Kelly Leonard and Art of the Threatened Species

Kelly Leonard is a Mudgee-based weaver and is one of the participating artists in the Art of the Threatened Species project, a partnership between Orana Arts and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Tell us a bit about yourself, please.

I am a regional female artist and a product of my environment. Growing up in Mudgee during the 1970s I was reading feminist theory and listening to Patti Smith on vinyl. In the late 1970s — courtesy of Gough Whitlam’s free education policy — I left home to attend an art college at what was to become Charles Stuart University in Wagga Wagga. Here I met my weaving teacher, Marcella Hempel, a German Master Weaver who had studied under Margaret Leischner, a former teacher in the Textiles Workshop at the Bauhaus Design School in Germany. Marcella instilled in me a philosophy of weaving and a discipline of working.

In my mid-thirties I went back to study a Masters in Visual Art at the Canberra School of Art ANU as it was one of the few places that still had European floor looms and where I could combine weaving with theory. It is still important to me that I am able to frame my work with theory — it helps to place the work in a context.

In my mid-forties I went back to university again to study a Masters of Arts Management at the University of Technology, Sydney. I was the only student there who came from a craft background, most of the others were from music or theatre. The degree was useful when working in the community development sector.

I have travelled and contributed to community development craft projects overseas both as a volunteer and in employment with small non-government organisations. My interest is in working out strategies for communities where I am not needed, where the people can run their own projects. Other areas of interest have been in cooking and operating restaurants and broader community development. 

How do you describe your style of art?

My art in the past two years has moved from a traditional craft based medium to one that is highly conceptual, collaborative and moves across artforms responding to the environment. My work is very much informed by environmental philosophy which provides a context for both making and showing the work.

At the moment I weave what I call props for the environment which are placed in site-specific locations around my hometown of Mudgee, photographed and then removed. The locations are chosen because they are under stress from the impact of the open-cut coal mines operated by big coal mining companies. The images are exhibited online and one of my goals is to develop some alternative broadcasting methods to reach a wider audience in the near future.

I am not that interested in making objects for traditional galleries anymore, although this may change. The work I make is pretty much process-driven and I derive a lot of satisfaction from thinking of the environment as a collaborator and audience.

Actually, there are a number of regional artists who work in a similar way, making work to be placed in the environment and I see these numbers growing as the impacts of climate change increase. 

You are clearly inspired by nature and place — can you tell us how the landscape influences your work?

A deep empathy for landscapes at risk from the impact of coal-mining and global warming informs my work. My work often uses stitched text to deliver messages about the importance of caring about the local environment. I photograph the work in the landscape to explore the relationship between land and weaving.

Some locations informing the work are the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, Wollar, The Drip, Bylong Valley and Ferntree Gully.

I make work in Wiradjuri Country; I walk on traditional land. I hope the way I work is respectful. I try to be. I try to consider all aspects of a landscape by: how it smells, tastes, feels, sounds, how the light is filtered through the trees. The landscape is geological, cultural, historical and it is also a feeling. The landscape is not passive, it is full of things that watch me work and it is also a collaborator, helping me to shape the work.

And as your Art of the Threatened Species focus, what draws you to the Regent Honeyeater? 

In some way, it didn’t matter which species I was paired with to develop artwork about as they all face similar threats from the impact of climate change, habitat loss, and things like the introduction of predators.

I have been looking for the Regent Honeyeater since moving back to Mudgee, my hometown, in 2016. The Regent Honeyeater was known historically to visit a remnant of woodland called the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, near Wollar, not far from Mudgee and an image of it sits on signage in the reserve. The area backs onto one of the open-cut coal mines, Wilpinjong. It is a place where my Grandfather used to live. I have spent a lot of time in the Munghorn, listening and looking, simply being there. My artwork over this time has become embedded into the environment, weaving material and ideas together.

