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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

Interview with Bleach festival, Rosie Dennis, Artistic Director

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ROSIE DENNIS: photo by Artwork Agency

The Bleach Festival shows a very different Gold Coast

This year’s Gold Coast Bleach Festival gives hope to artists and creative practitioners that we are making our way back to innovative gatherings and cultural happenings. Artistic Director is Rosie Dennis, who returns to the region after her tenure as a placemaker with the Urban Theatre in Sydney.

Her appointment at Bleach last year saw her in the unique position of being able to come home. ‘Pre-covid it was amazing’ says Rosie, ‘a dream come true to move back to where I grew up and have a job in the creative sector – you can’t underestimate that.’

Of course COVID-19 changed the landscape significantly, but Rosie is thrilled that Bleach is able to adapt and go ahead. On a positive note, covid has had some positive effects for artists in SEQ – with so many of them being engaged in Bleach’s programming this year.

‘I have spent all my career in Sydney – working between Melbourne and Sydney where there is a huge flow – so losing all of them, it’s actually been an interesting way to program a festival! I have met a lot of artists I may not have met in the first year because I had to go hyper-local. There are great artists practising up here.’

A good festival director knows they have to be resourceful, so with limitations on the scope of where Rosie could draw her artists from, she went deep, instead of wide. Indigenous story will occupy a significant part of the programming.

‘The program has a big First Nations program, with the shift in covid restrictions and having no internationals and no interstate artists, it was time to have a conversation with First Nations artists living on the Gold Coast – our Burleigh program is heavy on First Nations story telling – it’s not something people would necessarily align with the Gold Coast to have a large and hungry First Nations artistic community. There is a growing appetite for people who want to dive in and be part of learning more about the place they live in. Superficially it looks like it doesn’t exist, but scratch the surface and there it is.’

A renowned placemaker, Rosie has innovated the opening of the event to be more reflective of the times we have just lived through. Times that saw so many coastal people wake early and start their day with long beach walks.

‘One of the things that I love, my most favourite thing is – the way we’re beginning every festival now, is that we launch at sunrise. The dignitaries and the stuff that would happen at night is now happening in the morning in Burleigh Heads – a two-hour plus ceremony. The ticket allocation for that is exhausted.’

The Gold Coast is not somewhere ordinarily associated with the arts, but there is a growing creative community there who are having an impact on this coastal mecca that has long been perceived as a resort town.

‘I think people have perceived superficiality and that the Gold Coast is pro development, there are lots of nouveau riche, and because so many more people are buying property and raising family here, the southern Gold Coast in particular is nothing like it was when I was a kid; it’s really cool – great coffee, and bakeries and bars. There are these great pockets of bars and art studios, and you can see in a few years you will have self-determined cultural precincts.’

Rosie believes the Gold Coast could become a home to artists.

‘There are a handful of artist-run spaces, and we need more. There are challenges to move through – with local government embracing the arts – I think there is an untapped resource – we have amazing beaches and a growing art scene and we’re so close to the airport – you can get anywhere in the country and have a relatively cheap space to make your work in. The cost of living here, as an artist, is great.’

Bleach runs through Burleigh Heads, Benowa Botanic Gardens and Chevron Island with a program featuring work by 204 artists in more than 214 unique arts experiences. It’s not about just turning up at some venue – expect the unexpected!

Such as the commissioning of artists to paint houses that are soon to be demolished!

‘We are working across four houses that are going to be painted – Rebecca Ross, Glenys Briggs and the Mint Arthouse Collective – the house is their canvas and they have a week to paint it. So it becomes Chez Nous on Chevron – the home to cabaret, live music, spoken word, queer stories, a bunch of different works – it really will be a very fun place to come. I hope audiences will come and check out the artwork on the houses, spend the night on the Gold Coast and see some great performances, I think that’s a big part of the festival’ says Rosie.

Running 12–22 November – check out the program on bleachfestival.com.au

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