Boutique artist run galleries have been popping up all over Toowoomba over the past year or so, thanks to a program structured at USQ School of Creative Arts.

Associate professor Janet McDonald, who is Head of School (Creative Arts) at the university says, “Over the last year or so Toowoomba has become a hot, hot bed of activity. This has resulted in a lot of little, tiny artist-run galleries being opened. Not all of them are being run by students or graduates of USQ but this trend is very big in Toowoomba right now.”

Janet says the staff at USQ are actively supporting the development of these galleries as part of her mantra to encourage young people to sustain careers in the arts.“I pride myself on the support we give students and graduates, who create their own small companies or organisations,” says Janet, who commutes to USQ from her family home in Brisbane.

“It is what we call the ARIS scene, which is the Artists Run Initiative Scheme. Since 2009, when this project began, we have found we have these quality artists either in third year or moving into the post-graduate stage, who can’t work full time. But they need somewhere to do their work, to have their work critiqued and to receive feedback on what they are doing.

To fill that need, the ARIS have become an extension of their studio practice and the system in Toowoomba has developed into a non-structured type of arrangement that is really working,” Janet says.

“The galleries are generating their own work by working collaboratively together. For instance one gallery will have an opening at six o’clock, everybody goes there; they have a glass of wine, buy some art, talk about the art, before shutting up shop and all moving onto another gallery where there is another exhibition. Through this, a critical mass of people are now following what is being done, are being encouraged to buy works of art, which helps support the artists. It is a setting which is hard to replicate because it actually involves a certain type of individual and personality, so you can’t pick it up and dump it somewhere else. I really do believe that what is happening in Toowoomba is a perfect example of innovative regional practice, which we can all be very proud of.”

Janet, who describes herself as an “agent of change” says she and her associates have also been involved in projects in towns such as Dirranbandi, Roma, St George and Surat.

“We try to look west of Toowoomba because we know there is less and less funding for people in those regions to be engaged in artistic and cultural activities,” she says. “For that reason, we try to provide as many different avenues as we can for kids in schools in those communities to develop their artistic talents.

“There is nothing more exciting for us than when graduates of ours go on to be employed in government or local government, because they’ve had specific regional experience.”

Among the notable organisations successful graduates are now working for Queensland Theatre Company, the Queensland Arts Council, Youth Arts Queensland (which Janet chaired from 2008 to last year), Opera Queensland, the Brisbane City Council and the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Words by Graeme Kelly  |  Images by Shane Robson