Interview with Caroline Downer, Executive Director at Arts North West
The New England region is really lucky to have a wide array of incredible creatives in our community and one of the facilitators behind this thriving network of creatives is Arts North West. Arts North West facilitates the development of many arts and cultural projects across the whole region which helps to build a rich and cultural landscape in the New England North West. We sat down with Caroline Downer, Executive Director at Arts North West to talk about creativity, culture, and a really exciting regional project they’ve just launched – the Panorama Project.
Caroline, thank you for your time, lets jump in!
Tell us a little about you as a child…
I was always really busy playing music as a kid – in lots of choirs, orchestras, and chamber ensembles which I loved. So I went and studied arts/music at University of Melbourne, that’s where I got more involved in visual arts, curating exhibitions in galleries and museums. I’ve also always been very busy volunteering in lots of different arts organisations – I love the arts.
Do you think there’s something from your childhood that inspired your affinity towards the creative industries?
Definitely more of arts/humanities family – my parents were both mediaeval historians, and 2 of my siblings are now professional musicians. I grew up in Canberra where there were many great community music opportunities and a fabulous arts scene.
How do you express yourself creatively?
I’m quite musical, I play viola da gamba – which is a Baroque instrument that had its heyday in 18th century France. A bit obscure! I also play a little cello (sometimes with the Armidale Symphony Orchestra, time permitting) but I also devour lots of different artforms – so I like going to see arthouse movies, I wander around galleries, I listen to concerts, and I go to the theatre. I enjoy lots of different artforms!
Tell us a little about Arts North West and the role it plays in our regional community?
Arts North West is the regional arts development organisation for the New England North West. So we are here to support artists and arts organisations and to help them generate creative opportunities in our region.
It is all about connecting people together, and making our communities vibrant, sustainable and healthy.
You’ve recently launched the Panorama Project – can you please tell us a little about this?
The Panorama Project is a collective arts activity from Arts North West, engaging hundreds of people across the New England North West from the places they call home. We wanted to run an activity during the COVID-19 restrictions that allowed creatives to be part of a larger community, and to alleviate some of the issues around social isolation.
The project is open to participants aged 16 and up and begins when participants receive a sketchbook by post or distribution. They will keep it to fill with their creativity and expression over the autumn and early winter seasons. After 1 August 2020 (or once lockdown has been lifted), each participant will drop their sketchbook off to a central location in each community. These little books will then travel together to local libraries across the New England North West for several months as The Panorama Project exhibition for people to see the artwork and vision before all books are returned to their owners.
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Ummm we aren’t kidding when we say that 700 panorama sketchbooks are heading out to participants over the next couple of weeks!! Absolutely awesome effort from our wonderful creative community in the New England North West. There are still a couple left, so visit our website www.artsnw.com.au to sign up and join in this fully inclusive art project #newenglandnorthwest #newenglandhighcountry #creativity #community #regional #rural #newsouthwales #regionalartsnsw #artsnorthwest
Register here and a sketchbook will be sent out to you. But be quick, we have sent out over 750 already!
We know you’re actually quite involved in a few cultural and creative areas in the region – can you tell us a little about this?
Yes, I wear quite a few hats – for a long time I was also Chair of the Armidale Youth Orchestra – which is an awesome program through New England Conservatorium of Music for students who play a musical instrument, and who meet weekly for rehearsals, with concerts throughout the year. I have been invited by New England Regional Art Museum (as an ex-Director) to curate one of their exhibitions for their 100% NERAM show (postponed until later this year). I’ve had fun revisiting some old favourites in the NERAM Collection with a theme “making your mark”.
I am a member of the International Film Festival Committee – which has been running for 17 years now. We are a small team that researches and curates films that are shown over a single weekend at the Belgrave Cinema. We have 13 films from 13 countries and 3 continents – a window on the world! We are hoping our festival can be held in October this year.
A sign of a healthy happy community is one that is full of surprises, with lots of interesting creative options. Without the arts, life would be very boring
What’s the best creative advice you’ve received?
No such thing as a mistake.
Explore. Experiment. Just do it.
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Another of Arts North West Connect Members the #Gunnedah Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery. The newly refurbished back #gallery boasts a regularly changing display of #artworks by visiting, local and emerging #artists, local #art #competitions and #exhibitions. #artsnw #artsnwconnect
Do you have any other hobbies or activities, that influence you creatively or get you inspired?
I read I knit a little and I like cooking too.
And finally, what’s your favourite thing about being a part of the New England community?
I love the diverse landscape from the plains to the mountains and gorge country. And I like the ecology of our arts community – from grassroots participation to the larger arts organisations like NERAM, NECOM, Aboriginal Cultural Centre & Keeping Place and the New England Writers Centre. There really is so much going on – and there is something for everyone.
I’m excited for when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and our arts organisations can open up again – there are so many hidden treasures throughout the New England North West. Artist studios, galleries, and museums – there is lots out there to explore in our region.
Thank you so much for your time, we’ver really loved getting to know a little more about you, your connections and your love for the creative world in our special region!