’Artist in Residence’ Part 4. Festive Factory Experience

Last year Festive Factory was invited and hired (through a Festivals Australia grant), to work with the community of Penshurst. This week’s blog, briefly touches on the methodology behind Festive Factory’s engagement and the skills Festive Factory brought to the ‘work bench’ as ‘Artists in Residence’.

Penshurst is a small township just south of Hamilton in the South Western district of Victoria. Its various claims to fame include its position as birthplace of the celebrated artist Napier Walla, who specialised in mosaic art and recognised largest fertile biodiversity volcanic lava flows in the Southern Hemisphere, relating to its position within an extinct volcanic area.

The invitation was to develop and assist community construction of parade floats designed to celebrate the 150th Birthday of this small but vibrant town.

A number of designs were submitted to the committee, two of which were selected and then brought to life by the schools and community under the guidance of Festive Factory.

These were marching banners and a giant birthday cake with candles and icing that said ‘Happy 150th Anniversary Penshurst.’

For the cake construction, a diverse group from the community came together, some of who never would have seen themselves as artistic participants. The experience broke new ground for these farmers, bricklayers, café owners, schoolteachers and other local emerging artists working out side their creative boxes. To their combined surprise, they enjoyed the process immensely.

The parade float cake was constructed primarily from Bamboo and Paper Mache. We imported all the parade float materials into the community, told them where they can source such materials, how to work with bamboo and demonstrated the techniques. We left them to complete as much of the construction as they could alone, before our return the following week. Our involvement went beyond merely demonstrating techniques to include modelling the value of thinking ‘out side the square’; how by thinking creatively, great results can be achieved to trick the eyes over distance….(try ‘Expanding Foam Filler’- makes great ‘ theatrical icing’.)

Penshurst boasts the presence of two primary schools. Students from both schools combined to decorate  and make  banners they would then go marching with. Their job was to paint either by free form or screen-printing the centre of the banners. The results were a bright and joyous colourful visual cacophony of full colour banners that shouted ‘Celebration’, proudly. Special silk screen printing frames were made for the purpose, and left with each school for future use and a life beyond the anniversary weekend.

It was apparent speaking with local artists that we left new skills, great stimulation for their future artistic work and valuable materials that would otherwise have not been readily available in a regional township whose mainstay is farming and tourism.

There is no doubt that the presence of community artists within a small community can offer great product including new practical skills, ‘know-how’, and inspiration.