The past decade has seen an increased interest in the local, but it seems that post-pandemic, this fascination has skyrocketed.
In early 2022, Art Pharmacy were given the opportunity to commission and curate a new art collection as part of the Lismore Base Hospital’s nearly decade long redevelopment of the hospital. The Art Trail was inspired by an overarching curatorial narrative of ‘Sanctuary’, which was installed in November, 2022.
It appears that the culmination of this collection couldn’t have come at a better time. “2022 was a pretty big year,” photographer, Tom Wolff, recalls, “I think the floods after bushfires and then a pandemic stretched a lot of people to breaking point. In a place like Lismore, [art] is a big part of how people cope and try to move on. If my work can bring warmth and brightness to the odd person in the hospital then I’d be happy.”
“The flooding has been traumatic and devastating to the local region and it’s important we work together to bring some warmth and hope back,” Byron Bay based painter Leah Bartholomew adds.
For Bundjalung painter Dylan Bolt, the project became a way of reconciling and giving back after his own devastating experiences. “My family and I personally went through the flood and all my family’s belongings were destroyed, everything got washed away,” Bolt notes, “I know how that feels.”
Bartholomew sees the importance of “working with local artists who understand the importance of what has occurred in Lismore” as a way of “focusing on the positivity and joy we can bring through creativity”.
Painting is Bolt’s way of nurturing a sanctuary for his audience to dwell in. He adds, “For me, just being able to give something back and make someone else’s day brighter and happier – that’s what it’s all about.” For Bartholomew, sanctuary is the “quiet, introspective moments that can be felt when we connect to the natural world around us … I am thrilled to be able to contribute my artworks to my local area and help to spark the same joy I feel when creating these works.”
The Lismore Base Hospital project focused on building a comprehensive collection from artists local to the Hospital’s vicinity.
“Place is such an important part of all art, so to work with local artists just makes sense,” Wolff states. For Bolt, engaging the local community in an art project of this scale is “not just important, but crucial” – he analogies this to purchasing produce from local farmers, noting that “it doesn’t just benefit [the artist] but the community as well, as [the artist] then puts that money back into local businesses, like art supply stores.”
“Lismore is a wildly creative place, with a thriving arts community, and we’re starting to see it really come back to the fore.” – Tom Wolff
Areas like Lismore may not have as much of a cultural reputation as metropolitan cities like Sydney and Melbourne, but it takes just one close look at the community to see that it is brimming with talent, excitement and culture. Wolff explains that “the Northern Rivers is packed full of artists, and you don’t have to venture too far to find interesting things happening. Lismore is a wildly creative place, with a thriving arts community, and we’re starting to see it really come back to the fore.”
It isn’t just the arts and culture scene of the Northern Rivers that is teeming with diversity – Bartholomew notes that “the region itself is one of the most biodiverse places in Australia”. She believes that her works, along with many other artists who captured the essence of the area’s natural environment, “will stimulate a connection to the area and spark conversation and joy with the patients, staff and visitors who see the art”.
Working with resources local to the project is not only an efficient move, but tells the project’s story and values in a way that a visitor could. It takes an artist who has spent their entire life immersed in a community to tell its story with vibrancy and authenticity.