Art Unlimited 2012: a young aspiring photographer takes the Orana Arts prize for Emerging Indigenous Artist. The winning photograph ‘Uncle Bud’ played with layering techniques aiming for texture, while capturing an image of cultural strength and pride. It was evident that the artist had self-imposed a challenge with the medium as well as the subject and it inspired me to award this work the prize. The artwork was progressive and refreshing and very much a representation of the young artist — and it was this energy that was eventually brought to Orana Arts when Paris Norton joined the team.
After my brief encounter with Paris at the exhibition in Dunedoo, I tracked her down in her boutique store in Coonabarabran to encourage her to participate in our Left Field Project. Her involvement with OA went from artist to part-time admin support as an unofficial member of the team. As months passed and funding became available, a few days grew into a few years and a full time position resulting into Paris becoming our ATSIA Programs Manager.
Her humility has always struck me as her strength; her ability to inspire those around her either with her creative vision or leading conversations by pushing for Aboriginal voices to be heard. Her brainchild, the CETA program, is evidence of her abilities.
Paris may say that I was a major part of her growth in the arts world, but she has given me more than she could ever imagine. Her insight and respect for her culture provided me with what I needed most in my role: someone that I can talk to, someone who helped guide me and our organisation in moving forward with Aboriginal programs and artists. Someone described Paris to me as being gentle, with an ability to be persuasive in her commentary on Indigenous issues. She stands very tall and proud as a Gamilaroi woman and I’m confident that her voice is one that will be heard by many future generations.
Warm and fuzzy feelings are scarce in my role as Executive Director, but I received one from Paris when she jokingly mentioned that her family referred to me as her ‘American Mom’ and then at a panel session that Paris was convening for OA, as I sat in the audience her Mum turned to me and said, ‘oh, Alicia our little girl is all grown up’. Yes, she is all grown up and I will miss her!
The greatest compliment I could have received as the boss of OA was to have staff headhunted out of my team for greater opportunities within a major cultural institute, and on behalf of our Board and the OA team we wish Paris well in her new role as AIATSIS curator, we can’t wait to see what she brings to the position.
Alicia Rodriguez Leggett
PS – Paris will still be overseeing many of her own programs and supporting her mentee Danielle Andrews as she joins the OA Board as a co-opted member in 2019.