Case Studies Weaving Stories | RAF Case Study (2019)


After a four-week residency in Lobethal, Vic McEwan from the Cad Factory created a performative installation sharing the stories of the people who made the famous Onkaparinga blankets. Dramatic, large-scale projections, performances and installations presented the experiences of former workers and celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Onkaparinga Mill.

A Community Grant recipient, via the Regional Arts Fund, as managed by Country Arts SA.

Adelaide Hills Council has committed to developing an Arts and Heritage Hub on the site of the former Onkaparinga Woollen Mill in Lobethal. The Hub is called Fabrik and is set in the striking industrial buildings of the former Onkaparinga Woollen Mill. Their visions for the future include gallery spaces, artist studios, workshops, artists in residence, a retail store and a heritage display celebrating the history of the Mill.

This project aimed to facilitate meaningful engagement with the community by connecting with a significant theme and by activating the Mill’s heritage space. As one of the first major projects since Fabrik was announced, Weaving Stories aimed to demonstrate ways artists will be at the centre of Fabrik’s activities and development, working across disciplines, providing high level outcomes and engaging closely with community issues, even difficult ones.

The Mill has been a part of the Lobethal community since 1869. It closed in 1993, yet emotions regarding the Mill still run high today, suggesting the shock of its forced closure is still a live issue for many former workers. Vic McEwan has significant experience engaging sensitively and deeply with communities and their histories, and previous projects demonstrate his ability to give expression to experiences and issues that can be difficult for communities to voice.

Vic undertook a four-week residency in Lobethal between March and May 2019. During this time Vic connected with former workers from the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill and recorded recollections of their time there. These stories were combined with historic and contemporary photographs and developed into video projections. Vic then produced a one-hour performative installation that was presented two nights a week throughout May, as part of the South Australian History Festival. The performance took visitors around the Mill's heritage industrial precinct (indoors and outdoors) and included large scale projections, sound installations, performances by local artists and opportunities for audience participation.

Vic's gentle approach meant that individuals who may have been resistant to being involved instead felt valued. People offered connections, suggestions, objects and involvement. Vic's method of working fluidly, without fixed outcomes, meant that lovely initiatives (such as dancing the Military Two Step) could emerge. This community involvement became a great strength of the project, contributing to a sense of pride, and a growing awareness of the project through the community. Despite the winter temperatures, attendance was strong, with the smallest audiences consisting of around 30 people, and bigger nights hosting up to 70 people.

The public showing of these stories was a powerful experience for viewers, contributing to community pride and a sense that the stories of former Mill workers are respected and celebrated. With its use of spectacle and scale, the project introduced the community to the potential of the arts for interpreting and presenting historical themes.

Impacts:

  • A high quality arts event that involved community members in a genuine and meaningful exchange
  • Increased engagement with local audiences, many of whom do not consider themselves arts audiences
  • Connections made with former Mill workers, now supporting the redevelopment of the space
  • A team of local volunteers who worked on the project are now engaged with the redevelopment
  • Upskilling two local mentees in technical and production skills, building the local community skill base
  • Digitisation of community-owned paintings and images of the Mill

Applicant location: Lobethal, SA
Project Location: Lobethal, SA
Amount of RAF support: $15,475.00
Total project cost: $52,626.00

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Weaving stories Adrian with blanket
Weaving Stories installation - Adrian with blanket. Photographer: Sam Oster