number of members’ exhibitions increasing to four per year. “As well as a spirit of competition there is a great camaraderie and willingness to share skills especially after a few glasses of vino.” Recently the Gallery has also introduced a number of other initiatives. There is now a Members Art Prize, in which external judge’s award prizes worth over $2,000 and the Youth Art Prize has been revamped to make it more accessible and encouraging young participants to be involved in the artistic life of Bellingen, which has been driven by the combined efforts of Shelley O’Keefe and Phillip Senior.
“The standard of work from these young people is exceptional and often leads them into further studies and a career in the arts,” says Maggie.
The gallery is also setting itself up as a venue for cultural events and currently Sunday Bites (a BCAC initiative organised by Phillip Senior and Rosie Tony Wickert) holds its monthly cultural presentations and discussions in the gallery.
We asked Maggie about the highs and lows of being involved at the Nexus Community Gallery over the years. “Undoubtedly the big flood in 2009. Days were spent scraping and hosing mountains of mud from the walls & floors, cleaning walls & removing smelly rubbish in a frantic attempt to be ready for the opening of a Members Show. We made it – thanks to the typical spirit of cooperation and caring.”
But Maggie’s overwhelming feeling is pride to be part of such a creative community in the Bellingen Shire, “we are blessed with an enormous breadth of talent and Bellingen Community Arts Council’s members are a huge part of this.”
With every new exhibition there is an official opening with wine and delicious food for the guests, so it’s not surprising that Nexus also has a reputation as a great place to get together. Maggie also acknowledges “being creative can mean a level of isolation, particularly if you are new to town. So there in itself is a perfect reason to meet at Nexus openings and events to catch up with friends over a drink and share stories.”
The current exhibition is “The Hang of It”, a Members Exhibition which will run until April 28th.
For more information about the Nexus Community Gallery visit the website – www.bcac.org.au.
The Gallery is situated in the beautiful courtyard garden of the Old Butter Factory Bellingen, and is open 7 days a week, from 10am to 4.30pm.