Multiculturalism: Changing Ballarat and what it means

How Aboriginal and CALD artists view the evolution of Ballarat’s cultural scene

by Aldona Kmiec

Source: Vic Health


When local Ballarat artists of diverse background were asked about what qualities do they bring to Ballarat, they have responded with equally varied and interesting points of view. For many, their community elders and educational mentors passed the value of their cultural background and knowledge onto them. Nonetheless, artists of a different background and culture bring important insights that make us see the world in a different way.

Artists of diverse background have been bringing interesting perspectives into the Ballarat arts scene for years but little is published about them and research is continuing. Ranging from contemporary Aboriginal pop-art where Indigenous artist Josh Muir, Yorta Yorta/ Gunditjmara man finds his voice, therapeutic consolation and reaffirmation of identify to the value of being different and encouraging people to stand up for what they believe in as in the case of an emerging artist and Ballarat mum of Polish origin Magdalena Kazmierczak. For a half-Kiwi half-Danish and now Ballarat local artist and musician Ellen Sørensen social commentary and sustainable environmental values were instilled in her by her NZ elders and Fine Arts lecturers. A young Hazara Afghan now based in Ballarat, Ali Afzali’s life experiences and trauma experienced en route to Australia voice a powerful story through his powerful paintings.

Watch Ali Afzali creating self-portrait at Ben Quilty’s studio: 

When did you notice the changes in the Ballarat Arts Scene? Does anything in particular come to your mind when you think about it?

When this question was asked, the participating artists had varied views. Some commented on significant personnel cuts as well as funding cuts in the Arts and Culture Unit at City of Ballarat, despite the growth of the city’s population and respective growth of artists moving to Ballarat from other parts of Australia. This felt to them like a great loss to Ballarat Arts community and it saddens the artists as more uncertainty grows around the future funding.

But some artists do not notice many or any changes, they see Ballarat as a growing city and there are plenty of opportunities to make it even greater. Some of the more recent Ballarat residents have mentioned that in order to feel more supported, they joined group collectives like SHAC, acronym for Soldiers Hill Artist Collective which has given them constant support and encouragement to pursue art without judgement.

How are the changes going to affect your art?

Some see the cuts to funding to the Arts And Culture Unit and absorbed it into the CoB Events Unit as problematic – the city has decided not to continue the financial support for SOTA Season Of The Arts (their website is still active but lacks any information) and in turn has backed two major but privately run arts festivals: BIFB Ballarat International Foto Biennale and the inaugural BOAA Biennale of Australian Art Festival to promote Ballarat. Still, there is plenty of funding for sports but Australia’s best preserved theatrebuilding, Her Majesty’s Theatre which first opened its doors in 1875 is in sudden dire need of a major repair and campaign to save its future.

Although Ballarat is becoming more open for diversity in the arts, the other mentioned factor that may affect local artists is the growth factor. Artists are concerned that that this could cause cultural ignorance and taste for more mainstream ‘snap and forget’ art that does not venture too deep into the meaning of what art and culture should be about.

City of Ballarat needs to ensure that more involvement opportunities are available and artist’s voices are sought and invited to the discussion and decision-making about the future of the city.

Are you aware of any arts organisations in Ballarat? Are you a member of any of them? If no, why not?

The City of Ballarat website lists only three arts organisations in Ballarat and this directory hasn’t been updated for some time. It is quite difficult to find your belonging if you are new to Ballarat. In fact there are plenty of arts organisations that have existed for years and Ballarat Arts Foundation, Ballarat Society of Artists and Ballarat Arts Alive continue to be very relevant to the artist community as well as newcomers. in 2011 BAA has created a moderated public Facebook forum for people who are based in or connected to the Ballarat art community. It has proven to be a successful place to start making your new connections if you’re based at home or have limited time to go out and connect with the world. If you have the time to go out and socialise, you can take advantage of various arts events at The Lost Ones Gallery and Basement Bar located in Camp Street art precinct.

Ballarat art scene has also seen a steady grow of new grassroots artist collectives drawing members of particular suburbs like Soldiers Hill Artists Collective operating just north of the Ballarat train line, SHEILAS Group attracting female Ballarat artists and innovative RAT Art Space, a not-for-profit community base mobile exhibition and event promoting local emerging artist.

Some see it is important to be a contributing member of community art collectives and some artists do not see the value in joining an organisation and see it as a disruption to their art practice:

“I just like to be in the zone of creativity for fun”.


What types of art activities/opportunities would you participate in if they were available?

There seems to be more growing opportunities to get involved. City of Ballarat and Tourism Ballarat have recently launched another Ballarat campaign called “Made of Ballarat” which features Ballarat artisan makers but how many less commercial artists will it include, it is yet to be seen. There is a long queue of artists wanting to be featured and that is a good sign!

Artists that I have interviewed want the continuation of the good networking and connecting events organised by locals arts groups like field trips to artists studios, art walks and insight into the artist’s everyday practice. New initiatives are emerging and they have an amazing power in building a powerful, supportive and connected older more established as well as new suburbs. Examples include brand new facility Lucas Community Art Space funded by Ballarat Community Health, annual SHAC Art Walk during the Heritage Month in May and regular Rat Gallery mobile exhibitions.

Artists want more artist commissions, open calls and exhibitions that are bold, courageous and non-mainstream. They want to be and feel inspired.

Do you have any final comments?

I think as far I have been lucky. I’m exhibiting 2-3 times a year, but still I wouldn’t be able to live from my art practice. Probably there is not enough paid projects available in Ballarat for artists, it would be nice to see a change in that area.