Archives for posts with tag: cultural and community engagement


This past weekend saw the official launch of the new Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, which opens to the public on the 17th of November. I am immensely proud to have been a part of this new Cultural Centre’s development for the last three months and during this time I have watched Paul Brinkman, the Cultural Centre’s Director patiently and masterfully navigate his way through the largest project I have been a part of to date. So it seemed fitting that for this week we should interview Paul about the way he works.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

Why did you take on the job as the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre Director?

The challenge. There are few opportunities in the arts and cultural industry to be involved in a project from the ground up. Also, I had done all that could be done in my role as director of the Cairns Regional Gallery, I had reached my intended goals and it was beginning to become repetitive.

There is never really just one reason though, it was actually a build-up of a whole lot of little reasons, one contributing reason for my family was actually cyclone seasons in Cairns- there was one really scary moment during cyclone Yasi that made us take stock of our decision to live in a cyclone region with a child.

What are the key aspects of you current role?

This role is very unique to where we are now. At the moment I’m a problem solver, HR specialist and building manager- good financial control is also crucial. Once we settle there will be a day-to-day focus on simultaneously pursuing the centre’s short and long-term goals and projects, always ensuring that I’m looking at today as well as 1 month to 10 years ahead. In that regard I need to be an ‘ideas’ person as well as a realist. I also want to ensure that our staff are engaged, happy, motivated and enjoying what we do.

You mentioned that HR is a current key feature of your role, what has guided you when putting together your team of staff?

Regional galleries require people with multiple skill sets and broad specialisations, they also need people that are willing to step outside those existing skills to expand their abilities. I’ve looked for people that have a passion for work and that would be willing to put in extra effort to ensure a dynamic work environment. There are also high expectations of staff within this Cultural Centre and it was important to find staff that are good decision makers, can handle challenges and bring solutions rather than problems.

Admittedly, it also has a lot to do with personalities. All of the staff are highly skilled, but it was also really important to ensure a good team. In this kind of environment, good people are those that appreciate and respect the contribution of everyone else here as we are so reliant on each other to work effectively.

What have been some of the greatest achievements in the project?

Finally opening the doors. Reflecting on the last year, we’ve achieved a lot. When I arrived we had no staff, no policies, procedures or protocols and we needed to establish a clear logistical operations plan. Now we have ideas that have been shaped into a reality, through a lot of a hard work.

Seeing people engage with the space and seeing them go ‘wow’ also feels like an achievement. People know it’s here but they don’t yet know how spectacular the facilities and location are.

What is your vision for how the Cultural Centre will serve the Blue Mountains?

The Cultural Centre is able to offer the highest quality professional visual experiences to audiences that appreciate it. We’ll also have a role in further developing that audience. The Cultural Centre spaces will host innovative programs driven by the interests of the people of the region.

There tend to be two ends of the spectrum in public arts ventures. At one end there are institutions that operate like community centres or pseudo drop- in centres, where the representation of art is secondary. At the other end you have curatorially driven projects where the emphasis is in art rather than the people. This cultural centre will sit in the middle, providing artistically driven, challenging programs but supporting them with tools to encourage engagement, even by reticent audiences.


Chrissie Ianssen’s work as a practicing community and visual artist spans over four years; in her work for the New Neighbours’ Project and the Refugee Art Project, Ianssen has been influential in expanding Parramatta as a community cultural hub in Western Sydney.  Ianssen talks with arts interview about her work on these projects and her upcoming project which will see her relocate to her childhood suburb of Ryde.

Interview by Janette Gay

Can you tell us about the New Neighbours’ Project and the Refugee Art Project?

In mid 2011 the New Neighbours’ Project got started here in North Parramatta with funding and support from Parramatta Council who sourced disused demountable buildings from Housing NSW.  As part of Pop Up Parramatta these buildings were then converted into studio spaces and the project provided an opportunity for artists interested in working with the community to showcase their artwork.

I had been getting involved with a loose collective of people, mainly academics and artists who, with Safdar Ahmed, were the driving force behind the Refugee Art Project. These committed people go into Villawood Detention Centre and work with detainees on paintings, drawings and sculptures and then assist them to put on exhibitions. At that time a number of the asylum seekers had been released from detention and were keen to secure a studio space to continue their art.  The idea of expanding the space for exchange in visual arts arose.  The art space is run by the refugees who work here, hosting open days and organising exhibitions.  Through this project they get to be part of Sydney’s art world.

The New Neighbours’ Project continues to collaborate with the Refugee Art Project which recently held an exhibition, titled “Life in Limbo”.  One innovative piece in the exhibition, produced at the North Parramatta studios by recently released artist, Majid Rabet portrays the Anzac Bridge constructed partly using an angle grinder from spaghetti.  Finding tools is always a challenge, and whilst in detention Majid did not let this stop his creativity and he collected cat’s fur to make paint brushes.

The Refugee Art Project in many ways grew out of the frustration with government immigration policy and people wanted to take action that is positive and meaningful.  Detention runs roughshod over people’s ability to take part in everyday life and this project is a real antidote, enabling their experiences to be expressed through the medium of visual arts. 

How do you involve a diverse range of people in community arts initiatives?

Engaging people, particularly the specific refugee and migrant community is really organic, often ad hoc and chaotic, often with very little happening for months.  Community arts development needs to be evolutionary, keeping the community project alive and open ended during quiet times is critical.  That is why later this year we are aiming to broaden and reinvigorate participation through workshops run partnering with Majid, Cicada Press, College of Fine Arts (COFA) and DLux Media Arts.

What community arts projects are next for you?

I am now returning after 17 years to my home suburb Ryde, using this as the base for my next community project. Parramatta, Redfern and Darlinghurst might be seen as artistic hubs, but rarely Ryde.  When I was growing up, there wasn’t much happening for artistic people like me, so I am now keen to activate more awareness of contemporary arts in the area.

In many ways the idea for this Ryde project started back in 2010 when I was awarded the Parramatta Visual Artists Fellowship, which provides a 12 month stipend. There I created art based on the diversity of architecture and ornamentation, and the different ways the styles of other countries are placed over the top of the English architecture, such as Greek columns stuck on Federation houses.  But I mainly took photos of houses and didn’t meet the people inside and to be honest I felt a little like a trespasser.

In the Ryde project, I want to engage directly with people and the (Ryde) Council is assisting me to meet with a broad range of community members, many born overseas.  Their homes are showcases for keepsakes and ornaments they have bought with them or were handed down from family members.  They show the “migratory paths” of many Australians.  I am exploring past periods of design that are carried in mass produced objects and the narrative that is underneath.  The project is a real stretch for me as a painter but it indirectly builds on my Masters of Visual Arts which was about the abstraction of Norwegian knitting patterns. This work will come together in an exhibition in October this year at Brush Farm House, in Eastwood.