My interest is probably not so much about the physical and behavioural characteristics of the bird, but about the variables, the entanglements within a real and political environment. At the moment, I am in a state of suspension not knowing if the Regent Honeyeater will return to the Capertee Valley (one of the last breeding habitats) this year because of the drought.

Recently, six birds were sighted in the Hunter’s Botanical Gardens near Newcastle, and one bird in Brisbane. Speculation is that the drought is forcing the birds out of the woodlands to the coast for food. Maybe I will never see the Regent Honeyeater in the wild. There is a breeding program for the bird at Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney.

My hopes for the future of the project is that it generates empathy not only for the species that are threatened, but for all species. We don’t know what the impact of the loss of the Regent Honeyeater will be. It may be that species of trees disappear as the Regent Honeyeater is an important nomadic pollinator. I hope by creating visibility, the project highlights just how fragile the ecological net is.

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You are very busy at the moment, with lots of travel and residencies. Can you tell us a bit about your current creative projects? 

I have just returned from the Arts Territory Exchange Residency in Italy. ATE is a global network of artists responding to their local territories, beginning with a simple correspondence program with another paired artist. My collaborator in the project is Norwegian artist, Beatrice Lopez and we have been developing work for a year via digital and postal means before meeting physically in the residency. It was great to meet Beatrice and work on some ideas we had about performances designed for two people in the Italian landscape.

I have been selected for Cementa Contemporary Arts Festival to be held in Kandos in November 2019, along with collaborators Jo Roberts and Jason Richardson from Griffith. We are developing a project called ‘Medium - A Collaborative Space’.The idea is to develop a space to make, listen and re-imagine connections with others. We will meet up in Kandos in January to stitch ideas together for the Festival later in the year.

I am also making work for the Art of the Threatened Species residency, curated by Dr Greg Pritchard. Twelve artists have been selected to make work about ten threatened species. It is a collaboration between the Office of Environment & Heritage, Create NSW and Orana Arts as part of the NSW Government’s Saving Our Species program. The work will form part of a group exhibition to be shown in 2019 at the Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo. Other contributing artists are: Nicola Mason, Cathy Franzi, Amanda Stuart, Anna Glynn, Bec Selleck, Bridget Nicholson, Vicki Luke, Tullulah Cunningham, Alison Clouston, Peter Boyd, Peter Dalmazzo.

I have just started developing more work in an on-going collaboration with artist and writer Julie Briggs, who is located in Narrandera. We will be making work about the landscape in response to experiencing a performance held at Artlands Bendigo recently.

 You have attended Artlands and Artstate conferences, both in 2018 and in past years — what benefit are these events to a regional artist wanting to engage with the sector? 

I can’t stress enough the benefits of the regional conferences to artists. As a regional artist you need to go and find the people who will feed and support your practice and to whom you don’t have to continuously explain yourself. This is especially the case if you are working in a contemporary and conceptual way. The conferences provide a context for making work regionally and also provide connections regionally and internationally.

Artlands Dubbo 2016 activated my art practice in a whole different direction. I heard theatre director, Wesley Enoch speak about making five new connections with people when you walk out the door, which I literally did. One of those connections was with Dr Greg Pritchard, who has acted as an informal mentor for me ever since.

I have just returned from Artlands Bendigo 2018, where I am still processing a range of inputs. One of the key messages for me was thinking about ways small communities can themselves become cultural producers for a range of reasons — creative and social reasons — not just economic.

The conferences also have attached exhibitions and festival programs which are a great way to see what everyone is producing, to see the context in which you make work. I recommend any artist to check out various options to get themselves to a conference via grants, presenting, volunteering or gatecrashing!

Find more of Kelly’s process, artwork and travels via @kellyleonardweaving on Instagram. Read more about Art of the Threatened Species on our project page.

Announcing Soup Sessions: Winter 2018

Soup Sessions: micro-funding for community projects.

Bring your 5 minute project pitch. Sell the audience on your idea and answer questions over dinner. If you receive the most votes you take home the proceeds (less costs) and any donations made on the night.

