What better medium to stimulate discussion around funding cuts to the arts than through art itself? The current members’ exhibition at Artspace Urunga ‘Cut to the Bone and Alone’- explores the many themes around funding cuts, their impact on the arts and artists and the added insult of forced isolation and exhibition cancellations.
Helen Aiken (pictured above) is multifaceted. She excels as a bookkeeper by day because of her attention to detail, organisational skills and flare with numbers. But creative pursuits are the source of her wellbeing. “I need a creative outlet. Ideas flow all the time. Art makes me whole,” says Helen. These opposing interests give her an extraordinary insight into the dire circumstances for the arts. And as secretary at the Artspace Urunga, she was more than happy to share her concerns.
How would you describe the current exhibition ‘Cut to the Bone and Alone’?
This exhibition is both powerful and eclectic, representing many themes. As you would expect, artists interpret situations in a myriad of ways. For some isolation is their favoured state, while others have found this time challenging. Without exception however, all have been adversely affected by funding cuts and a lack of sales.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in the curation of this exhibition. It is both political and stunning and certainly won’t disappoint. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to stage a formal ‘opening’ due to continued social restrictions, but the gallery is now open Tuesday to Sunday, so we encourage everyone to take a look.
How significant are funding cuts to our local creative industries?
Federal government funding cuts over the past few years have selectively targeted the smaller to midrange organisations, sparing larger arts organisations. The smaller establishments now need to compete for more ‘project-based’ funding, making it more difficult to secure necessary funds, thereby reducing opportunities for artists.
Unfortunately, independent artists are often less mainstream, working at the cutting edge and pushing boundaries. Their works may not have widespread popular appeal but are essential to the arts. It is this type of art that can flourish in regional centres when conditions are favourable, but has been hit so hard recently. This situation means that we are forced to turn to local government funding opportunities, again increasing competition and hardship for independent artists.
Art and creative pursuits form the very fabric of the Bellingen Shire and are essential to our collective identity. On the larger stage, art contributes enormously to the country’s GDP and employs more than 600,000 people. The creative industries are essential and should be supported both locally and Australia wide.
The Artspace Urunga is now celebrating three years of operation. How important is this community art gallery to the region?
The Artspace brings vibrancy and colour to the centre of Urunga and attracts tourists to this once sleepy town. In my view it is a little shining light. It is also a great space for showcasing the works of local artists because of the dimensions and light.
The community of Urunga is proud of the art gallery. The high calibre of the exhibited art is also attracting attention from further afield. Our dream is to make the centre of Urunga Township a destination in itself.
For me personally, the Artspace has brought me in contact with more artists and is revitalising my own creative pursuits.
What brought you to Bellingen initially?
Before our children were born, my husband Bruce and I had spent a year travelling Australia, me riding pillion our on BMW 750. During that year we visited friends who had bought a block of land in Dorrigo. As we rode through Bellingen for the first time I thought- “Oh this is cute”. Once we returned to Sydney we realised we were looking for a different, more alternative lifestyle and spent the next few years visiting Bellingen, looking for land. We bought a block in Kalang in 1984 and moved here two years later to live in our 14-foot caravan with our eldest child, then six months old. I suppose you could say we weren’t particularly career oriented.
Bellingen has been a wonderful lifestyle. We were attracted initially by the natural beauty but it is the diverse groups of people and the community generally that has provided us with such a rich life. There are so many different interest groups, all connected in some way or another. People here just seem to be interested in things and follow through with their interests and ideas. They do stuff. I suppose most of our friends have chosen lifestyle over work, affording them more time to live and breathe and follow interests. For us it is home.
Can you describe your own creative journey?
I began my working life as a fashion designer in Sydney, freelancing and working for various small boutique companies. It sounds glamorous but wasn’t.
After moving here I spent 10 years studying ceramics in all its guises at Tafe while my three girls were growing up. Most of my creative pursuits over the years have been centred on ceramics, in particular hand-built sculptural works. More recently I have dabbled in fabric dying, revisiting my creative roots.
I would say that all of my passions are creative, whether I’m in my garden or decoratively tiling a bathroom. I just like to make things. It’s who I am.
The ‘Cut to the Bone and Alone’ exhibition will run for a month at the Artspace Urunga. If you would like to support the Artspace, membership is $40 for one year, $30 concession. Four members exhibitions are staged annually.