Much Ado Mur-bah 2021 | Murwillumbah Arts Trail Returns | May 29-30 2021
Set against the blue mountain of Wollumbin and located just 132km south from Brisbane Meeanjin in the heart of a green caldera, a vast crater of the long- eroded Tweed Volcano populated with fecund rainforest and productive farmland is the far north-eastern New South Wales town of Murwillumbah, fondly known as Mur-bah to locals.
The Tweed township’s name is believed to be an adaptation of the Bundjalung word “murwillumbah” which is described as meaning “a good place for camping beside the river” and, or “a good place to catch possums”. Now in its sixth year it is also the much ado place to experience the festive Murwillumbah Arts Trail. This year the MAT2021 trail included artists, makers, crafters, poets, storytellers, creatives and a labyrinthine hub of open arts studios and artists in situ sprawling in, around and across the Northern Rivers. It was a collective feeling of return with gusto last weekend to warmly welcome local communities, strangers, newcomers, travelers and seekers once again after last year’s event was cancelled due to ongoing Covid restrictions.
Over three days the event brightly ignites the region. The Friday Night opening event at the historic Murwillumbah Showgrounds firmly establishes the independent artist-run DIY grassroots origins of this locally renowned cultural experience. I was seized by the billowy hand painted welcome banner above the Pavilion’s entrance, paper decorations and a festoon of fairy lights, the wafting of German pizza from wood fired overs and the bubbly brouhaha at the Ink Gin Bar and joy filled sociality inside. A diverse crowd of local artists showcased and discussed their work, produce and wares. All manner of makers were there, celebrating and telling stories about their artist studios and artforms from ceramics, weaving with natural fibres, textile works to woodwork, collage and paintings all lovingly installed in beautifully arranged rooms in the old Bailey Pavilion.
This particular site; number two on the trail map after the Tweed Regional Art Gallery was perhaps my fave of all 27 ‘official sites’ outlined on the map. Used for over a century for “Tweed Fruits, School Exhibits and Show Exhibits” to my mind this old pale-yellow weatherboard building tells a uniquely local and evocative story, one where the past and the present intersect, where both the traditional and non-traditional aspects of creativity, imagination, the DIY, the hand-made and home grown all comingle and coalesce to inspire new audiences, artists and makers alike.
The M-Arts Downtown Precinct, site number four on the map with its adjoining laneways together with the showgrounds site lends the MAT 2021 an air of the carnivalesque, and this vibe is echoed throughout the town for the entire weekend. A few chats with artists revealed that the Art After Dark event and opening of The Pink Bar at the M-Arts Precinct was a welcome and much anticipated night for frivolity. As with all arty parties it spilled messily and delightfully across the back laneways with craft beers and brews, local food and lively banter, reflections on past art trails ‘before covid’ with old friends, with new friends.
My experience of the trail was on foot, and for this I am truly grateful, a beautiful saunter across the river through South Murwillumbah and a peek-a-boo into an old bookshop and op shop along the way to the Tweed Regional Art Gallery revealed an extraordinary exhibition curated by Emily McDaniel titled ‘Void’. Exhibition contributors and artists included the award-winning Australian writer Bruce Pascoe (Bunurong/Yuin) who writes in the exhibition catalogue about the artworks made by 14 artists: “ these artworks are important because the earth is important. She is our mother.” Off the ‘official’ map this year perhaps due to the quick leadup time of such community-led events but equally important, located in the town of Murwillumbah itself is the ‘sanctuary for healing’ created by aboriginal artist Nathan Falk and his family ‘Wollumbin Dreaming’. This shop gallery is a small family owned business with indigenous roots, started with the express aim is to create a space of healing and remembering and to acknowledge and respect the diversity of proud first nations artists.
Nathan Falk explains he learned many of his artistic skills from his Aunty and Uncle and is excited to be back in Murwillumbah after living in the Byron region for a short while. Nowadays with his heart firmly embedded in his local family business Nathan describes how he works in collaboration with local first nation artists in the gallery space and is grateful for the ongoing nature of the MAT cultural experience. The gallery itself is brimming with gifts, cards, culture, crystals and crafts. It is here that the artist organises workshops with artists for the local community of artists and non-artists who are interested in learning about country, about traditional weaving techniques, aboriginal medicine plants and healing practices.
Talking to young local artists and street artists revealed the groundswell of support for the MAT, for the M-Arts precinct and perhaps less well known, for the Murwillumbah levee wall, This space is not on the map this year, and for many, its a significant space ‘and hang’ for street art aficionados. Along the levee wall; built to hold back rising river levels in the event of flooding is also a convenient public canvas prime for street art iterations to emerge. One street artist described the levee space as a vital meeting place for young artists. Artists interested in the potential of public art in the region, ‘possibly Australia’, and as a positive means for ‘giving a voice’ for artfully communicating what matters for street artists living and working in the region.
On Sunday I spoke with artist [ceramicist] and Murwillumbah Art Trail founder Annie Long who reflects lovingly while we natter. Annie is feeling “thrilled to bits” with how “the trail keeps growing, going and expanding”. Like many artists small business operators in the region I chatted with over the two days and one night Long too explicitly acknowledges both the MAT’s current organising committee members Nick Clow, Michelle Bradley, Mealie Bardo, Sue Targo, the generous and fluid community of artists and makers involved over the past six years. And as the artist cites in equal measure the significant ongoing leveraging contribution by the M-Arts Precinct and Gallery Downtown itself. ‘Downtown’ is located at 1 Brisbane Street in Murwillumbah. The artist explains that over the years it has provided invaluable and ongoing momentum of direct arts institutional support and encouragement of the long established Tweed Regional Art Gallery, and this caring network includes a wellspring of art patrons, community-based supporters and community-led contributors who, according to Long “ are all working tirelessly together towards the cultural revitalisation of the Tweed town, and the region in incredible ways.”
I have visited CPM in previous years and didn’t make it there this year. Community Printmakers Murwillumbah was established in nearby Stokers Siding in 1989 as an artist led initiative with the key aim to encourage and promote the art of printmaking serving both the Northern NSW and SE Queensland regions.
Access the website link below for more info. CPM provides facilities for etching, lithography, relief printing, monotypes, lino and woodcuts. CPM has an inclusive, informal, multi-media focus where artists of all levels of experience and in all disciplines are welcome to share insights and studio workshop practices. It is a non-profit, incorporated group financed through membership fees and supported by Tweed Shire Council and local businesses, and the NSW Rural Assistance Authority.
The Field is a curatorial collaboration between Murwillumbah based artists Amelia Reid and Byron Coathup. From 2019 to 2021 The Field was situated in studio 4 at M|Arts Precinct as a shared space housing a small bookshop, artist residency and exhibition program. The Field’s intention is to support artists in the borderlands area of Northern NSW and SE Qld, providing access to opportunities exhibit, connect and work, encouraging experimentation and contemporary discourse.
A brief arts travelogue written by artist and ARI Remix DIY co-ordinator Paul Andrew, May June 2021