Local Insights – Toowoomba, QLD
Toowoomba is located 125 km west of Brisbane in the Darling Downs region of southern Queensland. It’s traditional owners are the Barunggam people. Known as Queensland’s Garden City, Toowoomba’s cultural identity derives as much from the street art, museums, galleries, wineries and festivals that make it a must stop for many visitors as it does from its abundant parks and natural beauty. It is clear from the responses below that Toowoomba is home to a resilient creative cohort who are dedicated to their community.
RAA: What do you miss?
Alex Stalling (artist and founder of Tinker Art): Since the global COVID crisis happened I immediately felt the loss of public gathering and event spaces both as an artist and a mother. My children experienced this too with no prompting. Often desperately asking to simply go somewhere, ‘can we go to gallery, an event or some kind of workshop?’
Nicole Haeusler (Emerging Theatre Practitioner): I miss the feeling of a packed theatre foyer before a show. Of our audiences and communities coming together to listen to stories in a darkened room. I miss the challenge of a rehearsal room to solve problems on time-tight schedules, money-tight budgets, and energy-tight resources. But I know that this isn’t the first time our arts industry has had to survive “unprecedented times”, and that it’s taken strong and devoted people to achieve that. We’re not short on strength or devotion in Toowoomba, and I know we’ll be able to survive these times too.
RAA: What do you need?
Alex Stalling: The COVID crisis has left the Arts in a tailspin and as an independent artist who runs a workshop studio, works on community collaboration projects and my own artistic practice I myself still don’t know what post-COVID looks like. … I wish I could say definitively ‘this is what I/we need’ but I am still scrambling from the stress of pivoting from COVID to even plan what’s next. The short is we need support in many forms. Support to navigate this new normal, financial support to pick up the pieces, and opportunities for many artists to develop their skills through professional development opportunities.
Nicole Haeusler: Opportunities and funding, advocates and champions, mentorship and support. Having to work as an emerging artist during a global pandemic has demanded resilience, innovation, and problem solving in our craft, our work, and our spirits. As restrictions ease, we need to put on shows and offer chances for our communities to reconnect with storytelling, so we’re working hard to keep our rehearsal practices and performance spaces safe for artists and audiences alike.
RAA: What does a vibrant cultural landscape in your region of Australia look like?
Alex Stalling: Toowoomba is built on grass-roots activities from individuals and collectives. Over the last decade there has been a real shift from artists working and showcasing their practice in small rooms often only known by the creative networks to now large-scale public opportunities, community collaboration and extending to the not just artists crowd. We are still learning and growing as community as to what our cultural landscape looks like with a desire to nurture meaningful inclusivity and sustainable projects.
Nicole Haeusler: A vibrant cultural landscape in my region looks like a healthy community, where different perspectives are valued and different voices are heard. That means we see young people take centre stage, diverse stories being shared on their own terms, emerging artists supported, and audiences seeing themselves reflected in the art being made in our area. We all have a lot of work to do before all those words are bridged with actions, but as our community spaces begin to re-open, we can start to share new narratives and shape the world we want to live in together after spending so much time apart.
Pictured above: Empire Theatre Homegrown Season Production of ‘Almost, Maine.’ Emerging Actor Ashlynn Parigi (pictured on the left) and Emerging Actor Wren Condren (pictured on the right), directed by Scott Alderdice and Assistant Directed by Nicole Haeusler. Rehearsing in the Empire Theatre’s church vestry in line with COVID-19 Safe Plans, to be performed on the Empire’s mainstage at the end of July as part of the first handful of local shows being shared at the theatre after months of being closed.