‘Siteworks’ – a lesson in community engagement through art

The feral amongst us, design by Lucas Ihlein ,

What a gift Bundanon Trust is. Literally.

I recently visited Bundanon to talk to John Bayliss about this year’s annual major event: Siteworks, on September 26th. It’s not the first time I’ve visited but walking around the site with someone like John is a real treat. He paints a mental picture of the event plans as we meander through the education centre and the spectacular grounds on the Shoalhaven river. On a warm winters day, it was sheer joy.

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The purpose of the visit was to research an article for M&Gazine which outlines some of the artists, activities and installations collaborating on this year’s Siteworks event. The theme this year is ‘The feral in our midst: the thing that (apparently) does not belong. How do we decide what is “natural” and what is out of place?

What I love about this event is the way that it pulls together art, science and community on a common environmental theme. It’s not preachy or academic and it’s locative. People aren’t standing around in city galleries sipping wine and discussing the abstract relevance of conservation, they’re standing in it; watching, listening and participating in it. Sometimes, without even realising it.

Arthur and Yvonne Boyd first opened Bundanon to the public when it was their home in the 1980’s and later gifted the riverside property to the nation in the 1990’s. (Co-incidentally, I was working at the ANZ bank at the time and had the job of processing THAT cheque. A few of us gathered around to witness the momentous occasion in respectful silence.) The local people have a real sense of proprietorship of Bundanon, childhood memories, friends weddings, music festivals etc. It’s the perfect place to picnic. Open air concerts on Sunday afternoons with a glass of wine and some cheese, lying on the grass in the sunshine overlooking the river are one of life’s simple joys. (Or so I’m told. It’s on my ‘To Do’ list.) Thankyou Arthur and Yvonne.

music Riversdale

Bundanon has grown to become the largest artist residency program in Australia and runs hugely successful school and community education programs. They really nail community engagement through art in the broadest context and I’m hoping to cover some of their other community engagement programs in the future.

This year at Siteworks I’m particularly keen to hear Robyn Archer AO, Professor Marcia Langton AM, UTAS Professor Adrian Franklin and author Tom Low speak. Other speakers include program include Dr Fiona Probyn-Rapsey, Clarence Slockee, Professor Deborah Bird Rose and Professor Richard Goodwin. The program is pretty packed and this year also includes after dark activities like bush parcour, for the temporarily insane. There will be loads of performance artists, as well as more informative sessions.

Bundanon is about 20 mins from Nowra on the NSW south coast. (Part of the entry road is dirt with some time restrictions) and this year camping is available.

Oh dear, I didn’t mean to sound like an ad! They don’t need the PR anyway with over a thousand people attending but it’s one of those things that make you wonder why more organisations don’t adopt a similar approach. Concepts can be difficult to convey, especially if they’re scientific and let’s face it, when was the last time a scientist engaged you; really spoke to you deep down where you live? Art has the unique ability to engage people, to start conversations and inspire independent thought.

I’ll post bits and pieces on my facebook page as they become available. If anyone is interested in going along, the Bundanon website will have all the details.

Read the Siteworks article here.

I hope to see you at Bundanon on September 26th!