You have the power! Entry fee of $15 includes a bowl of hot soup, bread roll and one vote. Support your local creative community and choose which project gets the funds.
Soup Sessions are a fun way to network and raise money for your creative project. This year we will be running three Soup Sessions across the region, in collaboration with local community groups. Start coming up with your project pitches for:

Mudgee: 14 June at The Stables
(youth soup session, pitches from creatives 12—25 years)
Coonabarabran: 26 July at Coonabarabran Town Hall
Wellington: date and venue TBC

If you would like to discuss bringing a Soup Session to your community, please contact us

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EOI: Live Music Event Curator

Mid-Western Regional Council is calling for expressions of interest to engage a Curator on a contract basis to assist Council with programming and delivery of a live music event to be held in the Mudgee CBD in March 2018. The successful applicant will ideally have knowledge and experience in the live music scene in the Mid-Western Region and/or experience in curation in other fields.

Candidates are asked to submit a general statement regarding their knowledge and experience in the live music scene and/or curation experience (no more than 500 words) along with a CV (up to 2 pages). The fee structure and budget is dependant on skills and experience.

Applicants are encouraged to contact Events Coordinator, Alayna Gleeson on 6378 2850 or to discuss their expression of interest prior to submitting. Expression of interests close 30 November.

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Orana Artist: Jayden Muir

Jayden Muir is an emerging artist currently based in Sydney, but with roots firmly in the Mudgee region. She is balancing her professional training with auditions and workshops whilst also writing and creating her own work. She has just finished the first season run of her own show (All Stations To Social Disconnection) as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival. She is currently in rehearsal for a production to be performed this month as part of her graduating showcase. We caught up with Jayden between rehearsals to find out how her Fringe show went, what she learnt, and if she really does believe that other young regional creatives should apply for a Create NSW Young Regional Artist Scholarship (hint: YES).

Firstly, have you always had an interest in theatre? When did you start performing and creating your own shows? How did your play All Stations to Disconnection come about?

I really only started getting interested in acting and theatre when I was about 16. I decided to take up HSC drama when I was in high school as I was very interested in the design elements of theatre and originally had a passion for costume design. I very quickly fell in love with acting and performing though and funnily enough decided to choose acting as my drama major instead of design. I started getting involved with local community art groups and performing in shows.
In 2015 I decided to audition for acting school and was successful in gaining a place at Sydney Theatre School (STS). From here I started training full time in acting and along the way started gaining more and more skills and knowledge about the craft of performing and theatre making and soon started to understand the importance of making work and putting yourself out there in a very competitive industry! Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Scotland to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and it was such an eye-opener seeing how many people are creating work and putting on shows.
Coming back from that I was inspired to create my own show and Fringe is such a great way to get your show on. All Stations to Social Disconnection came to me one day when I was on the train. I am a bit of a people watcher and I would notice how different people would interact on the train and how being compressed in such a small social setting made people automatically divert to technology as an escape. From here I started observing more and more what people did and eventually wrote All Stations To Social Disconnection.

All Stations to Social Disconnection recently had a successful run as part of the Sydney Fringe. Can you tell us about the experience of putting this show together; the challenges, the joys, the things you’ve learnt? 

It has been such an amazing and very challenging experience. Writing, producing and acting in a show whilst balancing my final year of acting school definitely came with a lot of sleepless nights and I can't lie and say there weren't times when it felt like it was all too much. However, the pay-off and excitement of it all was worth it. Early stages of creating this show started with finding amazing artists and theatre makers who were passionate about creating work and bringing this piece to life. I was blessed with an awesome cast and amazing director and we did a lot of script development to adjust to each specific actor and a lot of improvisation around the main ideas in the script in order to bring it to life. I learnt it's important to find other artists with the same passion as you, otherwise the work dies. I met so many amazing people during Fringe and have made some great contacts. I learnt how important networking is in this industry. I'm also so amazed by the amount of support that is out there for young artists like myself. 

