Why art matters

Collie Art Gallery, Creative Director Joshua Thomason spent last week talking with three key figures in the Collie community to try and answer the big question: “Why is art important to a community?”

Art has never been an exact science, so it’s no surprise that there is no exact answer to that question.

One thing is for certain, after speaking to several members of the Collie community, art is something that we all agree makes for a better place to live and a better quality of life.

A recent Australia Council for the Arts report states that fewer Australians agree that the arts tend to attract people who are somewhat elitist and pretentious. “Half of Australians thought this in 1999 but only one in three in 2009; this has fallen further, down to 30 percent, in 2013.”

The Creative Industries Sector for the South West Region is growing at 3.6 per cent per year and contributing $305 million annually to the region.

For groups, the arts is a way of maintaining cultural heritage, connecting different generations, and sharing that heritage with others.

From my observation working in the arts for 15 years, participation in the arts increases personal confidence and social skills, provides direct outcomes in terms of physical health and mental wellbeing, the opportunity to make new friends and social connections. I’ve seen art used to overcome a sense of isolation and promote health and resilience.

I’ve also seen many artists in regional communities make leaps and bounds with a professional practice that takes them and their art to all four corners of the world. One of my inspirations is Dion “Cheeky Dog” Beasley – a young Indigenous artist from Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

Dion was born profoundly deaf and has muscular dystrophy. With his friend and mentor Joie Boulter, Dion has been producing Cheeky Dog images for T-shirts and bags for a number of years.

Art definitely provokes conversation, and in attempt to answer the big question, firstly we speak to local MP Mick Murray.

Mr Murray admits he can’t clap to music in time and says his best painting was patching up a scratched wall in the kitchen. He feels that art is about self expression.

He recounts being in the Shire Council 20 years ago when the expressions of interest for a gallery in Collie were first raised. He is very pleased to see the Collie Art Gallery coming to life and expects that in five years time, the benefits to Collie will be really be known by everyone in the region and the world.

The arts is somewhere Collie has been deficient, because the fact that sport leads, but we have been very short on the visual arts, and arts representation.

Art in Collie is usually in public view for a couple of weeks of the year with the Griffin festival. Now the gallery will be an all-year-round show.

Mr Murray say the new gallery will certainly be a boon for the local community. “It will attract people to town – people spend money and the spin off goes from there. It is very important to understand that we do need these outlets in a country community,” said Mr Murray.

Elizabeth Lindsay moved to Collie in 1978 and has been overseeing the gallery development in her role of Chairperson of the Gallery Group’s Management Committee.

“There is no precedence for setting up a gallery of this nature in WA,” said Ms Lindsay.

“It’s been a far more extensive undertaking than just putting up paintings up in a coffee shop.”

In responding to why the Gallery will benefit Collie she says, “apart from just being able to see world-class exhibitions, it is a great opportunity for businesses in the town to benefit because a well-run gallery attracts people from all over the State.

Some of us have travelled to Europe to see galleries. There are people who regularly fly to the Eastern States to see exhibitions. One of the ripple effects will be the amount of money that comes into town as a result of people coming to visit the gallery.”

Art in the community is really important because it does two things, it can hold a mirror up to the community so you can see a reflection of yourself.

It creates windows and doors in people’s minds, so it challenges a lot of ideas.

Ms Lindsay says having art in the community is akin to sport and recreation. She believes that you don’t have a really successful, thriving community unless you have a balance in all of those things.

“Art engages different parts of the brain, so there are possibilities for things like art therapy, art as therapy, art as a challenge or an activity for those that don’t wish to play sport, but they can engage in artistic pursuits.

“We often think that art is just a painting. Art can be photography, sculpture and lots of different things. Art fills a need in us to be creative, even if we don’t have great skills, as creators, it gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Regarding the importance to young people, Collie Senior High School Principal Domenic Camera says there is a broad interest in the school for art.

“There is a lot of creativity that kids can immerse themselves into their projects . It’s a good reflection of themselves and what they are about,” Mr Camera says.

“It’s also about learning skills, as there are really important skills to be learnt from the arts. For a lot of people it can be a career pathway.”

Art is an outlet and for a number of students, its a calming time, it’s a bit of a ‘me time’.

There are also requirements such as practice and commitment, a time to focus time and a time to be proactive, and there is also some risk involved through either performing or exhibiting.

Mr Camera says the opportunity for students to display their work at the gallery will fill the young artists and the school with an immense amount of pride.

Domenic is hoping that when his students walk into the gallery for the first time they will be filled with a sense of awe to see what is possible in the sphere of the arts.

“It is an opportunity our kids wouldn’t get if it wasn’t here in Collie, as some of our kids don’t get out of Collie. They may go as far as Bunbury, so there are some limitations to their exposure, and the gallery is a great opportunity to be exposed to something new.”

“Some of the artists the gallery may display, the students may never of heard of, or would never have seen.”

“It may light the spark for people to research different artists and what their experiences where ask why they painted that. Dialogue broadens their horizons. Just the fact that you could live a thousand miles from an artist and viewing their art provides great scope for the students to experience the emotions, feelings and visions from a long way away. That, I think, will be fantastic.

Ms Lindsay, also a teacher at the high school, says that with good exposure to the arts, young people have the opportunity to develop qualities such as critical thinking, community mindedness and people who can see beyond their daily routine by initiating new ways of doing things.

“This extended worldview is always going to be of benefit to a commmunity.”

Have your say. Why is art important to you?