Painting together

How Georgia Mansur began teaching workshops in Australia, helping to form a new community through the creative arts.

BY GEORGIA MANSUR
Learn how to paint landscapes with Georgia in person at the 9th Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo!

It all began eight years ago when I was a speaker at the National Rural Women’s Conference in the capital of Australia, Canberra. A Canberra solicitor, Nena Hicks, attended my presentation and found my words resonated deeply.

Nena had recently moved back to the bush to take over the family cattle business upon her father’s ill health but was really struggling with the isolation and lack of community in her small village of Nowendoc.

My story of moving from California to Australia, living in the Outback on a family farm, yet managing to carve out an international teaching career in painting with passion, making it work for my circumstances, had Nena intrigued.

After the presentation, Nena introduced herself and asked if I would be interested in doing some community building, teaching in Nowendoc to bring the people together through the fun and challenge of art.

Since I had been on the other side of the fence myself, hungering for creative stimulation and companionship, I thought it was a fabulous idea and put together an art workshop program that brought people together to paint and enjoy each other’s company regularly in Nowendoc.

We have never looked back. It has been the most successful, fun, and life-affirming experience. It has also been a boost to the community spirit, and many of the students are now winning prizes and exhibiting their work outside of the area.

It gives me so much joy to come back every year and see the progress, growth, and confidence these lovely and talented folks get from the small seed we planted.

 

The community of Nowendoc has embraced the arts as a point of connection with Nena, organising more events like jazz and Shakespeare performances that are bringing people together and giving them more possibilities to feel connected to each other — something so vital to isolated people living on farms that may otherwise struggle to feel like they belong — to lead a well-balanced life instead of just work, work, work all the time. Farm life is challenging enough, and not just for the farmers. The people who support them need this connection too — police, teachers, housewives, carers, doctors, nurses, etc. are starting to see the huge benefits that create a ripple effect in community spirit.

This is an opportunity for people to share their experiences and make sense of the drought, fires, dust storms, and plagues that threaten their livelihoods. The recent fires and the danger of losing their farms, animals, and homes was all very fresh in their minds, and the workshops were a chance to talk about and express themselves creatively with the trauma they have been through. The recent two weeks of steady rain turned their world around, making everything green and full of optimism once again.

In the workshops, I demonstrate and guide each student through the painting process, letting them choose what they want to paint, yet allowing them their individual artistic expression and problem-solving journeys.

Exploring their world in a parallel universe in paint gives them a chance to gain greater perspective and objectivity about their lives and why they choose to do what they do. Each person has their own experiences and life to draw inspiration from, yet collectively they have so much in common. Their feelings are validated and explored on a level more deeply than with words alone. Many find it a healing experience and are thankful for what they have lived through.

There are smiles and laughter amongst the group even when the rain is pouring down, keeping them from painting en plein air. One of the students offers their property to paint, as they have a wonderful glassed-in sunroom with expansive views and enough space to accommodate everyone.

The wonderful thing about living on the land is that the people have a real passion for it, and learning the ability to express this relationship to the landscape in which they live is a challenge but also very satisfying to see their new-found skills. One woman stated that it was exhilarating to see a landscape develop through the stages from a blank canvas and felt it was a bit like magic! And let’s face it, we all need a bit more “magic” in our lives.

Connect with Georgia Mansur at www.georgiamansur.com.


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