Why the arts capture the spirit of Byron Bay

TROY NANKERVIS
THURSDAY 10 JULY, 2014
Behind Byron Bay’s stunning beaches is a thrilling artistic and cultural community.
Why the arts capture the spirit of Byron Bay

2-219781-Main-476x357-2Image: Legendary Byron.

When thinking about the greater Byron Bay region, world-class beaches, sunshine and a laid-back lifestyle may spring to mind.

Yet for Byron Bay Shire Mayor Simon Richardson, it’s the thriving artistic community that underpins much of the social and cultural fabric, and gives a unique sense of personality to the Shire, from Bangalow to Lennox Head, to Byron Bay itself.

‘A place without art is a very dull place indeed. We are lucky in Byron in that we have over two times the state average of those working in the creative industries.

‘We have a rich tradition of cultural creativity, and so for us in a way it ensures that the alternative or progression of culture and community here continues to have a voice, continues to share their skills and ideas with the wider community,’ he said.

‘The good thing about Byron is we have various streams of creative industries. Not only does it reflect who we are, they’re actually nationally or internationally renowned. We are really quite spoilt in this Shire.

A short journey by plane from most major Australian east coast cities makes Byron Bay the perfect destination for artists and art enthusiasts alike. ‘That capacity to travel is a key statistic of the Byron sensibility,’ said Richardson.

‘We’ve got a really lovely mix between those who are very regionally and locally focused, and come from that old school, non-metropolitan artistic aesthetic, and those who are fully fledged professionals.’

Working in Byron Bay are artists from all streams of the creative industries, from visual artists, sculptors, circus artists, theatre makers and filmmakers.

‘Not only do they reflect who we are and give locals an opportunity to experience creativity – they are nationally or internationally renowned,’ said Richardson.

‘We’re world leaders in event management, and creating a cultural escape and creative production for the visitor. Splendour in the Grass is a perfect example of visual and installation art mixed with the music art.’

Indeed cross-collaboration can be seen in many more examples across the region. Splendour Arts, the arts program supporting the forthcoming Splendour in the Grass Festival, is just one of the many large-scale festival platforms operating in the region, alongside Falls Festival, the Byron Bay Writers Festival, Byron Bay Blues Fest, the Byron Bay Film Festival and the Boomerang Festival.

‘They [Splendour] spend some serious money and serious focus in planning installations and artistic interactions with the punters. In fact, a lot of our festivals do a similar thing – they grab the other threads of the creative industries and weave them in,’ said Richardson.

Splendour Arts curator Craig Walsh agrees with Richardson that the opportunity to work with local artists has exposed him to a thriving eclectic group of artists who work together across a range of art forms. ‘It’s quite a competitive place to work because there are so many artists living in the area.

‘The networking assists with that. I still think it’s a lifestyle choice, which is very sympathetic to artists, which brings so many artists to the region. There’s definitely a sense of community that crosses over between art, music and the commercial,’ he said.

Walsh adds that the Byron Arts and Industry Estate is of equal significance – home to many jewellery makers, glass sculptors and fashion designers. ‘I’ve seen that transform essentially from a typical industrial estate to becoming a residential, studio, industrial estate and I think that’s important for the continuation of the art community in Byron Bay.

‘What’s it done is set up a model for how residential, studio and artists can exist in one space. Architects are now using that as a model to develop new subdivisions.’

While local artists appeal to segments of the tourist market, Walsh said that Byron Bay has strong historical relevance as the birthplace of the modern music festival, as first seen within the illegal outdoor “doof” held on properties around the Byron region in the 1990s.

‘Something like Splendour in the Grass is really an evolution of that and I think that it’s something really distinctive that encapsulates Byron in music and art, as a sort of maverick approach to creating events,’ he said.

‘Splendour evolved out of Byron Bay, that’s where it was born and it continues to carry those traits through. It’s linked to an identity, and I think for Byron people and artists, there’s a sense of ownership. There’s a link to the festival itself.’

Richardson said that this positive sense of community is also reflected through the effect of arts on the local arts economy. ‘Apart from tourism, it’s the biggest show in town. There are lots of opportunities for artists and arts workers interested in the festival environment; partially it’s really helping to sustain the arts community in that region.

‘Obviously festivals do a lot more than just put on music. There’s employment, there’s creative and there’s businesses in that region,’ he said.

‘There’s this sort of far-reaching influence on the community itself. They rely on each other to deliver and continue a thriving arts community.’

Visit the Legendary Byron website for more details about the Greater Byron Bay region.

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One Response to Why the arts capture the spirit of Byron Bay

  1. Pingback: Is the City Festival Dead? | From the desk of Angus Randall

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