Five minutes with….Julia Sutherland

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WHEN AND WHY DID YOU COME TO OAMARU?

I came to Oamaru with Philip van Zijl four years ago when he was offered a great position as manager of the Oamaru Public Library.

We were living in Tauranga and a move south to be near my old home town Dunedin was a huge drawcard. We love the place, the people and the rich cultural resources, and are here to stay.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE NORTH OTAGO ART SOCIETY?

From member of the Tuesday group to committee member to president. Highlights have been exhibitions including a Colin Wheeler “Inside the Frame” – using frames and materials given to us by the Wheeler family and a Margaret Stoddart retrospective which included a visit by the artist herself.

As the Customs House gallery is owned by the society, fundraising for maintaining the historic building is an ongoing commitment and a special challenge is to satisfy the social and artistic needs of our members.

WHY IS ART IMPORTANT FOR A PLACE LIKE OAMARU?

Creating, enjoying and being part of an environment where art, in all its forms, is so evident feeds the soul of a community and is essential for mental wellbeing.

Living within a giant art work – which could describe Whitestone Oamaru – is probably not so evident to us who live here. Being identified and promoted as a special place has the potential to provide arts-related employment, and attract new residents and visitors.

Pre-colonial history, stories of past residents, celebrating ethnic diversity, Victoriana and all the varieties of Steampunk are central to the promotion of Oamaru as a unique arts rich destination and playground.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR CAREER PATH LEADING UP TO NOW?

Becoming a primary school teacher has led to a long involvement with education both as student and teacher, academic, social anthropologist, researcher, author, special education adviser, counsellor, mental health clinician and art therapist.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE ART SOCIETY THIS YEAR?

We have adopted the Victorian Heritage Committee’s Wonderland theme and are in the process of transforming the gallery. The opening exhibition, “Queens of Otherworlds”, will include works by Donna Demente, Dyan Prujean, Debrina Altered and myself.

There will be workshops with a Steampunk theme and a special printing and stencilling workshop.

A mural, Birds of Oamaru, destined for the children’s section of the library, sponsored by a Creative NZ Waitaki Communities grant, will be completed by the weekend of the Outdoor Arts Festival 2015.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH ART THERAPY AND WHAT IT ENTAILS?

Arts are used in therapies for occupying people often outside of usual social environments such as elder care or mental health facilities.

Art as an activity is inherently good for you, so expressive art work can often be therapeutic. An art therapist is trained especially to work with people in life transitions such as serious illness, or grief or when emotions cannot be expressed in verbal language.

The symbolic content of an art work is the central point of counselling with an art therapist. The story or problem is often expressed in a particular image or colour. I have worked in hospices, prisons and schools.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ART COULD MORE EMBRACED IN OAMARU?

Through an emphasis on lifelong learning including arts for pleasure, education and leisure.

Arts policy matched with the provision of multi-use council-owned and administered spaces and supported utilisation of existing resources including artists and volunteers might address this.

I can see the Customs House Gallery evolving into a community arts centre and having a significant role to play in these areas.

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ARTIST AND WHY?

I love the mysterious, magical and romanticism and am particularly drawn to the art of Chagall.

For the same reason I love the work of local artist Donna Demente.

HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR SPARE TIME?

Painting (I work mainly in mixed media), dancing, gardening, camping up the beautiful Waitaki Valley, reading and walking.

PHOTO: Julia Sutherland