Arts & Culture

From fire comes Fellowship for Vanessa

Edwina Mason2 July 2020
Vanessa Keenan smiling.

Vanessa Keenan is the recipient of a $10,000 National Regional Arts Fellowship, which will help her tell the story of the impact of bushfires through the eyes of six local artists. Photo: Supplied.

A Tumbarumba arts specialist is one of five regional artists and arts workers awarded a National Regional Arts Fellowship to support their endeavours in their local regions.

Vanessa Keenan has been announced as the winner of a $10,000 First Timer – Creative or Professional Development Fellowship for a Regeneration Project that will reflect on the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020.

She is one of three winners from regional NSW. The others are from Kandos and Red Head, with another two recipients from Far North Queensland and Tasmania.

The 2020 Fellowships centre on themes of bushfire and drought, and artists living in affected areas were encouraged to apply.

The funds will allow Vanessa to work with six professional artists directly impacted by the fires to develop an outdoor arts experience she has titled Regeneration Project.

In addition to her role as new museum advisor for Greater Hume and Albury, Vanessa runs Acorn Creative Group.

Fire-damaged farmhouse at Maragle.

Vanessa’s photo of damage to her family’s farm at Maragle, near Tumbarumba, where she survived the past summer’s bushfire by hiding in a bunker with her mother and brother for three hours while the blaze passed. Photo: Supplied.

She tells Region Media she divides her time between Tumbarumba and Wagga Wagga, where she is a city councillor.

She has first-hand experience of the bushfires and there is still a very personal reminder of them six months on.

Vanessa was forced to shelter in a bunker with her family for three hours on New Year’s Eve 2019 as bushfires threatened to raze the small mountain community at Maragle, near Tumbarumba, as it destroyed thousands of acres of surrounding bushland and farms.

One of those farms belongs to her family, and recovery efforts continue, which Vanessa has been heavily involved with.

She says the fellowship will allow her to focus on artists in the region and “how the fires have impacted how they work and also what they produce”.

“There is a term called ‘solastalgia’ which refers to the grief and loss experienced through the destruction of your environment,” she says.

“Given artists are often so inspired by, and connected with, their environments, I’ll be looking at how the destruction and subsequent renewal is impacting their work.”

The project will comprise studio visits, oral history interviews and site visits across the Dunn’s Road fire ground during a three-month period documenting and exploring the impact of the fire on the artists, their communities and the environment.

“I’ll develop a number of curatorial statements which will inform future commissioning opportunities,” says Vanessa.

“The fellowship doesn’t require any public outcomes, but my project will result in some form of public exhibition of the artists’ work as well as documentation of the fellowship, subject to further partnerships.”

Federal Arts minister Paul Fletcher says the grants allow recipients to further develop their craft and contribute to cultural initiatives in their communities.

“Drought and bushfires have had a devastating impact in our regions,” he says.

“The fellowship grants will allow these five talented recipients the opportunity to interpret their experience of living in a bushfire or drought-affected area, explore the struggles and resilience of impacted communities, and share those stories through art.”

Recipients were selected through a competitive grant round process and were assessed by an independent panel.

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