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PUNQ festival celebrates visual and performance artists of North Queensland

The 2021 Pop Up North Queensland festival was focused on highlighting Country.



The biennial Pop Up North Queensland (PUNQ) festival, hosted by Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts, commissions new work in North Queensland.  In 2021, PUNQ’s focus was on highlighting Country with the theme of “place”.

Taking place from Wulgurukaba and Bindal Country (Townsville) to Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), Gudjal Country (Charters Towers) and Warrgamay Country (Hinchinbrook), PUNQ 2021 demonstrated the wide variety of arts and cultural experiences on offer in North Queensland.

PUNQ is a burst of creativity across the region, offering exhibitions, installations, performances and workshops presented in partnership with local arts and cultural organisations.

The 2021 program celebrated and illuminated places and histories through the eyes of the region’s creatives and Cultural peoples. 

In Townsville alone, there were more than 20 pop-up art experiences over ten days with activities such as pottery, fashion, painting, drawing, music, photography, digital projection, large-scale installations, jewellery, textiles and printmaking 

Wulgurukaba Traditional Owner Brenton Creed welcomed audiences to Country and Wulgurukaba Walkabout performed a smoking ceremony, followed by songs and dances of their continuing Culture.

The Big Eye Arts & Culture Centre Manager Aunty Rosalind Sailor launched their PUNQ mural commission, One Journey: Many Stories, Many People, Many Places, which presented local histories from an Indigenous point of view.

The 11 major site-specific commissions were produced by established Australian artists were set in significant natural environments across the North Queensland region. David Rowe’s crop circles installation in the sugar cane fields of Ingham, Site #272, reimagined otherness and the alien through satirical devices. A ‘tin foil hat’ was mandatory to enter the work and defend against ‘thought excavation’. 

Jill Chism’s meditative salt printing direct on the Pallarenda beach in Preserve/Conserve engaged audiences in local environmental challenges for the reef and its sealife inhabitants. 

Both Ways, a First Nations artists’ billboard exhibition connected our program on the mainland from Warrgamay, Nywaigi & Bandjin Country (Hinchinbrook) to Gudjal Country (Charters Towers) whilst illuminating often unheard stories of the Traditional Owners of Australia. 

On Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), Jenny Mulcahy invited us to explore the early quarantine history of the island in her immersive installation The Mark, while Jan Hynes’ Drop Bears offered a playful journey to spot mythological drop bears on the Forts Walk. 

On Gurambilbarra, Dancenorth asked festival goers to step into the unknown in their mysterious new site-specific performance World Interior. The iconic secret location was revealed to be a derelict Queenslander home and was a sell out season. The festival also included a new regional art trail partnering with arts organisation across North Queensland.



When and where

30 July to 8 August 2021

Taking place from Wulgurukaba and Bindal Country (Townsville) to Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), Gudjal Country (Charters Towers) and Warrgamay Country (Hinchinbrook)


Key stats

  • 997,663 total audience reach 
  • 235 events
  • 138 participating artists and organisations
  • 62% free programs
  • 683 tickets sold. 
  • 10 new public artworks commissioned
  • $801,760 – economic impact for Queensland
  • 4 regions
  • supported three emerging First Nations artists through the Emerging First Nations Artists Exhibition Program

Arts Queensland investment 

The Queensland Government provides $1,020,000 in funding to Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts through the Arts Queensland Organisations Fund 2022-2025.   

In 2021, Arts Queensland provided $250,000 through the Places and Spaces initiative, part of the Queensland Government’s Arts and Cultural Recovery Package, in support of Umbrella Studio’s Pop Up North Queensland Festival’s site specific commissioning program.




Drive social change and strengthen communities

PUNQ 2021 supported the creative recovery of Queensland’s arts sector with both economic  and social benefits for creatives and audiences alike during a challenging time.


Activate Queensland’s places and spaces

PUNQ 2021 celebrated the distinctive landscapes of North Queensland, inspiring cultural exchange and transforming perceptions, providing unique creative experiences for locals and visitors alike. 


Elevate First Nations arts

With a newly defined artistic vision, PUNQ presented an immersive journey across and upon Countries – including Wulgurukaba and Bindal Country (Townsville), Yunbenun (Magnetic Island), Warrgamay, Nywaigi & Bandjin Country (Hinchinbrook) and Gudjal Country (Charters Towers).

