Murwillumbah Arts Trail | MAT 2021 | Interview | Five Minutes with artist founder Annie Long
Annie Long is a visual artist living in Murwillumbah with ceramic and mixed media sculpture at the heart of her practice. In recent years, exploration into local stories and the local environment have become an increasing inspiration for her art practice.
I – Interviewer -artist Paul Andrew
R – Respondent – artist Annie Long
I: Annie Hi, thanks for your time as you are looking after the Downtown Gallery today. This is the ARI Remix website I mentioned, it’s all about Australian artist-run culture and heritage through ARI profiles, anecdotes, asides, personal stories, artist interviews and digital copies of ephemera.
I: It’s easy to find, this where I do little interviews like this one we’re doing today amongst other things, other artist and non-artist collabs.
R: Yep, edited I hope.
I: (laughter) Very edited. Ok the Tascam recorder is on now Annie so I’m just going to ask you a few key key questions. So great, thank you for telling me you started the Murwillumbah Art’s Trail, how long ago was that?
R: That was in 2015. So, I started it as an Honours project for SCU Southern Cross University and it was a foray into independent curating basically. At that time in Murwillumbah there was a lot of empty shops and the town itself was in a bit of an economic slump. I wanted to provide more opportunities for artists to exhibit. I also needed exhibition opportunities. Creating the MAT was a way to focus on the town, it’s art, culture, artists and you know bring that economic benefit to the town that the arts often brings. This was because people were going to the Tweed Regional Gallery but they weren’t coming into town. So looking back now at the seven years it’s been going, well for six years, as one year, obviously last year with Covid we couldn’t do it, and in that time yeah it’s really transformed the town of Murwillumbah.
I: Did you secure any funding from Tweed Council?
R: Yes, I received a small grant, CASP funding, a Country Arts Support Program.
I think that was the first grant round so yeah it was running on a shoe string to start with. But because it was an Honour’s project at Southern Cross University you know I was happy putting that extra time in. And we, the arts trails that is, started small as well. We did get the support from the community too. And then in time we secured funding from the Tweed Council.
I: And the actual physical space, what was the type of physical space that you occupied for exhibitions?
R: Well we used many of the empty shops in town, just whatever spaces we could get basically. And there was one existing space, it was a gallery where we are now. This was yeah a commercial gallery so we used that at the time and just started off small and it’s grown since.
I: It’s grown a lot.
I: And this building we are in now Annie is it an old cinema?
R: Well the cinema is next door, and this area was actually a car sales complex. Downstairs was the car sales and up here yeah it was all about car sales you know twenty years ago. And then the owner of the building; he loves art, Bob Stainley is a local and a great supporter of arts and culture here in Murwillumbah. This gentleman set up a commercial gallery, always with the region in mind. Since then Steven Webb has purchased the building and he has transformed it into its current state. He too is a great patron of the arts, arts lover so…yeah, it’s terrific how things are growing.
I: Oh and your artist research Annie what was your research question or area?
R: Yeah. As a studio artist I was interested in the benefits of independent curating, one thread to the research was about being an independent curator and exploring that journey. And then the other part was how the arts can contribute to a community on a community level and also be impactful on an economic level.
I: And down the track now, how are you feeling about your research and indeed the practicalities of the arts trail and…
R: (laughter) Well I know I don’t want to be an independent curator. It’s very, very hard work and …and, well, I guess it’s about, if I’d stayed with the MAT project you know I would have had to go to a committee. So, I wasn’t interested in working in curating and I made that decision that I didn’t want to go down that path in the end, and in part, as it took me away from my art practice. So, I consciously made that call. But I handed the Murwillumbah Arts Trail over to others, it’s gone through a few series of different iterations now, you know various committees running it but you know and hopefully it will get more in time out of the curatorial potential and the business side. I think it’s a work in progress.
I: I hope it retains its grass roots feel too.
R: Me too. And I think it has. I mean, so far…
I: …from what I can see as an outsider it feels like that now, like at the showground site, the old Pavillion?
R: Yeah like down on the showground because that’s where so many artists exhibit together …
I: …and it feels fantastic.
R: Yeah ….did you go…
I: …yes I went along yesterday and the afternoon light, was sublime. I went to the ‘back’ of the old Pavillion near the actual showgrounds ring and felt that should have the back of the Pavillion as the entrance of that event, as it is just exceptionally fantastic. It was glowing in the afternoon light….
R: Which is what they usually do when the show is on yeah.
I: Yes, and I feel it tells an important story of both the present and the past in Murwillumbah, about show and tell, growers and makers and so on…….
R: Yeah right. I can send you my Honour’s thesis.
I: I’d love to read that. We can add it or a link into this interview transcript too if you like? I am keen to read about independent curating and artist-as-curator perspectives. My doctoral research, similar I guess, also practice-led builds out from the ARI Remix which is very open ended, unfinished and ongoing, and it’s focused on current Brisbane artist run initiatives and the intersection and overlaps with Ipswich, the Gold Coast, South East Queensland and bordering with the Northern rivers. You know sort of everything artist-run relates today intersects in a region like this, and the potential for archiving artist-runs…
R: And last night?
I: yeah, yeah it was a wonderful opening…food, art, live bands, lively banter….the wafting of a BBQ..
