The Pacific Palms Art Festival – Frances Geyer

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The Pacific Palms Art Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this June. Initially established to raise money for Pacific Palms Primary School, the festival has raised approximately $60,000 over the 20 years since its inception in 1992. Frances Geyer, President of the festival, tells us how it has maintained its momentum in the local community for two decades …  

Would you please provide us with a brief history of the Pacific Palms Art Festival?

Way back in1992, Ken Pares, the then Principal of Pacific Palms Public School, conceived the idea for an Arts Festival. Ken Pares wanted to encourage aspiring artists, as well as introduce a cultural event to Pacific Palms. It was also a fresh, new approach for raising funds for the school. Two parents, Judy Gagg and Jenny Parker, along with the other staff at the school, assisted him. Ever since then, there has been a steady stream of school staff, parents, community and committee members who have given their time and energy to making the art festival what it is today.

How does the festival operate, and who are the main players behind the scene?

We commence planning the festival in March each year. This year there is a committee of four: me, in my role as President of the festival, plus Anne Masters (Secretary/Co-ordinator), May Heemskerk (Treasurer), Lei Tillman (Catering and Minute Secretary) along with Pacific Palms Public School Principal, Kerry Tulloch and P&C representative, Matt Bannerman. We rely on a great deal of support from the school staff and parents, as well as many generous volunteers to make it all happen.

Many of the staff from Pacific Palms Public School serve supper and drinks at the opening night. A lovely local caterer has provided supper for the last two years at very reasonable rates. Dessert is provided by parents from the school. Many other parents and community members band together to set up the exhibition and man the ticket and sales desks. And then there’s our amazing patron, Reg Richardson, and sponsors who donate money so that we can offer prizes to the amazing artists who exhibit their artworks!

Tell us about the various prize categories.

There are 6 categories artists can enter their works into: The Human Figure; Still Life; Landscape/Seascape; Photography; Naturalist; and Emerging Artist. The overall acquisitive winner receives $2,500. The winner of each category receives $500, with the Emerging Artist receiving $200. Anyone can enter their work in the Emerging Artist section, as long as they have never received any previous awards. There is an Environmental Award given for an artwork which makes a strong Environmental statement. This award is sponsored by three local environmentalists: Cl. Linda Gill, Gillian Courtice and Leighton Llewellyn. Visitors to the festival are also asked to nominate their favourite artwork and at the end of each festival, we announce the People’s Choice Award, with the winning artist receiving $200.

To assist in fostering young talent, the festival includes a Youth Category. Each year students aged 5 – 16 years from schools in the Great Lakes region are invited to enter their artworks or photography. Photography is proving to be very popular; therefore, last year we decided to create a Photography Section, as well as an Artwork Section. This year the Assistant Principal, Lyn Wood, is organising the competition. Sally West, a local artist currently exhibiting in New York, has agreed to be judge.

Students’ works selected by the judge are exhibited at the Art Festival, and the students also receive art supply vouchers. The artworks and photography we receive each year from budding young artists is just wonderful. It is a very difficult decision to select so few to display. For many of the visitors coming to the festival, the Youth Category exhibition is a real highlight!

Reg Richardson, who was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2007, is judging the main prize. Reg has served on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Ted Noffs Foundation. He is also patron of the festival and ads great kudos to the event. Tell us about Reg’s involvement over the years. 

Reg is a very colourful character. Reg was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his ‘Service to the Visiual Arts as a Supporter, Patron and Collector and to the Community through a range of Social Welfare and Medical Research organisations’. We were extremely fortunate when Reg offered to be our patron.

Reg and his wife, Sally, are one of our major sponsors, and they have brought many of their associates on board as sponsors. Reg is responsible for the Pacific Palms Public School having its own private art collection. It was Reg who suggested that the overall winning entry of each festival become acquisitive, and therefore the property of the school. Every year Reg sources a judge for us, from his many contacts in the art world.

Last year, Tristan Sharp, Assistant Director of Newcastle Regional Gallery, judged the festival. We felt it appropriate to ask Reg to judge this 20th Anniversary Festival, and he graciously accepted.

Artists can win up to $6,000. How does the sponsorship component work?

The Art Festival is sponsored by approx. 30 businesses and private donors. Many of the sponsors are local, which is wonderful. Last year we were very fortunate to have another major sponsor come on board. This gentleman has bought numerous artworks over many festivals, and we are sincerely grateful for his sponsorship – as we are for all our sponsors!

Each year in March we contact our sponsors and ask them for their generous support yet again, in order to raise approx. $6,000 needed to cover the prize money for the upcoming festival. We have an engraved sponsors’ board on display at the festival each year.

If anyone reading this article is interested in becoming a sponsor for next year’s festival, please contact the Pacific Palms Public School on 6554 0249.

How many people are you hoping to attend this milestone 20th anniversary festival?

We envisage over 200 people will again attend the Opening Night. The sale of artworks also begins. Last year we sold over $8,535 in artworks (the Art Festival takes a percentage of sales towards its fundraising).

This year we also have something special happening at the festival. A special exhibition by ‘Yili’ (Aboriginal Ceramic Design at Great Lakes TAFE Art and Design School) will be on display, and items will be available for purchase. ‘Yili’ was officially launched at the Manning Regional Art Gallery in December last year.

Grace Cochrane, former senior curator at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, described the exhibition as: “Very contemporary and yet drawn very distinctly from a sense of cultural identity”. In addition to the Ceramic Design course, Great Lakes TAFE is also running a series of workshops to introduce younger Aboriginal students to design.

The ‘Yili’ ceramics will be a wonderful addition to our photography and paintings on display, at this our special anniversary festival.

What sort of educational or cultural programs does the money raised go towards at the school?  

Money raised has always been used to support the school’s learning and tteaching programs. Last year, however, the money was used for the much needed renovation of the school library.

We are so thankful to everyone for their generous support. Pacific Palms Public School is a gorgeous school of about 250 students, and the money they receive from the festival is very well needed and used.

Thank you Frances. 

This story was published in issue 64 of Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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