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FEATURE ARTICLE: Art Program Brings Joy to Bushfire-Affected Communities

The anticipation of playing with clay inevitably sparks jokes about Patrick Swayze’s character in the iconic movie Ghost, and peals of laughter can be heard streaming from the Cann River Community Centre.  It’s a far cry from the previous two years, when the community centre was at times silent and desolate, with the community isolated and disconnected – firstly by the devastating bushfires and flooding, and then compounded by the Covid pandemic and multiple lockdowns.

Reclink art classes in the Far East Gippsland communities of Cann River and Mallacoota are bringing people back together to find joy and reconnection through recreational activities.

Reclink’s Art Explorations is a free weekly program designed to engage participants in a variety of mediums, styles and techniques, including painting with water colours, ceramics, and weaving.

Participant *Emily says she desperately needed an outlet after the bushfires and Covid, and the art classes were the perfect fit.

“The company and “chit chat” has been missing throughout Covid. During these art classes I feel spoilt,” she said.

Cann River Community Centre’s Kellie-Anne says the chance to form new friendships is a wonderful outcome of the Reclink program.

“I haven't played with clay since I was a youngster and my attempts show that we are in it for the joy of creating, and also chatting and forming new friendships,” she said.

Reclink Arts Coordinator Sabine Amos runs the weekly sessions in Mallacoota and Cann River and says she is amazed at her participants’ willingness to have a go.

“There’s a sense of excitement and some nerves when participants of the art program first attend,” Sabine said.

“The Art Explorations program is about providing a welcoming and safe space for people to try out different art mediums and connect with fellow community members. It doesn’t take long for art to work its magic. No matter the medium, it invites people in to explore what seems unreachable and before long it takes everyone in and holds them while they create the most amazing pieces of art.”

Participant *Amanda says the classes enable her to take time away with others and do something peaceful and enjoyable.

Sabine creates a space for us to explore our talents and guides us with some really great art tips. I’m finding out I could do things I never thought possible, and meeting new people is a highlight for me,” she said.

Reclink focuses on providing sports and recreational opportunities for social connection and inclusion, and the arts programs in East Gippsland are enabling people to find joy in new ways.

“I would like to thank Reclink for offering multiple weekly art classes in Mallacoota over the past year, and providing the local community with an alternative avenue to outdoor activities for coming together to connect and heal,” participant *Kara said. “Reclink’s generosity in providing all the materials required for pursuing this art course is greatly appreciated as it has made it possible for people from all backgrounds to participate and experience the benefit that creative expression brings. Being able to re-discover, explore and release my creativity alongside others has been very therapeutic and fun.”

Sabine also facilitates a program called Afternoon Art – which encourages children from Cann River and districts to have fun with art.

The children enjoy spending time together not in a school setting and are always willing to have a go at the activities, she says.

“When the children make the short walk across to the Community Hall from school, they seem to let go of the day and happily take hold of the brushes, pastels and pens and let out the creations they hold inside,” Sabine said.

“They bring forth the loveliest artistic expressions and come back to the here and now – it’s what Reclink is all about… providing a space where people can relax, connect and find different ways to improve how they feel.”

Reclink hosted an art exhibition to celebrate the children’s hard work, with children excited to invite extended family, caregivers and community members to see their creative pieces on display. 

Reclink is grateful for the support of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing for this program’s success.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Article: Callista Cooper.

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