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Australia, we shrunk the festival

BY NewsLeads | 31-Aug-2020
With border closures and pandemic restrictions impeding the national and global arts sector, an annual sculpture festival on the Gold Coast of Australia has found novel ways that could help keep arts festivals alive.
Australia, we shrunk the festival
11 War of the Worlds, Jo Elliot.
Each year the SWELL Sculpture Festival turns the Gold Coast into an outdoor art exhibition attracting more than 260,000 visitors to the Queensland beach-side city.

But it’s SWELL’s tiny steps that are making large strides in helping COVID-proof the future of major cultural and arts festivals.

SWELL Sculpture Festival Artist Director and Curator, Natasha Edwards, said 56 giant sculptures were to be exhibited at the festival’s heart on the 1km of white sand of Currumbin Beach at the southern end of the city.

However, a hard Queensland border lockdown and ban on most global travel meant as many as 15 international and interstate artists would be unable to attend Queensland’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition from 11-20 September to install their artworks.

“It’s been really heartbreaking to know that some artists couldn’t get here because of COVID, so it has had a really big impact on the scope of the delivery of what we can do,” Edwards said.

But, she said, even if artists couldn’t install their sculptures for full impact, they would exhibit in miniature form at SWELL Smalls.

The SWELL Smalls Gallery showcases small-scale sculptures of the Currumbin Beach selection at a complementary festival location at Dust Temple on the way to Currumbin Valley, southwest of the city.

“Artists will still get works to the Gold Coast, even if it is small form,” she said.

“And everyone who cannot participate in the main exhibition this year will get a guaranteed spot next year.”

In a similar vein, another of the city’s festivals celebrating the arts has also turned to downsizing to make the event more intimate for visitors, while still opening up to a wider arts-loving audience.

Gold Coast’s Bleach festival will go ahead in November after splitting the city’s signature arts and culture event across three hubs and 11 days to fight through the challenges of COVID-19 and ensure the live art and cultural celebration could continue.

But rather than minimising the festival, Bleach artistic director and CEO Rosie Dennis said she was expecting big things from the event.

Due to global cancellations and a nation-wide dearth of cultural events as the world battled the pandemic, she said she expected this year’s festival to go truly global as international art-lovers tuned in online to the event showcasing live music performances, cabaret, dance, and large-scale art exhibits.

SWELL’s Natasha Edwards said the continuation of festivals and artistic events around the world was vital for artists and audiences.

“I really support art in public spaces. I think it’s really important to continue to have arts in our community, if you were to cut it out it would soul-destroying for a lot of people,” she said.

“COVID has made us rethink a lot of aspects of our organisation.

“Everyone has been getting in touch with us saying keep moving forward, because if you do we are too.”