Art in the Heart Rocks The Rocks

Between September and November 2011, artists from the Northern Rivers got the opportunity to showcase their wares and talents at Sydney's prestigious The Rocks, as a result of a collaboration between The Rocks Pop-Up Project and Lismore's 'Art in the Heart'. Stephen Nelson from Art in the Heart and Anique Vered from The Rocks Pop-Up Project talk about their experiences of the joint initiative.

Stephen Nelson, Coordinator, Lismore Art in the Heart Project

At the first ever workshop involving coordinators of 'art in empty spaces' projects from throughout Australia held at UTS in mid-July, Cathy Levins-Byres, Precinct Strategy Manager for Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which manages The Rocks Pop-Up Project, invited Lismore's 'Art in the Heart' to collaborate with The Rocks Pop-Up Project. 

The proposal was pretty spontaneous and we covered the likely logistical challenges and agreed on the positive opportunities for both our projects fairly rapidly, before I left Sydney to return to Lismore.


The collaboration presented us with an opportunity to raise the profile of our creative artists, provide them with an opportunity to exhibit, sell and network in a much larger and well-established venue in the heart of Sydney, which would otherwise never occur.

It was also an opportunity to highlight the tremendous offer from The Rocks Pop-Up Project and reinforce the work of the Art in the Heart project to our local and regional arts and wider communities.

We could see the potential benefits of being able to showcase the vital arts scene in Lismore and the Northern Rivers to domestic and international visitors to The Rocks and to raise media awareness of our project in the far north of the state.

The collaboration also offered the opportunity for our artists to present and sell works in a metropolitan setting, to network with other arts practitioners from Sydney and to make contact with gallery owners, academics and potential buyers at exhibition openings, other functions and meetings.Brigid Ryan at 75 George Street

The logistics

The Authority, The Rocks Pop-Up Project coordinator Anique Vered and members of The Rocks Markets team all provided a fantastic level of support to the 'out of town' artists.  This included assisting with installations of new exhibitions, encouraging networking opportunities and providing local promotional tips. As landlord of 75 George Street, the Authority had also repainted the interior in preparation for future commercial tenants, which enhanced the setting for our artists' works.

Art in the Heart took care of transporting the artists' works by road, reimbursed them for budget travel to and from Sydney and paid for all promotional collateral connected with the project.

We were also able to secure the services of former Lismore Regional Gallery curator Genevieve Black, who is now back in Sydney. Genevieve acted as artist liaison, assisted with all exhibition changeovers and worked tirelessly to generate media interest.

Selection of artists

A formal EOI was devised and publicised locally. A special meeting of the Art in the Heart Taskforce reviewed all the applications, resulting in the number of artists selected increasing from the four originally envisaged to seven, based on merit. The increased number meant there were two pairs of artists who agreed to share the spaces offered.. The expanded term of the Lismore presence at The Rocks is from Friday 2 September until Sunday 6 November.

The artists chosen were:

Wendy Powitt Jeweller 

Jewellery designer Wendy Powitt is the owner of 'Ghost+Lola', a Byron Bay-based company that produces superbly crafted pieces made from vintage components that have been sourced from around the world.

A former fashion designer turned sculptor who works from a home studio at Possum Creek in the Byron Bay hinterland, Wendy re-engineers existing components into mini 'wearable' sculptures.

Denise N. Rall Costumier

Denise produces fantastical costumes containing elements of whimsy and great style, created with tremendous skill, patience and flair. Her 'wearable art' pieces reflect her passion for fashion and detailed embroidery.

The experiences contributing to her interest in Costume include working as a dressmaker's assistant and dancing, first in the USA and then in Europe with the Stuttgart Ballet School.

75 George StreetMahala May Magins and Brigid Ryan Visual artists 

Mahala May Magins is a contemporary artist who works with oil and acrylic paint in a highly spontaneous process. The winner of the 'Emerging Artist Award' for the 2011 Northern Rivers

Portrait Prize, Mahala shares the artspace with Lismore painter and colleague Brigid Ryan.

