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Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

THE RANGE Arts and Culture Festival: The LAUNCH

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Last night, with much fanfare, social camaraderie and prominence, the Toowoomba art scene came alive with the launch of THE RANGE Arts and Culture Festival. The idea of a nine-day art event was masterminded by Ashleigh Bunter and was generously supported by Federal and State Government grants[1]. This activity promises to give a boost to the local arts community and will also serve as a celebration of the significant artist run initiative (ARI) scene in Toowoomba.

Attendees @ The RANGE Launch Photo: Doug Spowart

Attending the event at the Empire ‘Church’ were the glitterati of the local scene including two councilors (maybe more), the local newspaper art scene critic, gallery people, university art faculty members, art collectors, a couple of TAFE art teachers, art society members and representatives of the local arts council. Added to this group were numerous artists, performers, musicians, film-makers, creatives, art buyers and last but not least, members of the art interested public. SEE: The Chronicle Newspaper photos HERE.

Presented on one wall of the function room was a selectively curated group of artworks from what was described as  the ‘Darlings of the Darling Downs’ art scene. This display included works by Damian Kamholtz, Stephen Spurrier and Danish Quapoor and were presented for the appreciation by attendees, and later in the evening, these works were auctioned providing an unusual addition to the formal proceedings.

The crowd excitedly engaged in conversation and were revved up by Councilor Geoff McDonald who acted as master of ceremonies for the evening. The chant ‘The—RANGE’, ‘The—RANGE’, ‘The—RANGE’ made an auspicious start to the proceedings and was followed an introduction to the directors and gallerists of the ARIs featured in the program—Alison Mooney—Mars + The Grid, Sally Johnson—Blockwork, Alexandra Lawson and Tarn McLea—Raygun and Alex Stalling and Elysha Gould—made. Creative Space.

Introducing the ARIs Phtoto Doug Spowart

An address by USQ’s Head of the Creative Arts School, Associate Professor Janet McDonald commented on the ARIs and their importance within our community as providing a space other than the traditional gallery institution. These initiatives allow emerging artists and curators, including many USQ students and graduates, to operate in the public space presenting work and building their experience and professional practice.

A second speaker, Charlie Cush, Senior Advisor Arts Culture, Local Government Association of Queensland, spoke excitedly when he expressed that he was ‘blown away by the grass roots arts movement in Toowoomba’. He stated ‘that many arts communities around the country are looking towards what is being achieved here as a model for the how an ARI can foster emerging artists and contribute to the vitality of a region’.

The audience was then treated to the spectacle of works from the ‘Darlings’ being auctioned off by a professional auctioneer—bids were slow however the activity highlighted one approach to the many ways in which art is presented for appreciation and acquisition.

From my point of view the concept of ARIs has been around for a long time. My experience in this gallery practice goes back to the 1980s when I was co-director of Imagery Gallery in Brisbane. At the time artist-run-spaces as they were called then, provided a platform for artists outside of the commercial scene to present their wild ideas and art. They were experimental art spaces, often overtly non-commercial and supported by an ‘in-crowd’ associated with the artist’s demographic, their training institution and the social networking possibilities that the gallery opening provided.

The RANGE ARI’s, through the umbrella created by this Bunter Project, now emerge, not as isolated special interest groups, but rather as a powerful support mechanism for the advancement of all aspects of art from inspiration, creation, presentation, appreciation, criticism, merchandising and possession. Perhaps, for a regional arts community this event marks a new era of respect and opportunity for art. This attitude is desperately needed in our current political and economic climate which is seemingly ambivalent to the presence and the value of art and its important role in the community and life.

As we left the launch party a lone smoker was outside watching the last of the featured local films projected on the open air theatre set up for the night—I’m sure she was contemplating the meaningfulness of this moment for the arts in Toowoomba …or just enjoying the warm night air, the open air theatre and a smoke.

Watching a movie in the open air theatre Photo: Doug Spowart

ASLO SEE the Ash Bunter interview on the CHRONICLE NEWS Website

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BLOG words and images by Dr Doug Spowart in support of the RANGE Arts and Culture Festival.

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1. Regional Arts Development Fund–Arts Queensland and the Toowoomba Regional Council, and the Australian Government’s Regional Art Fund in partnership with Artslink.


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