There isn’t a business worldwide that hasn’t felt the virus’s impact, with calamitous results for millions. And the art world has been far from immune. The places where we experience art, from leading museums to the tiniest independent spaces, were abruptly out of bounds… including the 2020 edition of the Surf Coasts Arts Trail.
Held in August year after year, the annual and well-loved Surf Coast Arts Trail is usually loaded with every form of art you can think of.
The reputable event sees artists, studios and galleries opening their doors and inviting guests to explore pottery, jewelry-making, blacksmithing, painting, woodwork and so much more, offering inspiration and insight into particular artworks by physically seeing the artist in their studio.
This year the Surf Coast Arts Trail, like most other art celebrations worldwide, have had to change their plans and adapt, turning to the vast potential of the internet to showcase the local arts.
The result is a newly vibrant artistic ecosystem coined PORTAL, an online festival and gathering space featuring Surf Coast creatives of all disciplines made possible by an army of laptops, smartphones and Zoom video chats.
Taking the format of a series of smaller events that have been spaced out over three months from June to August, PORTAL’s schedule features a curated combination of online and ‘in the world’ events hosted by local creatives and supported by Surf Coast Shire. These events include everything from interactive classes and workshops, to virtual studio tours, performances and discussions with the aim to encourage connection, collaboration, community and creativity.
“The Surf Coasts Arts trail is an event that generates about 5,000 people moving through 70 plus venues across the Shire over two days, so regardless of restrictions easing we just couldn’t run the risk of moving that many people through 70 people’s houses,” Artistic Director Harriet Gaffney explains of the online adaption.
“Rather than cancel, it seemed to be a really good opportunity to start some sort of cross disciplinary discussion going on across the arts, and pivot to online events where we’ll do these series of workshops. This is the elevate program designed to help artists upscale for a digital reality.”
Prior to PORTAL’s launch in June, local artists were encouraged to register for free online workshops and submit their event ideas for this year’s adaptive event.
Acting as a platform for artists events, arts, and ideas, the PORTAL platform is made up of four different segments – ‘elevate’, ‘stories’, ‘live’ and ‘artists’.
Within ELEVATE, creatives can participate in workshops and professional development opportunities. June saw Elevate feature a series of workshops and skillsharing for creatives, by creatives to elevate existing artistic practice and meeting the needs and demands of local artists in a socially distanced world. This included workshops on adapting to digital, expanding reach, photography artwork using a smartphone, opportunities for creatives selling online, among others.
This month, art enthusiasts can elevate their creativity with a series of artistic and how-to workshops offered by local artists for young and old alike. Portal will play host to a number of Surf Coast creatives sharing their skills with the community in a series of paid and free workshops.
A recurring workshop that we recommend taking the time to check out is with the Wayapawarr Watnanda Marangee, which aims to connect community members across all ages, genders and abilities who find themselves in self-isolation, via the ancient art of weaving circles, traditionally known as ‘meeting places’. Led by some wonderful First Nations weavers via Zoom, the workshop invites you to learn a traditional weaving technique, weave circular ‘meeting places’ and decorate public spaces with your woven creations. Over time and space, woven circles will grow across the Shire, state, nation and beyond, to form a network of meeting places and connections via the hashtag #wayapawarr.
Another workshop that we’ve got our eye on is the Chalk mandala workshop with Caz Artsea on Wednesday July 15. Here, Caz will teach interested creatives the basics of mandala creation in an online workshop, focusing on the use of chalk, which directly relates to Portal’s Driveway Creations initiative, where Surf Coast families are being encouraged to liven up winter and their neighbourhood by creating artwork in their own driveways.
‘STORIES’ is where interested creatives can join Surf Coast artists and creatives in a series of facilitated discussions, podcasts, studio tours and one-on-ones throughout July and August.
Events include ‘Virtual Storytime’ at Torquay Books, where local writers Stef Gemmill, Renee Treml and Kaye Baillie will read children’s stories live on Facebook every Thursday in July; ‘Walking with Artists’ is a curated series which sees PORTAL LAC Miranda Jarvis walk through the glorious landscapes of the Surf Coast with artists for whom walking is key method for their creative practice; and the PORTAL Postcards Project. Here, residents of the Surf Coast Shire are invited to participate in a creative pen pal project, creating artwork on a postcard which will then be sent to a vulnerable/isolated member of the community, and in turn receiving your own PORTAL Postcard from an anonymous postcard artist.
