By Kirra Grimes

THERE’S been a lot happening in South Gippsland’s arts community over the last 12 months, with a broad range of projects initiated and existing initiatives going from strength to strength.
That’s according to Council’s Arts Development Officer Mary Sullivan, who last week delivered the annual update on the implementation of the shire’s 2017-2021 Arts Culture and Creative Industry Strategy.
Ms Sullivan attended a strategic briefing at Council’s Leongatha chamber last week, filling in Acting Administrator Julie Eisenbise and Acting CEO Bryan Sword on all the highlights of the last 12 months.
These included the recent NAIDOC Week art exhibitions at Foster and Inverloch, which had twice as many submissions as last year’s exhibition; and Newcastle muralist Nina Katzmarski’s visit as part of the Creative Gippsland Artist in Community project, which saw her collaborate with locals to transform an unloved picnic area in Leongatha.
There’s also the Live Music in Small Halls project, which utilises our historic town halls as “a dispersed performing arts centre”; and the growth of the all-abilities performing arts group It’s No Drama, which had its second performance earlier this year and continues with high participation levels at weekly workshops.
And, of course, the Korumburra’s Southern Lights Festival, which drew in thousands to the town on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and will continue with light installations in the main street for six weeks in August/September; plus the ongoing partnerships with organisations such as Freeza.
Freeza has delivered $73,000 to support arts events organised by and for youth in South Gippsland for the next three years, including an all ages battle-of-the-bands-style live music event coming up at the Leongatha Memorial Hall in October 2019, a “real coup” for the town, Ms Sullivan said, and an example of how Freeza initiatives support the development of young people’s creative skills.
“There’s been a spike in young talent in South Gippsland and I’ve got no doubt that’s partly because of initiatives like this,” she said.
Other external grant funding, to support Council’s $135,000 annual arts budget, has come from VicHealth ($85,000), Creative Victoria ($12,000), Regional Arts Victoria ($15,000), and Indigenous art promotion ($3000).
A significant allocation of Council’s Community Grants ($60,000 or 20 per cent) also went to arts and cultural events in 2018/19.
Admitting she’s “very passionate about arts and culture,” Ms Eisenbise commended all those involved in the implementation of the Arts Culture and Creative Industry Strategy, remarking on the “extraordinary” amount of grant funding secured and the economic and social benefits of the projects delivered.
“It’s always hard to engage the community, but particularly the youth, and these projects are doing two really good things: one, they’re bringing people together; and two, they’re engaging people. So, they’re very exciting,” she said.
“They’re bringing money to local businesses and local artists, but it’s not just about the money; it’s the participation that you get out of it – and you can never actually quantify community engagement.”
Upcoming arts projects include a public art register, as well as arts initiatives at Van Cleef Reserve at Venus Bay and Baromi Park at Mirboo North.
Community members who want to stay up to date with South Gippsland arts news are encouraged to sign up to the weekly South Gippsland Arts Network newsletter by sending a request via email to sophied@southgippsland.vic.gov.au