2 October 2021

In Gunning, the show must go on - online

| Sally Hopman
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Max Cullen and Margarita Georgiadis

Patrons of the Gunning Arts Festival, actor Max Cullen and his partner artist Margarita Georgiadis, in their gallery in Gunning. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

While COVID-19 has forced the closure of shows and festivals in many of our cities, it has put the village of Gunning on the virtual map.

Last year was to be the first for the Gunning Arts Festival, a coming together of all that was culturally good in the small rural community about 30 km from Gundaroo and a bit further up the highway towards Yass.

But, with the arrival of COVID, it quickly became the village’s first online festival.

Instead of face-to-face, visitors could see local artwork, read stories, admire photography and learn new skills screen-to-screen.

According to chair of the Gunning Arts Festival Committee, Michelle Storey, it also probably drew a larger audience than if people had actually come into town.

Michelle, who moved to nearby Bellmount Forest for a tree-change from Sydney about six years ago, said the online festival had drawn out what was already in the local community – an abundance of creativity.

And it’s not surprising when you start with festival patrons like acclaimed Australian actor and painter Max Cullen and his partner artist Margarita Georgiadis, who took over Gunning’s old Coronation Theatre in the main street of town in 2003. It’s now the Picture House Gallery, operating out of the stunning art deco building.

READ ALSO Screen legend Max Cullen: From glitz and glam to a run-down theatre out bush

“Gunning certainly is an interesting area,” Michelle said. “It’s a small town but it has a surprising number of artists here. What we’ve done, is just tap into what was already here.”

Following on from last year’s success, this year’s festival, from 30 to 31 October, will also be online.

Instead of a face-to-face art exhibition, the works will be posted online with people invited to vote for their favourite work via a People’s Choice award.

“This proved to be a remarkable success for us last year,” Michelle said. “More than 3000 people voted – we had more than 45,000 reach us on Facebook with this.

“Far more people accessed the exhibition online than we could ever have expected to come into town or provided accommodation for. By going online it really raised the profile of the town.”

Festival organisers have also invited crafty folk to join in two Zoom sessions online. They just need to apply via the website and all the information and materials needed for the classes will be available prior to the sessions.

One of the most popular events, if early entries are any guide, is SnapWrite on Facebook,

“Through this, we have invited people who live locally to post images and words about why they live where they live. The stories will appear on the festival’s website,” Michelle said.

“This has turned out to be one of the most uplifting experiences. It reminds us all of how lucky we are to live here, of how so many wonderful people can rise above the pandemic and share their stories and photographs with others and help us all stay connected.

“Yes, we’re a small regional community here but, by bringing art to the people as we’re doing here, we’re inviting them to share their lives with us.”

Michelle, an astrophysicist with the CSIRO in another life, said she was not surprised by the online response to the Gunning Festival.

“People always tell you when you move from the city to the country that you’ll never really be a local, but that never happened here. People are very welcoming.”

The Gunning Arts Festival is run by the community for the community and supported by Creative Gunning arts and crafts group, Gunning Focus Group, Gunning and District Historical Society, Music Theatre Projects Ltd and the Gunning Landcare group.

The festival received funding through the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal through the Tackling Tough Times Together project.

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.

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