“When COVID hit, I was just thinking ‘how do you keep people connected in a period when it’s difficult to be connected’,” Harriet explains, “we had to think of ways to keep people inspired. If people are still inspired to make and to do new things, then that’s building resilience right there.
“Access to extraordinary museums and exhibitions online is wonderful, but we need real life connections too, and we can do that with this postcard exchange. It’s all about linking people within community who have been isolated, bringing joy and connecting them through art.”
‘LIVE’ plays host to a number of ongoing ‘in-the-world’ community artistic events and initiatives (performances, in-the-world happenings, readings), designed to motivate all Surf Coast residents to get creative and showcase the central role creativity plays in developing identity, belonging and a sense of wellbeing. This includes the likes of In-the-world events like their aforementioned Driveway Creations, as well as the Friday Night In The Freeza featuring 9 young Surf Coast songwriters who’ve been working with local musician Rach Brennan.
A real highlight of PORTAL’s ‘Live’ events is the Sunday Morning Sessions being held throughout July and August, which aims to connect artists and the community on a deeper level.
Each Sunday from 11am, local artists (and those further afield in Deans Marsh and the Otways) offer their virtual guests a real ‘behind-the-scenes arts experience, revealing the inspiring stories behind their artworks and the creative processes behind them. So far, creatives and arts enthusiasts have been privileged to listen in on prominent arts figure Julie Dyer in conversation with leading public artist and landscape designer Mark Trinham, and Wudawurrung leader Corinna Eccles “talking Treaty” with Surf Coast photographer Ferne Millen.
Next weekend (Sunday, July 19) will be a particularly poignant discussion about the significance of ochre, water and art in the lives of First Nations people with Art Space president Sally Groom, reminding us that art connects us to place and to our history, while Sunday July 26 will see Deans Marsh environmental artist Miranda Jarvis interview prominent Victorian theatre director and actor Iris Walshe-Howling, who is now based in Lorne.
In August, the Sunday Morning Sessions will move to panel discussions, with a more structured format bringing together a range of the best creative forces in the region.
“I’ve reached out to probably some of the most well-known and recognised local artists who have got national and international reach, and who have been working in this field for a long time, but we don’t see a lot of them,” Harriet reveals.
“I really want to give those artists the opportunity to talk about why they chose a career in the arts, and what the arts means to them.”
The discussions will explore topics including public art and its ability to revitalise place and its ability to help to ask questions about things that are happening in the here and now; as well as art activism and place, bringing local environmental artists to the fore to reflect on our extraordinary fortune in living in this place and the need to protect it.
“The August series is really about some of the themes that drive people to make art,” she continues. “We’re going to end up with a panel discussion at the end of August, which will discuss ‘where to now’ and the future of the arts and the surf coast.
“Something we rarely recognize and even less understand is the fact that the Surf Coast is the fourth largest region for creative industries in the country, which means that we have this extraordinary, almost underground, sector of creatives whose work is going well beyond the Shire that we often don’t know about.”
Within the PORTAL platform, you’ll also find the ‘ARTIST’ segment which simply acts as a directory to more than 70 participating artists and arts collectives; writers, performers, tutors and facilitators, with links to each of their available websites, wares and social media handles.
“This adaption of the Surf Coast Arts Trail is all about resilience. It’s about connecting people, connecting both the community who appreciate the arts, appreciate literature, and appreciate the makers within their own community. It’s also about connecting those communities and hopefully establishing new relationships,” Harriet adds.
“We’re really lucky in the shire, but people are still vulnerable, and the arts is going to be really key in helping people to process what’s happened and to tell their unique stories of the Surf Coast during this unprecedented time.
“Each of these events is all aimed to when we come out of this and we can freely gather again and gather as communities, in the hope that everything we’ve learnt, the discussions we’ve had, we can put towards the real-life events.”
For more information and upcoming sessions, and to register for one of the free sessions, visit the website.
Feature Image: Miranda Jarvis and Iris Walshe Howling – in conversation on 29 July discussing the role of mentors in the arts.