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Regional Art Stories Muwerang Mosaic Project

Muwerang Mosaic Project: Navigating Community Consultation during Covid-19

Regional Arts Australia: How did this project begin?

Muwerang Mosaic Project: The community approached The City of Victor Harbor and requested some artwork be put on the Bay Road Bridge. The Bay Road Bridge is a 36 meter long x 1 meter high balustrade wall along the edge of the Inman River (Muwerang). The wall is low to the ground, close to the road and prone to graffiti. After investigation and consultation it was decided that this project would best suit mosaics due to its location. Local Ngarrindjeri elders Aunty Phyllis Williams and Aunty Leonie Williams requested that the artwork has connections to the camp ground, the river and its native flora and fauna.

Local artists Mike Tye and Cedric Varcoe have been identified by the City of Victor Harbor Arts and Cultural Advisory Group as the most appropriate artists to work with the community on this large scale mosaic project. Mike has extensive experience in large scale community public mosaic projects, while local Ngarrindjeri artist Cedric Varcoe's work is very well known and loved by this community. The pair have a successful history of working together on previous community mosaic projects. Both Cedric and Mike are very excited at the potential this project has for developing a large scale high quality public artwork that is created through the development of the communities’ cultural awareness and skills development.

RAA: What values underpin your collaboration?

MMP: The main value that underpins Cedric and Mike’s collaborative approach is a willing and open exchange of knowledge. This includes the sharing of culture, their general approach to their arts practice and the specific skills each of them bring. Mike and Cedric also value how their collaborations help to expand their experience and potential networks. Both artists are strongly connected to their communities. They value sharing and developing cultural understanding and skills within the community, and this value underpins how they approach and develop all their collaborative projects.

RAA: When dreaming up a public art work how do you balance competing community needs while also maintaining your vision as artists?

MMP: It’s important that community members feel heard and that their vision for the project is taken into account. This takes a lot of listening along with asking specific and direct questions to get to the core of what the community wants. Combining multiple ideas in a way that works with our combined artistic approach can be a challenge. It isn’t always easy, or possible to meet everyone’s desire for a project, however we do our best to capture the core or essence of what the community is asking for.

RAA: Why is it important that Ngarrindjeri and Ramindjeri people's connection to the Inman River—Muwerang are expressed publicly?

MMP: This is a highly visible piece of infrastructure in this community and is very close to Kent Reserve. The Inman River runs along the Bay Road and then turns SE to run out into the sea. The reserve that lays next to this inlet is Kent Reserve—Muwerang—is the site of the last known camp ground of the Ramindjeri people (A clan of the Ngarrindjeri nation). Local Ngarrindjeri elders Aunty Phyllis Williams and Aunty Leonie Williams requested that the artwork connects to the camp ground, the river and its native flora and fauna. The artwork will be created through consultation with Ngarrindjeri and Ramindjeri Elders and the community. There isn’t a great deal of art in Victor Harbor that celebrates our First Nation's connection to country. The location of this wall has provided a perfect canvas for this to occur.

RAA: Has the impact of Covid-19 made you alter your plans or way of working within a community? If so how?

MMP: We had planned a number of large events between April—June to begin the community and cultural engagement elements of this project. Due to Covid-19 restrictions all these events were cancelled.

In April Country Arts SA Drawing on Country program was to be held at Kent Reserve, Victor Harbor. This day was to be facilitated by Mike Tye and Cedric Varcoe. The Ramindjeri Heritage Association had agreed to share their culture, history and Dreaming of this area.

In May the Ramindjeri Heritage Association were planning to for a spiritual gathering at Muwerang, Mum:Mo:Wee Yande Wirikar (meaning Old Friends Gathering). All community members and involved project participants were to be invited to this.

During June the City of Victor Habor’s Coral Street Art Space had programmed: Our Place ‘Muwerang’ – to celebrate Reconciliation and NAIDOC Week. Had this gone ahead the program would have involved artwork and cultural artefacts sourced in consultation with Ngarrindjeri artists and elders and the Ramindjeri Heritage Association. Ngarrindjeri language workshops were planned and Cedric Varcoe and Mike Tye would offer introductory workshops and demonstrations to the community in painting, weaving and mosaics.

We have now reduced our consultations down to two small meetings with key identified community members and elders. A number of community members have not been able, due to health, to attend these socially distanced meetings and so we have had a number of zoom and phone calls as well throughout this process.

Cedric and Mike are now taking the information gathered from these meetings to construct the design during August and September.

The mosaic application was planned to occur with large groups of community members meeting in various locations. We are working with these identified community groups, and are hoping to begin in mid-October. Obviously we are moving cautiously as restrictions are constantly changing. The planned group sizes are likely to be reduced to only 10 people per group and this may impact how long the work will take to put together.

Muwerang Mosaic Project has been supported by the Australian Government's Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts South Australia.

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