Arakwal education leader Delta Kay (left) and artists Samantha Wortelhock and Charly Wrencher with Year 3-4 Coorabell PS students in front of their Creating Community murals.
Arakwal education leader Delta Kay (left) and artists Samantha Wortelhock and Charly Wrencher with Year 3-4 Coorabell PS students in front of their Creating Community murals.

Art students create a community

Students at Coorabell, Durrumbul and Cabbage Tree Island public schools took up their pastels and paintbrushes for a final time recently as their work on the highly successful Creating Community project drew to a close.

Over two months, children from Years 3-4 and 5-6 have been developing advanced conceptual and technical creative art skills under the tuition of two renowned local artists, Samantha Wortelhock and Charly Wrencher, as part of the jointly-funded Creative Education Partnerships: Artists in Schools (NSW) program.

Led by Coorabell Public School, the schools were one of 12 in the state to receive around $10,000 funding from the Arts Council and the Department of Education for the program.

“We have a dynamic and high-quality creative arts program operating at our school which is taught by our wonderful teacher, Sam van der Toorn,” Coorabell Public School principal Susie Boyle said.

“However, we also live in an amazingly creative area and we wanted to complement our in-school program via access to local professional artists and our neighbouring schools so the students could make connections back to the real world and broaden their understanding of art.”

Artist Samantha Wortelhock said the project aimed to teach children about aspects of the traditional indigenous, contemporary and futuristic models of community.

“To do this successfully we needed to work with indigenous children, so we partnered with Cabbage Tree Island School and Durrumbul Public School, and all the kids had to work together in their own community project, painting co-operatively and harmoniously on one canvas per school class.

“We asked the students to choose their favourite elements and create their ultimate community on the canvas.”

As a result, the three schools have produced five very different 2x1.5m mural-sized canvases which will be exhibited at Ballina’s Community Gallery from February 9 until March 6 next year.

As part of the project, the schools’ students also worked with Arakwal education leader Delta Kay on their interpretation of the Dolphin Dreaming story, which will be made into digital art books and launched at the exhibition.

“Getting the okay to publish this indigenous oral history was a big deal. We’ve been really privileged to have had Delta’s involvement in this critical aspect of the project – Delta has trusted us with her story and we have all honoured that trust. That fact alone is an important example to the students,”

“It has been such an amazing and powerful project for everyone involved. It has helped to de-mystify and create awareness of cultural difference, has taught the kids sophisticated technical and conceptual art skills and has brought them together to listen to each other’s ideas,” Ms Wortelhock  said.

“The murals really tell an intriguing story because each school has such different interpretations of the concept of their own community – it’s been a fascinating and touching journey.”

Charly Wrencher said he was inspired by the way the three schools worked together on the project. “It has honestly been really harmonious – the kids have shared really well and I don’t think there’s been one argument,” he said.

As well as being a fantastic opportunity for the students, the Artists in Schools program provides much-needed part-time employment for professional artists.

“The grant required two practising artists and Charly Wrencher and myself both have children at Coorabell and had both been involved in various things at the school over the years,” Ms Wortlehock said.

“Charly is a brilliant art technician, whereas I am self-taught, so he brought the essential learning of art technique to the project and did it in an entertaining, memorable and effective way.”

Samantha Wortelhock and Charly Wrencher will run art classes for primary school children during the Christmas holidays and after school in the new year at the Coorabell Hall. Classes are running on January 10, 11, 17 and 18 from 9am until 3pm, with morning and afternoon tea and materials provided for $60 a day. Call 0431 258 547.

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