– “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”
– “the people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities; society:”
– “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”
(from the Oxford Online Dictionary)
The past few weeks have brought the thought of “Community” to me. What do you think of when you hear the word community?
Do you define community by your involvement in something, your immersion, participation, understanding, recognition, belonging?
Do you see Community as something distinct and separate to yourself, to be aspired to? Is it possible this is due to a lack of connection, where your sense of place has you on the outside looking in, yourself a discrete entity who from the perspective of distance, can only witness, yearn for and hope for belonging? Do you feel something within the concept of community that touches a chord within each of us, that intrinsic human need for “home”, for family, to belong?
Characters parade at Balingup Medieval Fair
I’ve thought a lot about this…. Communities are like circles…… we belong in some, we are outside of others, and many are overlapping or shared. But all are there for our understanding and learning, about who we are as individuals and who WE are as human beings, …and as opportunities to reach higher or be better or more, or simply reach out and find the courage to share. And all are created and driven by those who are a part of them. A community is defined by the people it is made up of….
The idea of community is a powerful, much valued, but elusive quality. Governments and Councillors cannot create, guide or legislate for it (though I personally think it should be a priority to promote and protect all aspects of “community” at any cost), corporations cannot buy, invent or generate it, no matter how crucial it might be for their fiscal wellbeing. It starts with each individual and the connection they make with another. It is not taught as a subject in schools, though some discerning establishments foster the spirit of community as a child or student’s first experience of what it means to belong and participate. Like personal honour, and integrity, it is an intangible quality that no matter how subtle, we all aspire to it, yet there seems to be no value placed upon it by the shabby systems our societies dwell within, and no classrooms are dedicated to it – only the examples received in life and the gifts of our conscience. A Community is a living breathing, evolving entity, greater than the sum of its parts, and yet only existing because of the individuals within it.
The Queen and King and their entourage enter the village…
Many years ago, I went to the Balingup Medieval Festival for the first time. I came away from the event with the most overwhelming sense of Community, to the point where I decided if there was one place in this state I wanted to live, it would be Balingup. It was the Community spirit that danced and shone throughout that amazing event showing me what a group of people could do, when they worked together with passion and purpose. The creativity and imagination that saw the town transformed into a medieval village, with lifesize jesters, colorful characters and icons around the streets, vibrant flags, bunting, real enactments of medieval ceremony and society, dragons, kings, queens, knights and fair ladies, created a sense of community beyond any I had seen, especially in the artistic sense. For a town to come together with a common goal such as this event, captured my imagination and made me long to be a part of that. To me, that is the lure of a true community.
However, I did not have to look too far from home to recognize a community that I am already a part of, one that offers many of the same qualities. Here at the Artgeo complex, a thriving community of real people who share a creative spirit and pride in all that they offer, is already a circle I am grateful to be involved in.
ArtGeo Courthouse Gallery in Queen Street
For starters, you will find here, a sense of history entwined throughout the creative process and acknowledged openly. Set in buildings that have played a critical role in this region since first settlement, initially as the local courthouse, police and gaol complex, then as a home for local artisans, buildings that hold many layers of stories from every angle of these human elements, you will also find the history of art for the region entrenched within these walls. The Busselton Art Society, now over fifty years in the making, is rich with colour and stories and real people – generations of artists creating, sharing and teaching what they do with others. On any given day, you can witness the women of all ages who turn up to paint and share a cup of tea with their peers, or the men who seek to share their woodturning skills, or those who volunteer to run the gallery and sell other artist’s works, or to help teach children’s art classes. Many of these members of the art community have been doing this for over forty-five years and this is a primary part of their lives. My Mother is one of them. She has been a part of the Busselton Art Society for virtually all my life, and there was never a time when my image of “Mum” did not include the creative woman heading into town one or more times a week with her art supplies, her imagination and her generosity in helping others in the art rooms. Women, people, like my Mum, form a part of the community that at times is neglected or overlooked, especially when a younger city planners or lawmakers alter landscapes, move parking or access away from the area and make life difficult for the Elders who are the backbone of this artistic family. They should be treasured and cared for, not ignored or pushed aside in the rush for gentrification and image. Then you will find a vibrant selection of artists, both professional and amateur, all who have stepped up to express themselves through their chosen mediums, contributing to society in subtle but essential ways through their diverse artistic statements. New artists arrive regularly, shyly mustering the courage to offer their work for display and sale, or to enter exhibitions, and seasoned artists greet and welcome them, encouraging and inspiring them to follow their passion. I have witnessed this first hand, the exchange of creative ideas and inspiration and encouragement, not to mention human friendship. It is what makes Artgeo so very special and most deserving of the tag “community gallery”.
