Festival showcases artistic appetite in regional australia

by helen carpenter, new south wales - based media stringer

Chalk artist, Anton Pulvirenti, with his brilliant blue snowman

Chalk artist, Anton Pulvirenti, with his brilliant blue snowman

Festivals are an important part of country and community life in Australia. They bring local communities together, they reconnect people with their community, attract visitors and they promote the local area and its benefits to a wide audience. They also provide local community groups and businesses with an opportunity to showcase their products, which often generates economic return to the local community. Festivals boost local pride, a sense of place, and serve to remind visitors that life in regional areas is positive, entrepreneurial, creative and contemporary.

Henry Lawson Festival of Arts  past Queens (2018)

Henry Lawson Festival of Arts past Queens (2018)

Each year on the June Long weekend the Central West New South Wales town of Grenfell comes together to celebrate the Henry Lawson Festival of Arts

The festival was an initiative of the local High School Principal, Mr Goodwin, some 62 years ago and it’s now the longest consecutive run festival in New South Wales. The festival was created to bring the school and community together to celebrate the arts, and it was called the Henry Lawson Festival of Arts as a tribute to the Australian poet, Henry Lawson, who was born on the local Grenfell goldfields on the 17th of June in 1867.

Every year a small band of volunteers work together to plan and organise the annual festival. The program includes activities such as poetry reading by campfire at the Dramatic Society, to exhibitions of art, photography, short story and verse competitions, shop window displays, children’s artwork, colouring competition, a Friday night concert, street procession, wood chop and market day and with guest artists represent the many different art fields. Making a return to the Festival on the Saturday was the Lithgow Highland Pipe band. The Lithgow Pipe band has been playing since 1913 and their ages range from 11 to70.  Also roving amongst the crowds on the Saturday were the amazing Glorious Sousaphonics, from Sydney, who played Balkan Brass, Brazilian Samba, New Orleans Jazz, both of the musical acts were real crowd pleasers!

On the Saturday evening a formal dinner is coordinated and awards are presented to a Queen or King named for the Festival and a Charity Queen or King is also named. This year Mr Chad White representing Rotary was named King and Ms Tara Anderson representing Lions was named Charity Queen for the Festival.

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This year the Festival Committee also awarded a statuette for Services to the Arts in the Weddin Shire, an award which has not been presented for over ten years. The festival committee agreed that the owners of the Grenfell Silos, Grenfell Commodities, who self-funded the Grenfell Silo Transformation should be awarded this prestige’s award. The statuette is a bronze sculpture depicting the Drovers Wife by Henry Lawson, and over the last 25 years it has been awarded to the winners of the verse, short story, art and photography competitions. The statuettes were designed and created by artist Michael Mandelc. The festival culminates in an annual car and vehicle show on the Sunday, attracting entries and visitors from all over the state.

The festival always has a different theme, inspired by one of Henry Lawson’s poems. This year’s theme was ‘Ode of Winter’ to celebrate the winter season.  Featuring at this year’s festival was the amazing 3-dimensional illusion chalk artist, Anton Pulvirenti, who painted a Blue snowman melting near a campfire on the footpath outside the visitor information centre in the main street. The image will remain for months for all to enjoy. Other special guest appearances for the weeklong festivities included local author, Inga Simpson (Nest, Mr Wigg, Understory and Where the Trees Were) and Australian children’s author, Tim Harris (Exploding Ends and Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables) who visited local schools on the Friday.

The Henry Lawson Festival of Arts is a regional community festival that offers something for everyone. It’s a drawcard event that evolves every year and strikes the right balance in remaining relevant by featuring different modern artists and dually honouring its roots by celebrating the vibrancy of the arts within the local community. It brings the community alive and it annually showcases the talent, stories, artistic activities and creativity that bubbles away all year round.