Inspiration for arts award winner

Merrill Findlay has no intention of resting on her laurels after been presented with a national award for her role in creating the Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival.

The Forbes writer and festival director’s mind was brimming with ideas last week after travelling to South Australia to be presented with the Regional Arts Australia award last Sunday.

Ms Findlay was announced as one of seven state winners of the award in July and was invited to the RAA National Conference in Goolwa to collect the prize.

She said the Goolwa conference and festival provided plenty of inspiration for Forbes’ own arts and cultural celebration next year.

Ms Findlay said Goolwa, at the mouth of the Murray, is Australia’s first Slow Town, where the town’s residents celebrate the slow things in life like locally-grown produce, creativity, healthy living and a sense of belonging.

Merrill said she was inspired by some of the local expressions of creativity, such as ‘grandma graffiti’ or ‘yarn bombing’.

“It’s a long drive to Goolwa to collect an award, but I found a lot of inspiration there for our next River Arts Festival,” Ms Findlay said.

“Their commitment to ‘slow’ values was reflected by the community gardeners selling their excess fruit and veg from an old fashioned wheeled cart in the main street on Saturday morning, for example, and by all the local knitters and crocheters who dressed their town for the conference.”

Ms Findlay said ‘grandma graffiti’ might include wrapping the town’s rotunda with bright crocheted rosettes and knitting, covering trees with knitted bark and flowers, or turning park benches into works of knitted art.

“I took lots of photos and am now hoping we can introduce some of these ideas for the next River Arts Festival. I’d love to see all our knitters and crocheters ‘grannie graffiti-ing’ or ‘yarn bombing’ Forbes,” Ms Findlay said.

Ms Findlay was nominated for the award for her leading role in the inaugural arts festival in September 2011.  

Apart from taking on the role of festival convenor, Ms Findlay also co-wrote ‘The Kate Kelly Song Cycle’ with composer Ross Carey.

The classical music chamber opera had its premiere at the festival and was its artistic backbone.

Ms Findlay was reluctant to take too much credit for the festival’s success, describing it as a team effort from a committee of volunteers and with participation from a broad cross-section of the community.

Ms Findlay and the six other recipients were presented with their awards by Regional Arts Australia’s Patron, His Excellency Michael Bryce, husband of Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

Each winner also received complimentary registration to the Goolwa conference.

While in Goolwa Ms Findlay also met with the CEO of the Australia Council, Kathy Keele, the Australia Council’s Director of Community Partnerships, Frank Panucci, and Elizabeth Rogers, the CEO of Regional Arts NSW.

Each of the meetings focused on the Kalari Lachlan River Arts Festival and its future direction.

“I also did a lot of strategising with the Arts OutWest team, including the Executive Officer, Tracey Callinan. All these meetings are likely to produce some very exciting outcomes next year – but I can’t talk about them yet!”

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