Passageway Past the Cells
I remember the first times I entered the gallery with a view to share my work, and how it could have been a negative encounter that turned me away from my art, had the people there been different. Instead, it was a positive and welcoming experience, one that made me feel accepted, gave me the courage to take my art to the next level and beyond. And the community feel has always been enhanced by having those special people working behind the scenes, organizing, planning, promoting and hanging exhibitions, who know what it is to be an artist, who have art in their heart and recognize that the wellbeing of their fellow artists is a priority to the ongoing spirit of the complex. These are the people who live, breathe and share art on a daily basis, another element of humanity that cannot be taught in universities, or gained from studying, but earned by a way of seeing life, a way of feeling, a way of being. These people never criticize or crush new and emerging artists nor disrespect the older ones, they believe in inclusion, respect and acceptance, knowing art is something we all share, something beyond monetary value, something that connects us as human beings. And their spirit rubs off on those they deal with constantly. If you have had anything to do with Artgeo over the years you will know exactly the special people I am talking about…. these are the people who should be valued more highly than paid bureacrats, ego suited professionals or those who seek to create a high end image for the complex to the detriment of the real people within it; these are the people whose presence defines the true meaning of community…. and without such people, “community” would not exist.
Main Gallery during my solo exhibition – Cinefest Oz
Nothing epitomizes this more than the little tearooms where I come to sit and write each week. It is a smaller community in the heart of the larger one at Artgeo. Here creativity is expressed through the baking and preparation of real food to sustain and nourish real people. Visitors to this little café are treated as guests in a family home. Brenda greets them all and welcomes them to her “kitchen” as do her specially chosen staff. There is chat and banter and smiles and always the offer of kindness. It is as guaranteed as the garnish or rose petals on the side of the plate. And the team in Brenda’s kitchen deliver heartfelt food and goodwill first and foremost to all who enter this community. Behind the scenes, the energy of this little café extends over into everyday lives, just as it does within the Artgeo community. Many who have walked into the café with a sadness, or an emptiness or a longing, walk out fulfilled, and I don’t just mean in the belly sense! Brenda makes sure that volunteers at the gallery are always offered a free cup of tea or coffee for their time spent helping, something she does of her own generosity and as a contribution to the family feel of the place. It is a kindness, simple and pure, a gift of the heart, to keep the human element alive, and this symbolizes the community feel that emanates from The Old Post Office Tearooms and the wonderful lady at its centre.
These are rare qualities that are not found in many people or places any more…. they most certainly should not just be found in historic places as a symbol of how it once was or a tribute to the past! These are qualities that must be protected and enhanced, in all areas of life. The aspects of kindness, generosity of spirit, creativity and acceptance should be part of every community so that the members can drink freely and be inspired to perpetuate those qualities.
(from the notebooks on Cafe tables…)
Seventh of march, two thousand and thirteen
As I sit back I remember when expression was not limited by lines of ink or fountain pen. My mind then charts across the ocean my vessel upon which I search for my perpetual Ondine. There where I sit and the blessed easterly winds blow warm doth do I find the girl of my heart and mind, my faithful Ondine.
(Anon of the Oceans)
School visit mum
Visit over and done,
now for something in my tum!
Take one day at a time
Especially when the weather is sublime
Sit, sip some tea
Never forget to absorb what you see
Remembering that every moment counts
Enjoy eating your cake in small amounts
Talk to friends in the community
You will reap the rewards, just wait and see.
13th march 2013
What more could you ask for in Busselton
And the music tops it off
Lorna, Alma Heath
Close to the sea
Making the most of our day
Using our talent to enjoy
Nectar of caramel and pear and rose
Infusion of tea
The word of the week – community
Yes we will return to try again
I will grow old but never lose life’s zest
Because the road’s last turn
Will be the best (Henry van dyke)
Never make anyone unhappy
Only when you say goodbye
Communi-TEA or Coffee?