At Fabrik, we believe the arts are an essential part of life. As an arts organisation nestled within a regional community, are continually asking “what difference can the arts make here?” When our community faces challenges, these questions carry a sense of urgency.
Introducing creative arts-led recovery projects in disaster-affected communities does not involve simply bringing a band into town, or encouraging people to participate in a sing-along to cheer them up. It is not about ignoring the monumental challenges of rebuilding homes, getting essential services reconnected and securing a roof over the heads of community members. Arts-led projects can be a powerful tool as part of the recovery process, when the basic essentials of food and shelter have been secured and communities are scrabbling to try to reconnect, reflect on what has happened, and express what they have been through in ways that sometimes words cannot do alone.
On the 20th December 2019, a fire started in nearby Cudlee Creek, racing through our part of the Adelaide Hills. Over 25,000 hectares of the district was burned, causing the loss of over 80 homes, as well as livestock, outbuildings, vehicles and other property. Fabrik (and the entire woollen mill complex) was metres from the fire front, with the flames coming to one side of Mill Rd, held back only by the work of local and metropolitan fire services.
In the weeks after the fire, Fabrik offered its main exhibition space – Building 20 – to house the government-run Bushfire Recovery Centre. Our feeling was, if we can’t be here for our community during this time, when will we be? Working with the Centre’s staff, Fabrik volunteers and South Australian artists, we explored ways that the arts could create a welcoming atmosphere for people who had experienced loss, including artworks, plants and fresh flowers in amongst the fantastic range of services offered by the Centre.
One of the impulses we observed after the fires was the need to gather – from small groups offering solace and support through to large events that provided the opportunity to connect, grieve and give hope. Fabrik collaborated with a number of individuals and businesses to provide a range of responses including:
• Art workshops by Lobethal artist Anne Griffiths for local adults and children
• An art journaling support group
• Space for young local women to gather to make quilts for their neighbours
• ReGathered Design Market and fundraising event
• Adelaide Fringe Festival exhibition Solastalgia: An Antidote
Our community is now finding its way towards recovery and Fabrik is exploring ways that creative practice can assist in this journey.
In this webinar about Bushfire Recovery during COVID-19, psychologist Rob Gordon describes ways that disasters interfere with the social structures we take for granted: our routines, our roles and our means of connection and communication. The restrictions during COVID-19 have added another layer to this disruption, making it even more difficult for community members to connect and support each other.
“After disasters we need social structures to bring different groups together so they can support each other and tell their stories . . . this ability to bring in measured and thoughtful communication is all important to the developing recovery process.” Rob Gordon
Our community is well equipped to develop the social structures it needs for recovery and Fabrik is exploring ways that we, too, can be a part of this process. As restrictions on gatherings lift, we are exploring ways that we can gather again and bring the arts – the storytelling, the creative expression, the celebration – into our lives as we move forward.