This annual program is always a powerful experience, but for the 13 young people who travelled to Canberra in April 2021 it was a particularly significant journey, writes Adriane Boag.
After a year in which the world changed, the annual Summer Scholarship — delayed and adapted to include a digital component due to COVID — proved just the tonic for a group of students assembled from around the country.
For many of the students, art became a conduit for wider transformative experience that provided a boost to confidence and deep engagement with creativity and potential.
“The program has really boosted my confidence and I am even more excited and determined to continue on the path of art” — Lawrence from Tasmania.
An original group of 16, two from each state and territory, were selected to travel to Canberra in January 2020, before commencing their year 12 studies. Due to last year’s bushfires and COVID-related travel restrictions, the program was adapted to include an extended collaboration initially by email, then a digital program last December. Participants finally arrived at the National Gallery for a week on site in April 2021, now aged between 17 to 20 and studying at university or working through a gap year.
The online program included a workshop with artist Kate Blackmore that reinforced one student’s decision to study sculpture and moving image in Tasmania. The group also learnt weaving techniques with First Nations artist and National Gallery educator Krystal Hurst, creating a link to the Tjanpi Desert Weavers’ Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters) installation.
When the students arrived in Canberra for the week-long program on site in April, they were greeted with a Welcome to Country in the Gallery’s Sculpture Garden by Dr Aunty Matilda House, which established a theme of belonging for the week.
A highlight of the program was a workshop with artist Nadia Hernández, who led a series of activities to create an installation of text-based banners. The text was distilled from discussion and became a collective poem hung ceiling to floor, each proclaiming a word or phrase such as “IDENTITY”, “UNSHACKLED”, and “KEEPING THE PASSION ALIVE”. The final works were installed in the Tim Fairfax Learning Studio.
Tim Fairfax AC and his wife, Gina Fairfax, travelled to Canberra to visit the summer scholars and shared ideas with the group during a workshop exploring ways to talk about art. The scholars also met and discussed the arts with National Gallery Director Nick Mitzevich over afternoon tea in the Boardroom.
Creative inspiration, friendship, support and acceptance were characteristics of the program, with many revealing how affirming and positive the week was on their mental health. The scholarship program also showcased the behind-the-scenes workings of the national institution.
The 2021 Summer Scholarship program was developed by Lead Artist Educator Annika Romeyn, J.T. Reid Outreach Coordinator Blake Griffiths and Program Convenor Adriane Boag.
The support of Tim Fairfax AC has ensured the longevity of the National Summer Art Scholarship program. Applications for the January 2022 program are now open, closing 11 October 2021.