2 March 2024

Wagga's creative women are blazing a trail for the regional arts economy

| Chris Roe
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Creative entrepreneurs Maggie Deall, Janine Middlemost and Elaine Camlin.

Creative entrepreneurs Maggie Deall, Janine Middlemost and Elaine Camlin. Photo: Chris Roe.

A trio of Riverina artists have reinvigorated a row of empty shops in Wagga’s CBD and are now pioneering a fresh approach to a regional arts economy.

Painter Maggie Deall, printmaker Elaine Camlin and fashion ‘up-cycler’ Janine Middlemost moved their creative enterprises from the spare room to the shop front with a boost from an urban revitalisation initiative, the CreateSpace project.

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Based on the successful Renew Newcastle model, where artists in the Hunter region were supported to stage pop-ups in vacant shop fronts in the CBD, Eastern Riverina Arts sought funding and arts entrepreneurs to try a similar venture in Wagga three years ago.

“If I’d have been paying a commercial rent, there’s no way the business would have worked,” said former police officer Maggie Deall, whose Little Yellow House Gallery now represents more than 30 local artists and hosts regular classes and events.

“I had 12 months of being able to trade and to get that brand recognition out into the community and to get some workshops going and to give the business a bit more of a secure footing before I went on to take up a commercial lease.”

The once vacant row of shops on Tompson Street is now a vibrant arts hub.

The once vacant row of shops on Tompson Street is now a vibrant arts hub. Photo: Chris Roe.

Elaine Camlin kept her business mobile before opening the Unique State Art Space.

She now sells art supplies to aspiring local printmakers along with a range of cards and prints, runs classes and hosts a regular print club.

“Prior to having this physical space, I had been going to different spaces around town with a little trolley that would fit into the back of my car,” she explained.

“And when you’re a printmaker and art therapist you need a lot of materials and tools, so I was having to adapt processes a lot.”

Elaine Camlin runs workshops and tutorials from her Unique State studio.

Elaine Camlin (right) runs workshops and tutorials from her Unique State studio. Photo: Chris Roe.

Janine Middlemost had been selling her unique brand of recycled fashion wholesale, online and at markets, turning woollen blankets, tea towels, tablecloths, curtains and handmade textile items into clothes.

“I make jackets and dresses out of discarded embroidered tablecloths, and I find it really important to repurpose women’s creative work that’s been tossed out,” she said.

“About four years ago, I found an unfinished patchwork quilt with all the pins still in it and safety pins holding it together, but it was really cute and I held on to it.

“A couple of weeks ago, I finally pulled it out and cut it and made a coat out of it and it looks beautiful.

“I really feel like I’ve rescued the work that that woman began and I’ve given it a new life.”

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Three years ago, with her home studio overflowing and her time divided between making, household chores and children, Janine decided to back herself.

“I had always liked the idea of having a retail shop and studio space but I wasn’t sure if I could ever really afford it so it was a really great way to test the waters,” she reflected.

“After nine months of being here, and going through COVID as well, I was told that they were looking to offer the space to new artists, but I thought about it, talked to my accountant, did the maths and decided to take on the commercial lease myself.”

Middlemost is a unique Wagga fashion brand giving 'new life' to vintage fabrics.

Middlemost is a unique Wagga fashion brand giving ‘new life’ to vintage fabrics. Photo: Chris Roe.

All three creatives managed to find their footing despite turbulent financial times and turned their artistry into viable and financially independent businesses.

Tim Kurylowicz from Eastern Riverina Arts was full of praise for the women who took the opportunity and ran with it.

“It starts with passion, and then it just gets harder from there,” he said.

“What’s so amazing about each of our participants is that they diversified and have proven to be incredibly resourceful, creative entrepreneurs.

“There’s no prototype for what they do. They are pioneering and evolving business models to stay ahead of the curve.”

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