R: Yeah at the showgrounds?
I: Loved it and Annie, mindful of the short time we have, sounds like you may have a hidden archive of the Mur-bah Art Trail?
R: I have over three years of records, yes.
I: Well maybe you might like to write something about this history and some archival images for the ARI Remix?
R: Yes, and you should talk to the current committee people too, so much is happening now as MAT is growing…
I: Who is the committee member? Cath?
R: Well there’s oh you can talk to, Mealie whose artist studio is downstairs in M-Arts and who is working here in the gallery today, and who would be the person to talk to? Lets stay in touch….
R: I’ll send you like, my thesis and that pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing.
I: And back to your artistic practice Annie and where is your practice at today?
R: I live in Murwillumbah so I have an artist studio downstairs and I’m just back to my studio in a focused way, I’m a ceramic artist, a sculptor but I paint as well. Right now, I am happy continuing with that and having my work exhibited in galleries basically. Currently, I’ve got some work in the back here at the Downtown Gallery called “Debbie’s Legs: Alert, Roaring, Submerged”, a porcelain work and also at the Mist Gallery over at Cabarita Beach. To be honest my big push now is going to be galleries from now on. And I’m enjoying having a gallery, care for, sell, look after the work and do the work.
I: It’s a nice thing true and the DIY approach can be very, very hard. As in doing the independent thing, running an artist run and so on and if you’re not getting funding or not getting commissions and things, because it’s a type of business you can be distanced from the making side of your artistic practice.
R: Yes. But I mean on the other hand, this type of work has, with the Arts Trail, well it has really embedded me in the community with loads of people. And lots of stuff has come back my way you know in terms of people helping me out. So yeah I have no regrets at all doing it. It was, and still is, an amazing experience.
Paul thanks for the opportunity to chat, albeit quickly that day. Yes, it was great to connect with you and hear about your project. Glad you enjoyed MAT21-it was a cracker this year! Here are some images from the archive and captions too.
Picture 1 Jack Quilter Open Studio 2015 An existing studio of a sculptor working in metal in the back lanes of South Murwillumbah. The building was originally a cordial factory.
Picture 2 The Pressed pop-up exhibition 2015 of local printmakers. Curated by Danika and Ruth Larkin. It also showcased a large empty building in Prospero Street, South Murwillumbah.
Picture 3 Community Chalk Pavement 2015 facilitated by Amelia Batchelor.
Picture 4 The Farrants Hill Collective pop-up exhibition 2015. This is a collective of sculptors who continue to support each other in their shared love of stone.
Picture 5 Stafford Street Studio pop up gallery 2015 in Prospero St, South Murwillumbah. This was a collective of painters and printmakers who shared a studio space in South Murwillumbah.
Picture 6 The Caldera Art Gallery 2016. It continues to be run by local artist, Andy Remanis. The artists share a passion for the flora and fauna of the Tweed.
Picture 7 Murwillumbah Experimental Film Shorts 2016, curated by Annie Long to showcase the diverse talents of the region’s artists in this medium.
Picture 8 Sugar Mill Studio 2016 An existing gallery that was run by artists Tamsin Ainslie and Craig Parnaby.
Picture 9 Yellow Brick Studio 2016. An existing galley that was run by artist Lisa Arronis. The public were invited to participate in creating a mural. She now runs the art supply shop of the same name.
Picture 10 Chalk Art 2016 by Amelia Batchelor and Dom Intelisano.
Picture 11 Postcards from the Flood 2017. A pop-up exhibition curated by Heather Mathew and Chelle Wallace. The community were invited to submit works reflecting on their experience of the major flood Murwillumbah experienced earlier in 2017.
Picture 12 A pop up exhibition in an empty shop 2017 by artists Vicki Starou, Jane Hoggart, Carol Barroso.
Research Advice: This thesis is included as a study resource only. Please contact the author directly about copyright and how to cite this work.
Independent Curating in a Regional Context of a Multi-Sited Exhibition The Murwillumbah Art Trail 2015-2016
By Annie Long
The aim of this honours project was to examine the role of the independent curator within a regional Australian context and to explore how temporal art events can serve to regenerate community interaction and local identity.
A practice led methodology which included extensive interviews with the curators of two regional art festivals was used to analyse my curating experience. ‘Artist as curator’, ‘independent curating’ and ‘curator as facilitator’ models were examined as important contemporary curating practices, foregrounding the collaborative nature of cultural production. The outcome was a consolidation of my role as the organiser of the Murwillumbah Art Trail (MAT), which encompassed directorial, creative, curatorial and administrative duties.
The project contributed to the building of the existing artistic culture of the area, empowering artists in the exhibition process. For artists, the outcomes were positive in terms of economics, capacity building and connection with their audience. For the wider community, MAT provided economic stimulus and contributed to a shift in identity as Murwillumbah as a centre for arts culture.
As an independent curator, I had curatorial freedom from institutional expectations, working with artists and curators to coproduce a multi sited exhibition whose inspiration was firmly embedded in a sense of place. However, the sustainability of an independent-run arts festival such as MAT is subject to the precarity of funding and its survival will depend on a blend of both public and private support.
Keywords: Curating; Independent; Regional; Artist as Curator; Local; Identity; Multi-sited EventFinal Exegesis 2016 Annie Long 22001823