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Natasha Edwards and Ruth Della

5 minutes with the co-founders of SWELL Sculpture Festival.

It’s one of the Gold Coast’s most loved art and cultural festivals and, as of September 8th, SWELL Sculpture Festival is back on beautiful Currumbin Beach for the fifteenth year running.

We take five with co-founders Natasha and Ruth to chat about the festival’s growth (it’s expected to attracted 275,000 visitors this year) and the pairs passion for the Coast’s local art scene.

How long have you been Gold Coast locals? 
NE: My family moved from Melbourne to Currumbin when I was 16, and I stood on Currumbin Beach and knew this is where I wanted to live my life. I finished my studies at Palm Beach Currumbin High.

RD: After finishing school in Brisbane I moved to the Gold Coast to study when I was 19 and from that time I have been enjoying our wonderful lifestyle ever since.

What do you love most about raising your families here?
NE: Families have access to a great range of engaging cultural events and outdoor festivals nearly every weekend. These are places to be together and make special memories. With the beaches, the green spaces and the beautiful weather, it is a very social lifestyle and I have formed some wonderful friendships with other mums and families over the years since my kids were very young.

RD: There is such a wonderful diversity of outdoor activities for families to enjoy on the Gold Coast. A typical Saturday for my kids might be to spend the morning on patrol at Coolangatta Surf Club and then head to Pony Club for a ride – all in the space of 5km! The coast offers the best of country living by the beach all with cultural opportunities you would expect bringing kids up in the city.

What did you hope to bring to the Coast when you first began imagining the SWELL Sculpture Festival?
NE: SWELL stemmed from a desire to get art out there – to make it accessible to everyone on the Gold Coast and at the same time to provide a platform for emerging artists to display their works in a public place and be part of a movement that would support their creativity.

RD: The Coast has always been rich in cultural heritage, but there was a thirst for more. SWELL quenches that thirst. My involvement, first as a committee member and then taking on the role of creative director, was an incredible opportunity to be part of the cultural growth and transformation that had been sparked in the region.

How did you make it happen?
NE: We were fearless and passionate and dedicated to realising our vision of a free, outdoor sculpture exhibition on our beloved Currumbin Beach. It was hard work from the start and it began with doing the legwork; visiting studios and meeting with local artists to get the community on board with what we wanted to create. It was a huge undertaking but we thrive on overwhelming community support and a team of creative and passionate people.

RD: Bringing SWELL to life every year is truly an incredible task, but every year we build on the event’s success and adapt to our growth, remaining true to the goal of respecting and nurturing the creative vision of the artists.

2017 marks the fifteenth year of SWELL, how has it grown over the years?
NE: SWELL began life as a weekend exhibition of 23 sculptures in September 2003, which attracted about 6,000 visitors. This year, we have 50 sculptures and we are expecting some 275,000 people to come and experience what we have created over the ten days.

Reflecting on those statistics it’s a realisation of how far we have come, but of course SWELL was never about the numbers.  SWELL has maintained its roots in the Currumbin community, but is now regarded as a world-class sculpture exhibition. It has become an annual ritual for our community and facilitated rich shared conversation as our artists reflect on our past, our present and our future in an accessible and engaging way.

Every year, new and enriching experiences become part of the event, which for local artists is now an established medium by which they can express and connect with a large audience through sculpture, showcasing their work to the world.

RD: SWELL has grown into a festival that is no longer exclusively sculpture based, while remaining true to its driving goal of connecting people, art and place. Each year, we are developing new ways to merge creative disciplines to deliver an enhanced experience, bringing together sculpture, projection, music, performance, and movement. SWELL has grown into Queensland’s largest barefoot gallery, an event of significance to the city’s art portfolio but, most importantly, one that is integral to our hearts and our imaginations.

Do you have a favourite aspect of the festival personally?
NE: I still have the passion and drive I had at the beginning, and that is fed by the organic energy of the event, absorbing the ways people engage with the sculptures and create their own experience. I love meeting with the artists and learning about their journeys leading up to SWELL. And then, of course, walking through the sculptures and observing SWELL and the unique life it takes on every year after so many months of planning.

RD: I am inspired by art and culture in every aspect of my life, so for me the most rewarding part is talking with the artists about their ideas and how they have developed their art practice. It is a privilege to work with these creative and talented people and to gain some insight into their triumphs, fears and sorrows and how these have informed their work. And then, from the perspective of the cultural consumer, I relish seeing people’s reaction as SWELL is unveiled to the public each year. It doesn’t matter what people think of the particular sculptures; for me that shared conversation is the goal in itself. 

Tell us about the art classes and workshops available for 2017?

RD: Visitors will discover a full program of workshops and masterclasses including Plein Air Painting with Seabastion Toast, Life Drawing with Rebecca Cunningham, Life Sculpting with Philip Piperides, and kids’ workshops with artist Velvet Pesu. SWELL also hosts diverse activities like guided twilight walks, daily pop-up artist talks, beach yoga and nature play classes led by the City of Gold Coast’s Active & Healthy Lifestyle program.

How have you seen the Coast’s cultural scene change over the years?
NE: The Gold Coast has a great culture of entrepreneurialism and creativity. It is a potent mix that sees people pursue their passions on a big scale, resulting in a thriving visual arts, music and performing arts industry full of opportunities for those who seek them out.

We are a city that has retained its sense of community and that has seen the emergence of amazing grass roots initiatives and collaborations between local artists, contributing to the evolving cultural landscape of the Gold Coast.

RD: The Gold Coast has, and always will have, a unique and varied culture that sustains urban, beach and hinterland life. Common themes within these sub-cultures are a connection to nature, and a commitment to nurturing and supporting the arts.

What can we expect for this years festival?
NE: SWELL presents a contemporary open-air gallery of 50 thought-provoking works created by local, Australian and international artists. The sculptural landscape is complemented by a festival atmosphere of entertainment and activities, including live music at SWELL Sounds, sumptuous food on The Green, masterclasses and kids’ workshops. Our program in 2017 is especially targeted at finding the artist within. We have also uncovered new musicians as SWELL Sounds takes on a bigger profile this year. Overall, we expect to forge a thousand new memories as people converge on the sands during the ten days of SWELL.

What’s the best piece of life advice you’ve ever receieved?
NE: Never lose sight of the essence of what you are trying to achieve, and allow that to inspire you to take a calculated leap of faith.

RD: Remain true to yourself as this is what drives your success and inspires others. Take the time to celebrate these successes, and don’t sweat the small stuff along the way.

Being Gold Coast local we have to ask your favourites on the Coast…
NE and RD:

Café: Dust Temple
Beach: Currumbin Beach
Weekend hangout spot: During SWELL – Waikiki House on Currumbin Beach

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