Communities, arts and recovering from natural disasters

The words "what is resilience" is projected on the side of a building in Ipswich, QLD.

Arts and cultural activities offer creative outlets for local communities to come together and help with recovery following a natural disaster or other types of calamity.

For example, this may be a community memorial, a collaborative mural, story book, or an event like a concert..

Sometimes councils lead these  projects or may lend support through promotion or venues.

“Art and creative participation form a way of sharing stories, connecting, reducing isolation, giving voice to experience, making sense of the unimaginable and generating creative engagement – all essential for recovery,” said Scotia Monkivitch, Executive Officer of the Creative Recovery Network.

“We can support communities through connection to experienced practitioners; building plans in conjunction with local government, building capacity through training local creatives and community leaders for presenting creative recovery programs, and sharing tools and resources.”

The network was involved with farming families and individuals after floods damaged Queensland’s Lockyer Valley in 2011 and 2013.  It worked with the communities on various projects including a land art one.

One local community’s response to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria was the Blacksmiths’ tree, a 10m tall memorial of steel and copper in Strathewen (Shire of Nillumbik) installed in 2014, and created by blacksmiths in Australia and overseas.

Art also helped students of Tathra Public School (Bega Valley Shire) through their trauma following a bush fire that tore through the southern NSW town in March 2018, with the loss of more than 60 homes.  Students, a local writing teacher, and artist, created a book, When the fire met the sea.

“I learnt that they were holding a lot of thoughts that they hadn’t expressed with their adults, it came out in their work, they did need an avenue,” Principal Lisa Freedman told About Regional.

Artists and musicians have been quick to respond to the 2019-20 bush fires that have ravaged southeastern and southern Australia.

For example, extreme weather conditions in late December caused the cancellation of several days of the Falls Festival in Victoria’s southwestern coastal town of Lorne (Surf Coast Shire).

Many performers rapidly organised replacement benefit shows in Melbourne on 29 December and gave the proceeds to firefighting services.

Elsewhere, councils have offered venues for people to hold their own fundraising activities, or waived event fees, for example Brimbank City Council (VIC).

In Victoria’s scorched far northeastern corner, East Gippsland Shire Council is supporting and promoting Tom Curtain’s we’re still here family concert organised by local businesswoman Carlee Knight, and supported by individuals and businesses.

Councils unaffected by the fires are also hosting events, such as Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council’s Rock Relief concert. It’s another element of local government helping local government approach that occurs after disasters.

The Australian Academy of the Humanities last month wrote to Prime Minister Morrison to offer its experts’ support for bushfire-affected communities.

“Humanities, arts and cultural research, with its deep understanding of human experience and knowledge and its detailed attention to locality, ecology and history, can make a significant contribution to the way in which communities not only rebuild in the wake of disaster but also in equipping Australians with the skills, knowledge and confidence they will need to deal with future crises, which are inevitable given the new challenges created by climate change,” the academy said.

Three Victorian councils affected by bushfires in early 2019 – Baw Baw Shire, Cardinia Shire and La Trobe City – are preparing to hire local nine artists in an initiative organised by the Creative Recovery Network.

Across the border in Bega, an area again affected by bushfires in 2019-20, the Bega Valley Shire Council funded Regional Gallery in southern NSW –– is hosting youth art workshops with Regional Arts NSW and Headspace Bega.

“We hope these workshops will help young people process their experiences by providing a creative outlet and by offering a format where they can perhaps share those experiences or even collaborate with other young people in an artistic way,” Bega Valley Regional Gallery Director, Iain Dawson, said.

Photo: ‘The writing’s off the wall’ project in Ipswich. Courtesy Scotia Monkivitch