Through a partnership with the North Queensland Regional Art Services Network (NQ RASN) PUNQ created the Emerging First Nations Artists Exhibition Program which supported three emerging First Nations artists and two new neighbouring art centres to present new bodies of work. The artists were provided with professional development and capacity building from concept to exhibition installation, creating legacy outcomes for the artists and art centres.


Share our stories and celebrate our storytellers

Leading Queensland (QLD) and national contemporary artists and arts organisations were invited to choose a NQ site and engage with its histories, present and / or futures. This resulted in a truly unique, challenging, and sometimes playful program of work that drew audiences across the region to engage with ‘place’ in new ways.




(At) ‘PUNQ 2021’ there is a deliberate sense of commitment to honour and welcome First Nations and Australian collaborations to engage with the distinct landscapes of North Queensland and to ‘reimagine expectations, transform perceptions and provide unique creative experiences for locals and visitors alike. - Audience feedback

Pandemics aside, this biennial festival is without doubt its most ambitious thus far. While it was impossible to view and/or experience everything, what I did manage to see was interesting, unusual, and remarkable, and hats off to Umbrella for creating such an event by partnering with local arts and cultural organisations across the four locations in the region. - PUNQ Festival review by Trevor Keeling, ArtsHub, 12 Aug 2021

I loved the variety: local artist talent, Indigenous performers and art, free and affordable events, lots of locations, diversity, and the unusual. - Audience feedback

Different locations were the best. It was nice to travel and see the variety and get familiar with nature and the environment. - Audience feedback

It was great seeing the event expand to other regions! PUNQ is representing regional NQ in ameaningful way. -Audience feedback


Learnings and reflections

Delivering an arts festival amidst a global pandemic is no easy feat. Despite this, through the incredible work of our artistic collaborators and dedicated team, PUNQ matured and expanded its audiences in 2021. 

Our festival grew from a series of pop-up art spaces in the Gurambilbarra (Townsville) CBD, in previous iterations, to a North Queensland (NQ) wide dynamic visual and performance art festival. 

The COVID pandemic inevitably had an impact on the festival. With the QLD borders closing a few weeks out from the festival and a three-day lockdown for the larger Townville LGA, confidence in interstate and intrastate tourism dwindled. Our ambitions for radical intrastate audience growth through our dedicated national marketing and communications campaign were largely unrealised. We also lost a major audience demographic from previous iterations with the cancelation of the 2021 Australian Festival of Chamber Music. 

This said, we gained new audiences locally through our highly visible public art commissions. Our Both Ways First Nations billboard exhibition received great national engagement through media coverage by the Guardian. ‘It’ll certainly intrigue people’: roadside art tells hard truths about Indigenous history

We succeeded in delivering the full 10 days of the festival, quite a feat unto itself given the plight of many festivals around the country. 

Kate O’Hara, Artistic Director, Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts



Tips for others

When we made ‘place’ our theme for PUNQ 2021, we knew that celebrating the First Nations Culture of these Countries was where we needed to begin.

PUNQ’s launch event was produced in partnership with the newly opened Big Eye Arts and Culture Centre (Townsville’s only Indigenous-owned and -run art centre).

Working on Country in this way saw the PUNQ team consulting with Traditional Owners across the region to provide Indigenous agency in the projects and to ensure that Cultural protocols were followed.

The team also worked alongside Townsville City Council to achieve site permissions and developed connections with conservation park specialists (including rangers of Pallarenda and Magnetic Island) for information about sustainable practices whilst working in these locations. It was important that Countries were nurtured in these commissions.

Kate O’Hara, Artistic Director, Umbrella Studio Contemporary Arts

What next?

The 2021 festival created and fostered a genuine network of artists and art organisations across the region that will continue collaborating into the future.

PUNQ will move into an ‘even’ year cycle to form strategic calendar alliances with other local festivals.  The next major edition will be in 2024.


Find out more

PUNQ website 



Banner image: Site #272 in situ in the cane field. PUNQ 2021 commission. Photograph: Gav Rossetti.