Brigid is primarily a visual artist who specialises in figurative painting and who uses canvas linen and timber surfaces to work on. Brigid exhibits widely in the Northern Rivers - most recently at Bangalow's 'Barebones Gallery' - and also produces etchings and a range of small cards.  

Christine Porter Paintings and etchings 

Christine Porter is an accomplished artist and much sought-after teacher and art judge from Lismore who brings a strongly defined sense of the challenges and rewards of depicting aspects of life in a rural setting. She will exhibit watercolour painting, small etchings and miniature acrylic paintings and drawings.

In addition, she'll use a small portable press for ongoing printing demonstrations; encouraging visitors to the studio to create their own small drypoint etchings. Christine also plans to create a series of etchings of scenes in The Rocks during her residency.

SINNER' - Tarryn Corlet and Miriam Sheridan

Under the banner of 'SINNER', burlesque artists, milliners and fashion designers Tarryn Corlet and Miriam Sheridan will create their own kind of magic to transform this space.

Tarryn makes vintage-style hats, bustles and suspenders, while Miriam creates frocks and knickers using contemporary and vintage materials such as doilies, feathers and beads.

SINNER will also present a series of performances which take a light-hearted look at how women are expected to 'behave' and will be running burlesque workshops.

We decided who should best represent the project and our area, but sent the results of the selection process to Cathy and Anique to ensure that they would be a good 'fit' with the aims and ethos of The Rocks Pop-Up Project. And they've proved to be. 

Challenges and solutions

Logistics overall were the key challenge: we have to get the considerable combined works of seven people down to The Rocks from Lismore and back, and timing, along with budget, of course.

The project was extremely compressed, from initial discussions to the EOI process, provision of sites, production of collateral and publicity material, freight schedules, plus liaison with The Rocks Pop-Up Project, formal licence agreements and so on, and required careful attention to elastic timelines. 

It's a good thing we're in the same game, because the temporary nature of occupying empty shops and other spaces means there is no certainty regarding tenure. You have to accept that projects like these are something of a 'moveable feast'. We were extremely fortunate to be given not one, but two spaces by The Rocks Pop-Up Project over the period of the Lismore artists residency

It was originally planned that the Lismore Art in the Heart creatives would occupy a space in the 47 George Street premises, which currently house a large number of The Rocks Pop-Up Project artists from Sydney. Once the number of Art in the Heart artists expanded from the proposed four to seven, The Rocks Pop-Up Project very generously offered to find a larger 'stand alone' empty building for the Lismore contingent.

The art space at 75 George Street (pictured), which has been used by the majority of Lismore creatives, is a heritage-listed three-storey shop that needed to be repainted throughout for eventual commercial tenancy.

This meant that the first two artists, jeweller Wendy Powitt and costumier Denise N. Rall, spent time in a wonderful light and airy shop at 23 Nurses Walk, before the premises at 75 George Street were ready to be activated. Both Wendy and Denise - who had a week at 23 Nurses Walk to begin with and a second week in George Street - were delighted with the arrangement.

The challenges were overcome by good project management and the ability to juggle lots of balls at once, at each end!

In terms of the budget, a successful application was made to the Lismore Business Promotion Panel to help defray the costs, primarily in the area of publicity. In fact the exercise was a collaborative effort: a number of local organisations and sections of Lismore City Council helped make it happen.

The Lismore 'Art in the Heart' project is the recipient of Arts NSW 'Creative Enterprise Hub' funding and is a partnership between Arts NSW and Lismore City Council. Our presence at The Rocks has been made possible through the support of Council, the Lismore Business Promotion Program, Lismore Tourism, the Lismore Regional Gallery, Arts Northern Rivers and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority.

From our point of view, it has been a great experience. Any speed bumps - small stuff' in the overall scheme of things - were quickly dealt with.

