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Dress the Central West – telling the region's stories with wearable art

Central West residents and artists create works of beauty while connecting and celebrating regional communities

What

Dress the Central West, a large-scale creative wearable art project, was developed by Red Ridge to unite isolated drought-affected communities and celebrate regional culture.

Red Ridge, in partnership with Central West Hospital and Health Service, worked with people in Winton, Barcaldine, Longreach and Blackall to create 32 pieces of wearable art presented in Blackall and Longreach in May and June 2019.

Brisbane-based wearable art designer Claudia Williams from Llani Creative led the workshops, in which 70 participants used locally sourced and recycled materials to create fashions that represented aspects of their towns’ cultures and stories.

Mental health and community support were integrated into the workshops, with spokespeople from Queensland Health's Tackling Regional Adversity Through Integrated Care program delivering audience-tailored talks across the community workshops.

The two fashion performances in Blackall and Longreach involved local models, hairdressers, make-up artists, the Blackall School of Dance and Longreach School of Dance.

Dress the Central West was a collaboration between Regional Arts Services Network (RASN) service provider Red Ridge (Interior Queensland), Central West Hospital and Health Service, Blackall-Tambo Neighbourhood Centre, Central West Aboriginal Corporation and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) through the Tackling Tough Times Together program. 

 

 

When and where

November 2018 to June 2019 in Barcaldine, Blackall, Longreach and Winton.

 

Key stats

  • 14 makeup artists and hair stylists
  • 34 models
  • 34 youth dancers from the Blackall School of Dance and Longreach School of Dance
  • 35 garments made
  • 70 workshop participants
  • 450 audience members

 

Investment 

Dress the Central West was supported by the RASN Western Queensland service provider, Red Ridge.

RASN is an initiative of the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. The Queensland Government committed $6.5 million to RASN from 2017-18 to 2020-21 to build capacity, support collaboration, and leverage the value of the arts to achieve social and economic outcomes.

Dress the Central West also received funding from the FRRR Tackling Tough Times Together program, which helps communities access resources to support one another through the ongoing effects of the drought.

 

Outcomes

  • Workshops and performances brought community members together supporting social connection.

“I just needed an out from the daily grind of living through the drought, the monotonous load of caring for our property's stock and my family.” – Workshop participant

"I just fell in love with the project, amazed at what 'us' as a community were creating, and just wanted to keep coming along." – Workshop participant

“This project was therapeutic and working on my design took my mind away from the daily grind and the stressors of work life and the drought. I found confidence I never believed I had, and I gained such pride and enjoyment from being a part of the production. It has encouraged me to be more innovative and creative in my daily practices and proud of my community. I am just so glad I participated!” – Workshop participant

“Attending the workshop has given me connections to the wider community in the Central West and definitely gained more friends.” – Workshop participant

“Making new networks. Making new friends. Knowing people enjoyed the show gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Great project for small county town that hasn’t thought BIG before or hasn’t had anything that big before. Puts the town on the map.” – Model

  • Integration of mental health services with workshops increased awareness of the health services in the region. The project was a perfect exemplar of how arts can help people with health and wellbeing. A dress was made from Beyond Blue brochures and was a showcase garment. 
  • Local makeup artists and hair stylists were trained in avant-garde makeup, design and hair styling. These new skills will enable local practitioners to be involved in creative opportunities in the future.
  • Dance students in Longreach and Blackall had an opportunity to perform in front of large audiences. For Blackall School of Dance, the performance was the second opportunity to perform together as a dance school.

Outback Wedding Gown

 

“Salvaged from the dump, I was given the Top Country bulka feed bags from Forest Park Santa Gertrudis Stud. Dirty and still containing feed remnants, first job was to gurney them! A tetanus shot and many hours later, the bags had to be un-picked, cut, washed some more, Napisan-ed, sewed, ironed, zippy tied and hot-glued. Under Claudia’s guidance and with the help of fellow local creators, along with additional assistance from the Lost Arts team and Scobie Saddlery, the Outback Wedding -Gown came to life.

The flowers on the bodice and headpiece are made from the tops and bottoms of the bags and have been hot-glued in place. The skirt was created from the belly of the feed bag and the handles from the bags have been sewn to create the belt and bow. The narrow tapes top and bottom of the feed bags have been used to lace up the back of the bodice and skirt. The large flowers on the skirt are also made from the main belly of the bulka bag.” – Virgina Wacker

 

 

Learnings and reflections

"In Winton, we focused on the environment, community, landscape and animals from around the area. From crop tops and skirts inspired by sheep to snakes and bird-inspired fashion created from twigs, there are some amazing pieces coming from these regional towns." – Claudia Williams, art designer, Dress the Central West

"This project has gone way beyond just creating wearable art – it has brought our communities together, inspired creativeness, innovation and meshed together the vibrancy, uniqueness, resilience and available support mechanisms as a community collective to deal with the strains of the long impacting drought that has burdened our local communities." – Andrew Martin, Red Ridge Chairman

 

Tips for others

Follow an organic process and allow the leadership to come from within along with the guidance and skills from a creative director.  

A co-design process with service providers in the beginning incubated the initial project, which was allowed to grow as the community energy built.  

 

What next?

Dress the Central West has been the first of many multi-art projects planned for the Central West Queensland region through RASN.

It is followed by Trailblazing the West, which is transforming water tanks into public art in nine locations: Mount Isa, Dajarra, Richmond, Windorah, Jundah, Stonehenge, Augathella, Charleville and Cunnamulla.
 

 

 

Find out more

Red Ridge – Dress the Central West

Regional Arts Service Network web page

A pdf version of this case study is available here.