Public art transforms city arcade

One of Mount Gambier’s arcades has been transformed from a thoroughfare to a destination as the city’s newest public art project grabs the attention of CBD visitors.

Shine in the South East is a collaboration between arts students from Tenison Woods College and visual artists Justin and Aileen Clarke, who put the finishing touches on the Commerce Arcade mural last week.

From the first brushstroke in May, a steady stream of passers-by have been stopping to admire the artists at work and also, guess at the many local references hidden within the 20 metre-wide mural.

“You might spot some icons of our region in there – Glencoe’s famous ghost mushrooms, the ocean, stalactites from our caves,” Justin said.

“The students and I all had a big brainstorm session and what you see on the wall is from them. My job was just to collate it all and bring the concept together with colour.”

The city arcade was a focus of the City of Mount Gambier’s Creative Arts Fund, which awards funding to local artists to foster public arts projects.

Approached by Tenison to work with Year 10 arts students on the project, Justin said he “jumped at the chance” to transform the arcade.

Commerce Arcade is basically a walk-through to get you from the car park to the main street, a very bland space. Now when people walk through they’ve got a reason to walk a bit slower and have a look at something.”

Watching the students work with such enthusiasm has been a great experience, Justin said.

“The students are absolutely loving it,” he said. “They can’t wait to get a brush in their hand and get painting. They’re so excited and they’re doing a fantastic job.”

Producing a major arts project during a pandemic has demonstrated how creativity can have a positive impact on mental health, Justin said.

“Art is such a great way to express yourself – the creative arts have always been considered not as important as maths, science or English, but in today’s society, I feel it’s becoming more and more important.”

“As we’re becoming more and more knowledgeable around mental health, we’ve found out how art can be very important as a creative outlet for people.”

The husband and wife team have been responsible for multiple large-scale mural projects in both Victoria and South Australia, the most recent at Mount Gambier’s Marketplace.

Along with brightening up a once-bland space, Justin hopes the mural will create an attention-grabbing diversion from the everyday.

“There’s now a reason to walk through the arcade rather than it being a place to get from A to B,” he said.

“If someone were to pass by every day for two weeks, I hope they see something different each time and it puts a smile on their face.”

City of Mount Gambier Arts and Culture Development Officer Serena Wong, who coordinates the Creative Arts Fund, said the project was a great inspiration to any local artists who might be considering applying for the next round of funding.

“Justin’s mural is an outstanding example of how much a space can be improved with the right artwork,” she said.

“It makes me excited to see what projects will come to life when we launch the next round of the Creative Arts Fund, which will open for applications in coming months.”

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