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Celebrating art, and it’s just the beginning

PORTLAND’S newest artistic experience has been completed, but there’s the promise of plenty more in store.

Living Laneways is an installation of five very different artistic pieces on the wall of the Julia Street Creative Space, in the laneway between it and the IGA supermarket car park.

It is the brainchild of Robyn McDonald, who said the project had its roots when she returned to Portland to live last year.

Recently retired from 36 years of teaching art and design at secondary and tertiary level, she was inspired by a new challenge.

“I came and joined the group here (Julia Street Creative Space) and had chatted to Susie Lyons (Glenelg Shire Council arts and culture manager) about art in the laneways after I did (another) laneway,” Ms McDonald said.

She then spoke to Bruce Elijah who agreed to an artistic brightening of the wall at SportsPower, and the project took off from there.

After the Julia Street Creative Space site was chosen, Ms McDonald came up with the idea of five different artists to represent the five different groups at the centre.

Rory Carter was responsible for the painting group, Bob Stone printmaking, Therese Coffey fibre work, Phil Cousins woodturning and Andrew Walsh leadlighting.

But the artists are not connected with the groups they represent – a deliberate choice so they wouldn’t enter the project with any pre-conceived notions.

“It’s not just about daggy old-fashioned people using this, but it’s for the young ones as well,” Ms McDonald said.

“It was all a hybrid of ideas coming together.”

Which was the first part of the project – but then it needed to be funded.

Part of the cost came from a grant from United Way Glenelg, for who some of the group and others held the highly successful Abandoned fashion and art fundraiser last year.

United Way Glenelg executive officer Nicole Carr told Ms McDonald the organisation wanted to donate money to an art project, and from that came a $5000 grant.

Glenelg Shire Council tipped in another $5000 through its community grants scheme and Regional Arts Victoria contributed another $3000.

“The artists and I have worked passionately to produce a Public Art outcome we hope the community can enjoy,” Ms McDonald said.

“Contemporary art often requires the viewer to reflect on the artist’s inspiration in order to appreciate the resulting work, and this exhibition is no exception.

“As such, signage is included to enhance the experience and assist in understanding the rationale behind each piece.”

Portland artist Tina Biggs has also been an integral part of the team, documenting the progress of the project through interviews and photographs from the artists’ studios and the laneway space.

This record, and additional information about the artists, can be found on Facebook and Instagram @livinglanewaysportland.

And having successfully completed the project, Ms McDonald said a second stage was in the works.

The old corrugated iron fence next to the installation would be pulled down and replaced by a steel fence built by Mr Walsh (who is responsible for the gates behind the Julia Street Creative Space), as well as five art panels by students at the Portland Secondary College’s Re-engagement Centre.

That will also be subject to funding. And if it comes off, there could be more.

“The idea is you link them all up and walk through them,” Ms McDonald said.

“I think it’s about to take off. I just think it’s really important for people to realise that arts participation, whether observing or doing, is so good for mental health.”

 The Living Laneways exhibits even stand far enough apart for people to be able to view each one safely in line with social distancing restrictions.

And what about an official opening? That had to be cancelled due to the recent reintroduction of some coronavirus pandemic restrictions, but Ms McDonald hoped it might be held in conjunction with the completion of stage two of the project.

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