Art in the Heart at The Rocks postcardFeedback and outcomes

Feedback from our artists has been excellent. Jewellery designer Wendy Powitt achieved healthy sales in her sojourn at 23 Nurses Walk and reported that she has gained an introduction for her 'Ghost+Lola' range to two boutiques in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Costumier Denise N. Rall enjoyed her time in both spaces, met key museum and gallery personnel - and received a walk-in commission for more than $1,000 from an American visitor to The Rocks who was captivated by her costumes and asked for a one-off piece to be made in a compressed timeframe as a gift for him to take back to his wife in California. 

In our highly professional exchange with The Rocks Pop-Up Project, we feel that we delivered the range of creatives and quality of work that was mooted in the initial discussions in mid-July and, in turn, we've received tremendous and efficient support from our partner organisation in Sydney.

Strategically, it has been rewarding for Art in the Heart's local partners and supporters to learn that we have exported vibrant works that reflect the best our creative sector has to offer. In addition, there have been great benefits to each of the artists, in terms of their professional development and marketing efforts to a wider audience.  

The benefits of cross-promotion and program-to-program linkages cannot be understated. It has also enabled us to learn from each other. The smaller-scale Art in the Heart project has had to be extremely resourceful to make it all happen, and we'd encourage other empty spaces schemes to consider similar artist exchanges.

What is also apparent is how new opportunities can crop up serendipitously. As a case in point, Tarryn Corlet and Mim Sheridan from SINNER - the last pair of artists at 75 George Street - have been invited to perform within The Rocks Village Bizarre at Markets by Moonlight.

They'll present five short shows at 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 9.30pm on the evening of Friday 4 November in their burlesque personas Frou Frou Fatale and Little My, with staging, sound, lighting and other production assistance from The Rocks Pop-Up Project and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority events team

This is a good example of us spotting an opportunity and The Rocks Pop-Up Project crew saying, "Let's do it!" Again, this is mutually beneficial.

Anique Vered, Pop-Up Manager The Rocks Pop-Up Project 

At the first ever forum for coordinators of Empty Spaces initiatives around Australia, The Rocks Pop-Up Project invited other NSW based initiatives to collaborate in the form of either a formal residency or co-presenting events.

Stephen Nelson from Lismore's Art in the Heart immediately seized the opportunity to submit a proposal.

We invited NSW based Empty Space initiatives to submit a proposal for space in The Rocks to create new opportunities to engage this diverse network and to strengthen our project.

For example, one of our objectives is 'to showcase The Rocks as a place for unique, bespoke and locally distinctive work and a home of innovation and creativity in Sydney'. By collaborating with Art in the Heart we can showcase a wider range of the state's creative people and projects to our domestic and international visitors.

It also offers our existing participants fresh insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by emerging creatives from a different community.

Artists and feedback

The Rocks Pop-Up Project participants are a range of individuals and creative organisations. Once Art in the Heart's proposal, as a creative organisation, was accepted by our committee, Art in the Heart curated their program as they wished.

Stephen Nelson kindly offered us the chance to look over their selection, which we agreed with.

We knew the selected artists and creatives would be suitable for the heritage precinct as Art in the Heart met our selection criteria.

The selected artists are all talented and professional, with the program as a whole showcasing a diverse mix of creativity from regional NSW. It must be said that all Art in the Heart artists we have worked with to date have brought their warm Northern River vibes with them to The Rocks.

We are very pleased with the feedback that Art in the Heart artists have offered us. In general they have been very happy with the networking opportunities that came about by being showcased in The Rocks.  

Like our participants, Empty Spaces is an emerging initiative. Consequently, collaboration allows great learning from one another, creates new opportunities and bolsters our presence in the community. 

It has been an absolute pleasure working with Stephen Nelson who is great role model for anyone wanting to run an Empty Spaces style initiative.

Sinner at The Rocks Poster The Rocks








Art in the Heart at The Rocks
75 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000