Armidale embraces community arts program

Published 28 June 2012

A community arts program conducted through the University of New England is revealing yet another facet of Armidale’s creativity. In its inaugural year, the program has enabled three outstanding creators of children’s literature to live and work in Armidale while helping groups of community members – from infants to mature adults – to explore their own talent for this form of creativity.

The “writers and illustrators in residence” were based at UNE and conducted community workshops at the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM). They were the first participants in the Creative Communities in Children’s and Young Adult Literature program, funded by a grant of $90,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund to UNE’s School of Arts, with NERAM as a major partner. Other partners in the program include the New England Writers’ Centre and the local branch of the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

UNE’s Dr Elizabeth Hale, who is directing the program, said she had been impressed by the way the community had embraced it – from university staff members and students, to preschool, school and TAFE teachers, to members of the general public. “It has demonstrated the value of the University’s outreach into the community – particularly, in this case, in partnership with NERAM,” she said.

The three “writers and illustrators in residence” were Clare McFadden (author and illustrator of The Flying Orchestra), who was in residence from the 4th to the 18th of May, Kevin Burgemeestre (illustrator of Bernard Was a Bikie and Thunder Mountain), in residence from the 18th of May to the 2nd of June, and Tristan Bancks (author of the Mac Slater books and the Nit Boy series), in residence from the 6th to the 17th of June. “Their professionalism, adaptability, thoughtfulness and generosity have been very inspiring,” Dr Hale said.

Living on the University’s campus and meeting staff members from UNE’s School of Arts, the visitors found time to progress their own creative projects as well as conduct the community workshops. Kevin Burgemeestre said that being located in “a creative organisation like UNE” had been a good experience for him. “People who have a passion for the arts know what you’re talking about,” he said.

“The Creative Communities program was immediately attractive to me,” he said. “It was asking us to share skills with the community in a way that would reach people from young children to adults. And working at NERAM gave it an immediate arts focus.”  He said he hoped the workshops – those for adults as well as for school students – had left people feeling “a bit more confident about making things – and having fun in the process”.

“Children should be encouraged to tell stories – and can be amazing storytellers,” he said, “And while technological advances are introducing sound-effects and animation into children’s literature, it’s important to ensure that it’s more than just the effects. We’ve got to hold on to strong stories.”

Tristan Bancks, a UNE graduate himself, applauded the University for “making these connections into the community”, where he felt it had established “deep roots”. “It’s about giving people the licence to spend time creating something,” he said, “and supporting them in feeling OK about it.”

With the successful completion of the residence program for this year, Dr Hale is already starting to plan for 2013 and 2014, as the funding from the Copyright Agency is supporting the program for those two years as well. She’s hoping it will not only reach even more community groups, but also resonate within units of study at UNE focusing on children’s literature.

The image above, from the cover of Tristan Bancks’s book My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up, expands to show a photograph of Tristan Bancks and Dr Elizabeth Hale.