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This Is Northern New South Wales

FOR ART’S SAKE: OCEAN SHORES ART EXPO

The Northern Rivers is a hub of creativity. a casual stroll around any one of the region’s numerous weekly markets reveals an abundant array of artisans, a thousand artistic ideas manifested in glass, wood, paint and film. Brush strokes and stitches created by gifted hands offer all manner of delights for us to peruse and purchase, the enviable talents of our community’s creators on display to the world.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg, a single avenue in a vast city of artistic talent spanning the region. The Ocean Shores Art Expo is a showcase of that talent, a chance for any artist of any ability, from national renown to undiscovered hobbyist, to share their work with a wider audience.

Ri Fraser has been president of the Art Expo for the last five years of the event’s eleven-year history and what began as a protest against the planned path of the Pacific Highway upgrade has now become something much, much more.

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“A bunch of us were fighting against the highway being built too close to Ocean Shores and the demolition of the historic little seventy-year-old bridge,” recalls Ri. “We were doing sit-down protests and marches, carrying coffins across the old bridge and so on. Although we lost the cause, we really bonded. We thought, although we’d lost that, it would be great to keep doing something for Ocean Shores, so the idea arose for an art show.”

Having been an artist many years ago in Sydney and seeing many of the buildings and skylines she had painted disappear in the wave of development, she decided that the landmark of the bridge should be preserved for all time in paint and canvas, if not in bricks and mortar. Gathering her new activist comrades, Ri hosted a day of painting, immortalising the bridge through the eyes and hands of her forty fellow artists. Perhaps a little wanting for subject matter, the inaugural expo presented these forty renditions of the little old bridge, but far more than that, it drew the community together and set the precedent for the ongoing annual event.

“It was a great success,” Ri remembers. “People sold pieces, lots of people came and it was a lot of fun, so we kept going.”

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Following its activist roots, the Ocean Shores Art Expo is a themed art show, each year asking artists from the region to interpret a word or phrase in their own particular way and in a diverse range of media, from watercolour, gouache and more conventional art styles to mixed media, sculpture and photography.

Despite its humble beginnings, a humility that has remained firm in it’s ethos, the Ocean Shores Art Expo has grown exponentially. What began with a few dozen locals paying homage to a piece of their history has now expanded into a well-orchestrated event of renown for over three hundred artworks held in the more expansive sports hall of Ocean Shores Public School and with over $5,000 in prize money. And, with only a collection of volunteers behind it, it has become, as one exhibiting professional artist describes it, “the best-run show I’ve ever been in.”

“We’re just a bunch of volunteers,” defers Ri, “but we really take care of the artists. We keep in communication with them and try to anticipate their needs and make everything as easy as we can for them.”

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The expo benefited in its first seven years from the kind support of the local chapter of the Lions Club. “They were able to underwrite the function,” says Ri. “We had no money, so for the first seven years we were under their umbrella.” Without this generous support the art show would not have been able to continue, liability insurance, venue hire and so on all challenging hurdles for the diminutive event. Now incorporated, the show can stand on its own two feet, sponsorship and support coming from across the Shire and further afield to make each year’s expo bigger and better than the last.

Themes for the event, carefully created to allow for a diversity of interpretation, have included ‘This is What I Love,’ ‘Life’s Surprises,’ ‘Seeds of Change,’ and ‘Belonging,’ each carefully designed to allow for socio-political comment. This year, it is quite simply ‘Home,’ as direct or ambiguous as each individual chooses. Borne from the region’s often ill-addressed issues of homelessness, the cryptic theme need not follow that intention, every artist’s individual perspective actively encouraged, making for a richer variety within the exhibition.

As well as incorporating categories for painting, (oil, acrylic, watercolour and gouache), drawing, mixed media and pastels, with sculpture, printmaking and photographic and digital art all being added over the years, the Ocean Shores Art Expo also showcases the artwork of students from twelve different schools across the Northern Rivers, with some impressive results. Kids from kindy to year twelve present their works, the juniors section of the exhibition always a refreshing display of inspiration, innocence and exceptional new talent. “The kid’s gallery is awesome,” says Ri. “Especially in secondary school, [the students] are already pretty weighed down with work, so it’s been great to see more and more entries. It really gives them a lift, I think, a bit of exposure and validation outside of the school.”

“Part of our mission is to provide a space which encourages creativity and innovation within the community and bring the community together, to have an event where people can enjoy meeting each other and getting to know who’s in their neighbourhood – old people, young people, it’s such an open event.”

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Individual awards are humble, but given that entries last year numbered over 310, the accumulative prize purse is substantial. $500 for first place, $200 for second, kindly donated by a host of local sponsors, it’s still well worth the opportunity to display, and possibly sell work to the greater public, for recognition, as well as encouragement and kudos. But there is one very special award: the Krista Bernard Prize. Three years ago, shortly before the 2012 expo, local couple Clancy and Mary Bernard were devastated by the loss of their daughter. A beautiful and creative soul, Krista moved and inspired everyone she connected with. Struggling to come to terms with their loss, Mary and Clancy sought a way for Krista’s passion and creativity to live on. Each year, the couple carefully select a single artwork of their own choosing. It might not be the best or most renowned, it might not even be the one to most proficiently fulfil the annual theme, but it is one that they feel deserves added recognition, and to it’s creator they present a gift of $1,000, an acquisitive award and an enduring tribute to their daughter and a warming display of generosity and community spirit.

“Everybody who has any inclination should enter,” shares Ri. “I know, out there in our community, there are so many people who are creative who are not represented in galleries, who are not encouraged to pursue their art, and that’s what I really love and encourage. We want to give everybody encouragement and be able to see the fantastic creativity that’s happening in our area, particularly in Ocean Shores. This art show has given Ocean Shores a real boost in terms of it’s own self esteem.

“The quality of beginners is stunning. We’ve had beginners who’ve won and that’s an absolute delight for me, so you can imagine how it feels for someone who has just started. It’s joyous!”

The 2014 Ocean Shores Art Expo is now receiving entries via the website – www.osartexpo.com – entries close midnight, Sunday, 3rd August.

The expo takes place from Friday 29th to Sunday 31st August, 10am – 4pm daily, with the opening night, featuring live music by local musician and artist extraordinaire Laura Targett, withwine, food and of course lots and lots of art on offer, from at 7pm on the Friday. Leading artists, Pete Pinza and Harry Westera,  giving free demonstrations during the weekend, local historian Frank Mills will host two fascinating local history presentations and on Saturday the Ocean Shores Primary School holds the Festival of the Imagination, with local musicians school performances and creative workshops.

 

This year’s expo will be donating this year to several local groups that support the homeless in the Shire.