Urunga Art Space

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When local photographer Gethin Coles was asked by Council if he would like to use an old butcher shop in Urunga until they found a tenant and decided to turn it into a “Pop Up” art gallery, he could not anticipate the positive change it would make to the town and local artists alike. FOCUS found out more about how the Urunga Art Space works, what’s on show now, and what is in store for the future.

What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?

I’ve lived in Urunga for the last five years. Before that I was in Bellingen for 10 years.

How did you get involved in the Urunga Art Space?

I had done some photography work for the Bellingen Shire Council and was later approached by them to see if I was interested in using a building in Urunga that had been vacant for a couple of years. Once I saw the space, I realised it was far too big to fill by myself, so I contacted David Southgate, who organises Urunga’s Sculpture in the Park every year and is part of the local Chamber of Commerce. He then put me in touch with a local group of artists.

Who else is involved, and how does the gallery work?

We’re in the process of becoming an official not for profit organisation. David is President and I am Vice President. Adrienne Hmelnitsky is curating and Paula Whiteway and Danielle Hickie are handling publicity.

We would like the artists who exhibit to have an active role in running each show and setting it up; this way, it runs as a series of “pop ups”. Having the exhibiting artists involved also has practical benefits, like being able to keep costs and commissions low, but also gives the space a different feel that is more like an artist collective than a typical gallery.

Each artist is responsible for looking after the gallery one day a fortnight and will get involved in promoting the show and the opening. This also means that visitors can talk to the actual artists about their work, which has been very popular.

Our curation team puts the shows together out of the submissions we receive from interested artists (usually locals), and we pick 12 or so artists whose work is complementary. This gives each show a flavour and increases the overall impact in the space.

We also plan to have some downtime between major exhibitions to run workshops and to have community shows and events.

What has the journey been like so far?

It’s been great fun working with a bunch of energetic and motivated people. A lot of time and energy has gone into setting it up, but it’s great to see the ideas and direction emerge.

What has been the reaction from the community?

Unanimously positive! It’s quite a big space and it’s on the main intersection in Urunga, so it stands out. Just the fact that the building is occupied makes a difference in Urunga, and everyone seems very happy that there is a gallery that’s occupying it. The windows are huge, so it’s not immodest to say it brightens up the centre of the town.

I hope that in a few years people won’t be so surprised that our little Urunga has a big gallery at the centre.

Can you tell us more about the building itself?

Before we moved in, it was a butcher’s shop, and before that is was a bank. We use the vault occasionally as our multi-media space.

Why is it important to have relevant and affordable spaces for artists?

We live in an artist-rich region – they seem to grow particularly well in this climate. Bellingen and Dorrigo have several outlets for artists, but there was very little in Urunga, which is seen as the slightly frumpy neighbour – despite the fact it is ludicrously beautiful. Being known as an artistic area is one of the things that draws people to the Bellingen Shire, so it’s important both for our sense of identity and for promoting the region and encouraging visitors.

What is on show at the moment?

Our current show is More and features fabulous works from David Bromley, Paul Miller, Helen Aiken, Jeremy Minogue, Mark Renshaw aka Lunci, Chris Hundt, Brentyn Lugnan, Adam Baker, Cassandra Sutton, Carolyn Sharkey, David Southgate.

What is the future for Urunga Art Space?

At present, we have been allowed to stay in the space until a paying tenant turfs us out, but we are in the process of developing a business plan to submit to the Council, and everyone involved is hopeful that we can make a good case to continue into the future. We’re at the “no idea is too crazy to consider” stage, which is fun.

We have to be creative in looking for revenue, because it is a big space and art sales alone will not support it, so courses, workshops and events feature in that plan.

“Patron of the Arts” is a title that’s been falling out of fashion for the last 400 years or so. We’re hoping to bring it back. The website has information on how to become a patron, and what perks that brings.

How can people get involved?

Visit the website at www.urungaart.space 

Artists can use the form there to submit work for consideration. If you’d like to get involved in helping to manage the space, or if you have an idea for the space, you can also contact us through the website.

Where exactly is the Urunga Art Space, and when can people view the exhibitions?

The gallery is at 13 Bonville St, Urunga. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 4pm and the current exhibition is running until the end of August.

Thanks Gethin.

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