With taking on multiple roles I also learnt to stay extremely organised! and quickly leant I have a slight coffee addiction. Caffeine played a big part in those days in which I would have to balance starting school at 8.30am then having to head straight to rehearsal after school at 6pm and then keep going until 9.30 at night. Those days were definitely the most taxing! In the end it was all worth it. Im so grateful for how many people came and saw this show. With close to a full house nearly every night I am more then ecstatic about the success of my first show.

As a recipient of Create NSW’s Young Regional Artist Scholarship you were able to take up a mentorship opportunity. How have you changed over this process? 

I can't even begin to say how grateful I am for this scholarship! I was able to get the best resources to create my own work, something which is just so important as an actor. It's opportunities like this that support young developing artists like myself. I was able to take up a mentorship with actor and writer Alan Flower. From day one Alan took me step by step through the process of creating my own work. From early meetings about script development all the way through to closing night, I was able to learn the ins and outs of creating work and getting it off the page. It was so great having a professional to guide me along a process which was quite daunting. I definitely feel that I have come a long way and am confident in being able to create more work. 

Would you recommend that other young regional creatives apply for the scholarship? 

Yes, yes and yes! I am so honoured to have received this scholarship. There are so many oppounities available with this funding. I decided to pursue creating my own work, which not only meant I was able to fund my work, but also mentored through the process as well as attend producer workshops. However, it can be used for nearly anything to help you boost your developing career. I am very proud to come from a regional area and I think it's important that we continue to support young artists from regional areas. While I live in Sydney at the moment for studies, the country will always be my home – plus I have some exciting plans on the horizon for my region which wouldn't be possible without with scholarship! Through this scholarship I will also be attending a two-day professional development program in Sydney where I will attend workshops and network with professionals in my field. I couldn't recommend applying for this scholarship enough!

And what advice would you give them about the seemingly daunting application process?

Leave yourself plenty of time to get it done! It took me months to finish my application. Taking it easy will help you manage and will make it seem less scary. It's a big task applying for a grant and it requires a lot of extra material and coordinating with other people. However, Create NSW were so supportive and were always happy to answer any questions I had. My number one advice would be to just really take it slow, don't rush the process at all and just go for it! If you feel confident and passionate about your art there's no reason why you shouldn't apply. It's not as scary as it seems once you get started.

What’s next for Jayden Muir – will we be seeing All Stations to Social Disconnection or another production in the Orana region soon? 

I am super excited to be running a workshop series in the Orana region this December. I will be graduating from my three year training at STS in November and then my focus will be on this tour. The money made through ticket sales from Fringe will go to funding workshops around the region. I'm so grateful for the arts in my region and I can't wait to come back. Workshops topics will include physical theatre, theatre-making and devising workshops, using excerpts from the All Stations script and also a Q+A on producing work for festivals such as Fringe. I'm very keen to pass on the knowledge I gained during this process to youth theatres in the area. There are lots of details to finalise before I head back but I will be sure to keep everyone updated!


Orana Region Writing

There are a variety of groups around the region for budding writers to share their work and hone their craft. Here are a few opportunities for literary connection:

Coona Writers
A newly formed writers group to help, encourage and share writing. Meets at the Coonabarabran Library. Get in touch via the CoonaWriters Facebook Group.

Cudgegong Valley Writers
CVW meet in Room 2 of Club Mudgee on the second Friday of each month,
12–3pm. Anyone with an interest in writing is welcome to attend. They hold competitions and workshops, monthly themed readings and writing trigger games. Contact Jill Baggett for more information.

The Orana Writers’ Hub
Run by the Outback Writers’ Centre, the Orana Writers meet regularly in Dubbo. Contact Val Clark or visit the Outback Writers’ Centre for more information.

Point Blank Writers
Run through the Gilgandra Shire Library, this group meets once a month and have a different workshop on writing each meeting. All welcome – to join contact Gilgandra Shire Library on 6817 8877 or via email.