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Art reflects the changing pace of life in this 50-year-old organisation

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Joe Toohey, executive director at Regional Arts Victoria marvels at the changes that have occurred in the organisation over the years.

“I don’t think you can be involved in anything over the last 10 to 20 years and not be amazed by how things have changed,” Toohey says.

Decades ago, Toohey says, if you wanted to tour in Victoria or across the country you had to go through the Victorian Arts Council, as it was in those days.

“Now, all of the major art companies and a number of the small-to-medium sized art companies manage their own touring,” he says.

“So Regional Arts Victoria’s work [in this area] tends to be supporting individuals and smaller companies who need it the most.”

Through its projects, programs and partnerships Regional Arts Victoria has been inspiring art across the state since 1969.

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The organisation provides support for about 500 members across Victoria with – among other things – insurance, access to contracts, funding information and ad-hoc requests. They deliver touring services across the country and manage the Regional Arts Fund on behalf of the federal government.

The challenges of being regional

Although the issues faced by artists in regional and remote locations have shifted over time, Toohey stresses that distance from Melbourne has been an ever-present challenge.

“Perhaps this is the only thing that regional communities in Victoria have in common,” Toohey says.

“There might not be as many people [who] have expertise in things like finance or contracts or production experience [because] the population is so dispersed.”

“Other challenges include the ability for regional communities to be in frequent contact with decision-makers – such as state and federal governments and philanthropic bodies – who are largely based in inner city Melbourne.”

The role of Regional Arts Victoria is to be a communication point between decision-makers and regional communities who don’t have that face-to-face contact very often, Toohey says.

A source of pride

The organisation has been involved in a long list of artistic projects and performances over its history.

Highlights for Toohey include Illuminated By Fire where – following the Black Saturday bushfires – 11 regional communities worked with artists on a project to do with fire. The communities came together for a joint presentation at Federation Square, as part of the Light in Winter Festival.

“For different communities in Victoria the project meant different things,” Toohey says.

“Some communities had been severely impacted by the fires so, for them, it was about recovery and resilience. For other communities it was about using fire for cooking or smoking ceremonies.”

Toohey says there are a number of exciting projects that will be presented throughout 2018.

“The Small Town Transformations project we are working on is really interesting, because the six towns have less than 2000 people in them,” he says

“We have towns along the Bass Coast using light as a way of connecting different communities. Rainbow in North West Victoria have transformed the local school into an artist hub [and in] Lake Tyers, an artist residency studio is being built that will float on the lake.”

“Next year, we are hosting a national arts conference in Bendigo called Artlands. [We] are doing a lot of groundwork at the moment.”

Toohey says that though the organisation has been thriving for nearly 50 years, like any-not-for-profit, the end goal is to not be needed.

“The idea is that Regional Arts Victoria supports the communities and artists in realising their own hopes and dreams for a particular project. [So] we should be doing service-based work to ensure that they can deliver it in their own sustainable way,” he says.

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