Art in Community Consultation
The Post Card Plus Exhibition was held at the Strait Works Gallery, Whitemark on April 2022 and was initiated in response to the Islander Way regenerative tourism project.
Photo: Post Card Plus Exhibition, Strait Works Gallery, Whitemark, April 2022.
The Post Card Plus Exhibition was a community-led creative initiative led by a group of committed and concerned Island residents working with Furneaux Community Arts Inc. In this initiative, the community was encouraged to attend art and craft workshops prior to the exhibition opening, to submit pieces to the exhibition, or to create art during the exhibition itself. The Exhibition opened on 1 April and ran for the month of April.
Source: Invitation to participate in the exhibition posted in Walkers IGA, the local supermarket.
The Islander Way project team were not involved in this exhibition. From inception to implementation, the community developed and ran this exhibition. The aim of the exhibition was to galvanise local community interest, and to respond to the Islander Way project in a creative and independent way, free from any influence or alignment. It was a 100% community-led initiative.
What followed was a collective effort where community members came together to express their thoughts about the future of tourism on the Island and to identify possible solutions and actions. At the same time as the the exhibition took place, the community consultation was coming to a close. Preliminary results show widespread acknowledgement that hosting visitors is part of a balanced future economy for the Island but that it needs to be consistent with community sentiment. Overwhelmingly the exhibition adopted a positive and educational tone, and sought to define what that future might look like.
The power of public art
Art can be powerful. It nourishes the soul. It can help to convey deeply personal and emotional messages. For some, it allows them to speak without finding words. It can be soothing and mindful, and the process of making art can help organise thoughts, and make sense of complex feelings. In addition, there is a growing body of research in neuroscience that suggests we know using a combination of head, heart and instinct (gut). Yet our modern world often focuses only on scientific facts, statistics, and written knowledge. Creativity, deeper sources of emotional intelligence found in artistic expression, and the wisdom of lived experience, are often minimised. Put simply, art can change our perception of the issues by allowing us to tap into inner wisdom and emotional intelligence.
Art in a public consultation context can:
Raise awareness and cognition of issues that are deeply embedded in our hearts and we know by instinct.
Explore emotional responses.
Draw out questions, ambiguities and challenge assumptions.
Contribute to a multi-sensory experience of the issues.
Articulate alternative visions and understandings.
Create individual agency and the power to act.
Create a space for conversation and exploration not available in formal workshop settings.
Source: PostCards Plus Exhibit, Strait Works Gallery, Whitemark, Flinders Island, Tasmania.
Art as activation
The Post Card Plus Exhibition activated the community to engage with their future in a generative and constructive way. The exhibits used both materials and images from the Islander Way project (e.g. physical postcards and text from the website) to explore the issues and generate conversations. Contributions also used other materials such as archival material, old posters, personal photos, and postcard conversations to each other sent through the TouchNote App.
During the exhibition itself, volunteer community members welcomed residents and visitors alike into the gallery space. Our observation was that they actively encouraged reflection by asking thoughtful and generative questions and followed up with more conversation. Several times while visiting the gallery we witnessed visitors reflecting on the difference between 'tourists' and visitors', and on their values and attitudes towards the Island and its community. As visitors progressed around the room reading the contributions, they engaged in conversations that illustrated a deepening awareness of the impacts of tourism, and their own connections and encounters with the Island's community and the environment.
Our overall experience of the exhibition was that it was presented in an educational manner for both visitors and local residents and that casual encounters with locals were positive and friendly. In talking to many of the residents who participated, it was a healing and enjoyable experience to come together and discuss the future of the Island, their values and what is important.
Art as controversy
The Post Card Plus Exhibition was not without controversy. Art also has a way of exposing cracks and disagreements. Not everyone agrees with or sees the same message represented in art. Post Cards Plus was thought to be 'anti-tourism' by a few, but when we asked those who suggested it was anti-tourism, none had gone inside the gallery to explore the exhibition. In our conversations with the community, we asked 'What did you learn from the exhibition?" which opened up reflections and learning.
Notwithstanding, some of those assumptions persisted. Phone calls were made, complaints were lodged, and eyebrows were raised. Soon after, an explanation appeared on the door of the gallery, but the aim of the exhibition never changed: to respond to the Islander way project by helping to find solutions for the future.
The controversy was a reminder of old wounds, past decisions and actions, and hurt left unhealed. Past decisions outside and beyond the scope of the Islander Way project had left a deeply divided community. There is a division within the community about who has the right and the expertise to shape the future of the visitor economy. In many ways, this exhibition was in response to a need for the wider community to be acknowledged in the decisions that affect them.
This history has made it difficult for the community to come together in a collaborative discussion about the future of the visitor economy. However, the Post Card Plus exhibition has certainly helped to ignite engagement in the Islander Way project through the identification of concrete ground up actions, community-led projects and business ideas that will contribute to an inclusive regenerative future.
Art as future
Creating art, engaging in conversations around art, and collaborating to produce the exhibition, all these creative acts have contributed to a sense of community. It has also restored and replenished a sense of optimism that many in the community needed. After all, the community is part of the visitor experience and operators ignore the importance of a welcoming local community at their peril. The community's willingness to host, to engage in friendly conversations, and to work in service of visitors are important ingredients in transformational visitor experiences.
In retrospect, the Post Card Plus Exhibition was an important contribution in the journey of healing. It was an opportunity to have a say, to open conversation about the future, to acknowledge and then leave the past behind. And, as one community member summed it up, "This may be our last time to really have a say. This might be our last chance. We are tired of being consulted but not being heard. Is anyone listening?"
We leave you with some words from the gallery wall, and a moment to reflect:
"When you see something that you love and value under threat, hopefully, you stand up and do what you can to stop it from happening; to save what's important to you (and your community, and the planet).
Sometimes we don't want to draw attention to ourselves and stick our neck out for criticism or judgement. And sometimes this feeling is enough to keep us quiet, and do nothing.
Or maybe we're just lazy and too well fed?
Or maybe we actually don't give a shit!
But this island is what we are passing on to our children. This island is a sanctuary from the crazy world out there. This island is their future.
Can you see what's coming?
Save Our Scenery... or maybe... Save our Souls?"