Rural to rural: International arts links

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A dozen Central West artists spent September in rural Derbyshire UK for Arts OutWest's first international cultural exchange. 

The team of arts practitioners - covering sculpture, painting, weaving, digital arts, music, drama, dance and writing - set up ‘The Australian Pavilion’ at the Derbyshire Eco Centre for the annual Wirksworth Festival. They put artwork on the popular Art and Architecture Trail and hosted a theatre double bill in the rural town in England’s centre. 

“The Australian practitioners had a chance to showcase their work through either exhibition or performance. They were all given the opportunity to collaborate with UK based artists. The participating Australian artists were all required to deliver a workshop and were given numerous opportunities to experience UK arts and interact with the arts community,” Ms Callinan said.

“In the lead up to setting up this project, it had been increasingly clear that there are many professional arts practitioners working in our region needing opportunities to develop and build their practice and to become better established and recognised for their work,” Ms Tracey Callinan said. “Our program offered an international experience of showing work, collaborating with arts practitioners from a different part of the world and the chance to experience arts practice in another inland, predominantly rural area.” 

As the artists return they are reflecting on how their experiences will transfer to our local Australian setting and how their time in the UK has influenced their professional practice and careers.

Connecting and connections

Cowra sculptor Ken Hutchinson arrived in Wirksworth first and teamed up with National Trust stone carver Richard Hickton and together they produced beautiful and thought provoking new sculptures for project hosts the Derbyshire Eco Centre. 

Alison Plevey and Adam Deusien from Bathurst physical theatre company Lingua Franca made great connections with Derby Dance (Deda) and Oberon sculptor Harrie Fasher has lined up metalwork studio space for herself in Derbyshire in 2014.  

Orange’s Lanny McKenzie learnt new techniques in weaving and in using natural dyes; Blayney artist Nyree Reynolds developed a new template for incorporating Aboriginal cultural work into her painting workshops; and Hill End’s Kim Deacon collaborated with musicians and Derbyshire’s poet laureate.  Mudgee based Aboriginal artists Aleshia and Tony Lonsdale were able to compare their own connection to country with some of the ancient traditions in the English countryside and link to the sustainability work of the Derbyshire Eco Centre while Bathurst’s Christine Sweeney used her skills in digital storytelling to reach a new audience of young people.   

Forbes writer and festival creator Merrill Findlay used the experience to investigate commonalities of rural festivals and document some of the processes and practicalities of Wirksworth Festival. She’ll use these to help further develop the Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival and has started an excellent blog on rural festivals 


“One of the most interesting things for me is that Wirksworth has undergone a revitalisation program similar to that now being mooted for Forbes. This intervention transformed Wirksworth from a declining and depressed rural town into a thriving centre of creativity,” Ms Findlay said.

Future partnerships with the UK

“One of the most exciting things to come out of being in Derbyshire was the development of new partnerships between Arts OutWest and UK based arts organisations,” Tracey Callinan said.

Arts OutWest’s Arts and Health Coordinator Christine McMillan introduced the belly casting project to Derbyshire with great success, working alongside health workers with teenage pregnant mothers who are in the care system to create casts of pregnant bellies whilst discussing infant health.  

“The Derbyshire team were very excited by this project and plan to continue this work,” Tracey Callinan said. 

First Movement are a Derbyshire based organisation working in disability arts through digital technologies. Arts OutWest has been invited to be one of the international partners in the development their new project ‘Raise’, alongside organisations in Poland and Spain, and will work with one of First Movement’s artists in a project in Bathurst this October.  

Derby Theatre, which is both a performance space and a training centre now linked to the University of Derby, has offered studio space and accommodation for Central West based performance artists. 

“Arts OutWest, Derbyshire County Council and Wirksworth Festival are very keen to continue the ongoing relationship. Options for future exchanges are being explored,” Ms Callinan said.

Read more about the project at

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