HomeArticlesArts & CultureThe women behind the scenes of Gold Coast arts and culture
Julia Solomon, Producer at Bleach* Festival

Julia Solomon. Producer at Bleach* Festival

The women behind the scenes of Gold Coast arts and culture

Samantha Morris | March 2019

I often write about the women leading the cultural charge here on the Gold Coast.

Those women are bold, they’re at the forefront of industry growth and they’re regularly the figureheads in front of media talking about cultural programming and arts policy. But, more often than not, behind each of those stellar women, is a stellar network of other women, beavering away behind the scenes with little recognition for the immense contribution they make.

Given the focus on gender equality this International Women’s Day, I wanted to shine the spotlight on these incredible women working behind the scenes in Gold Coast’s arts and culture community and introduce you to some of their work.

Issy Schoonenberg | Festival Coordinator, Gold Coast Film Festival

I first met Issy as a PR intern working at the 2016 Gold Coast Film Festival. She was savvy, efficient, passionate about film and quick to take a head-first dive into every single aspect of event management. Three years later, Issy is the Festival’s Coordinator and basically 2IC to Lucy Fisher in the event’s day-to-day management. She manages industry events and special screenings that Gold Coast Film Festival hosts throughout the year as well as plays a critical role in pretty much every other element of the event when it takes place each April.

“I always wanted to get involved in events but it was only when I started interning with the festival that I knew that creative arts was where I wanted to be,” Issy told We Are Gold Coast. “I think the community on the Gold Coast really fosters young creative workers, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

“Coming into the festival at 21 I was definitely shy and in quite a self-conscious place and working with the GCFF women over the last few years has really helped me build confidence and find my place. I think it’s important for women to support women and our Festival Director Lucy Fisher has always been a poster power woman for this idea. It is also really inspiring to look around and see so many of the Gold Coast arts and culture organisations run by women,” Issy said.

Issy said the biggest lesson she’s learned about herself at Gold Coast Film Festival is to develop a love of organisation as well as Excel spreadsheets and she says her mum is the most influential woman in her life.

“She’s my best friend, my voice of reason and my role model,” she said. “And Lucy Fisher who has taught me so much over the last three years.”

Diana Warnes | Head of Curatorial Projects, Gallery at HOTA

Before joining the HOTA team in October 2017, Diana worked in curatorial roles at the Australian War Memorial as well as Rockhampton Art Gallery and before that had roles at the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia. Right now, she’s utilising that experience to conduct in-depth research into the City’s collection of roughly 5000 works as Head of Curatorial Projects at Gallery at HOTA.

“This research is in preparation for hanging the collection when our new Gallery opens in January 2021,” she said. “We have an amazing collection of abstraction works dating from the 1960s, a rich collection of Gold Coast artworks, ceramics, photographs and some fantastic recent contemporary acquisitions which we will show off in the new Gallery.”

HOTA has an enormous number of women in senior management positions – both staff and board and Diana says she values the close working relationship she has with Gallery Director, Tracy Cooper-Lavery.

“I admire how she balances the corporate expectations of her role with the creative aspects of running a gallery. Tracy is overseeing a major cultural development and I’ve learnt a lot watching how she has negotiated the terrain to achieve our hopes for the new Gallery and the city.”

Professional mentors aside though, Diana rates her mother as a pretty major influence on her life.

“She is selfless, hardworking, and always supported me in my career and endless interstate moves (I should have listened when she said don’t study architecture),” Diana said.

Julia Solomon | Producer, Bleach* Festival

Julia Solomon (nee Bridger) has been at Bleach* since 2016 but worked in partnership with the team prior on music publicity and stage management in 2013 and 2014. Her journey to producing started helping mates in bands out while she was at uni and interning in music businesses. She worked with Footstomp Music, had roles in digital distribution and content coordination and even had a stint at QPAC for a while. Her focus at Bleach* now is on music programming.

“I’ve worked in contemporary music since I was in uni but have always loved going to opera, theatre, galleries and exploring other forms of art,” Julia said. “When I was managing bands, I loved putting twists on the normal music gig and working on music projects that incorporate more cross-artform collaboration, so moving into producing different performance works feels like a natural progression.

Julia said there are three things she loves about working at Bleach* Festival.

“Our team, the artists we work with and the place we make work,” she told We Are Gold Coast.

“I’ve learned that I’m more creative than I thought I was, to trust my instincts about people and about work, and that I’m really good at having a plain face when irate public want to yell at someone for making art on their beach.”

“The Bleach* team is about 80% women and we’re a small team. We are all encouraging of each other’s professional development which is a mentality set at the top by Louise Bezzina, our CEO and Artistic Director. Right from the beginning she trusted my skillset more than I did but also pushed me when a project needs a kick to get it to the next level. I always feel as if I can go to her or anyone else in the team for advice or to chat through a problem, which is pretty rare in an arts workplace.”

Dee Steinfort | Director, SWELL Sculpture Festival

2019 is the sixth year new SWELL Sculpture Festival Director Dee Steinfort has worked at the event. Over that time she’s had a hand in coordinating volunteers, managing accounts and producing. She says the arts and creative worlds have always appealed to her.

“I have studied and worked in a wide range of fields from fashion and theatrical costume design and millinery to business and accounts so combining my deep appreciation of the arts with accounting and business is exactly where I should be,” she said.

Dee says SWELL is easy to love and working for SWELL is very rewarding: she loves working with artists, with the 150+ volunteers, bringing the exhibition to life and making new friends year-on-year.

“Providing a platform for artists to showcase their works and expand their careers it of utmost importance to me. Being a part of a team that deliver an outdoor sculpture exhibition for the public to enjoy for free on the beach in Currumbin is simply awesome in itself.”

Paula Hall | art teacher, Palm Beach Currumbin SHS

Paula Hall has been working tirelessly behind the scenes cultivating a new generation of artists and art lovers for more than 23 years. For 20 of those years she’s been teaching art at Palm Beach Currumbin State High. When Paula was in year 12, she was the only person in her school doing 3 Unit art, so her scheduled classes were shared with a year 8 class.

“I discovered then how much I enjoyed helping the kids and I guess the pathway into education followed. I am very lucky as I truly love my job,” Paula told We Are Gold Coast.

Paula believes it’s important for young female artists to have role models with the arts who are also women.

“Young girls need to be shown by other women that it is through hard work and persistence that successful pathways are formed and made attainable,” she said. “I have always encouraged my senior students who are interested in a career in the arts to reach out to practicing artists.”

While many emerging artists have come through Paula’s classroom over the past two decades, she has two favourite Gold Coast artists who are past students.

“Anna Carey is a Gold Coast artist current living in LA who I have watched with interest over the years,” she said. “But I think one of the most inspiring young local female artists is Bec Cunningham who has had a huge impact on the GC art scene through her life drawing classes at Dust Temple and HOTA. She has managed to create a real sense of community through these classes that I believe was missing on the Gold Coast,” Paula said.

Natalie O’Driscoll | Managing Editor, Blank Gold Coast

Brand new to the editorial hotseat at Blank Gold Coast, Natalie O’Driscoll is no stranger to the local arts and culture scene, having filled the role of Cultural Editor for the past three years. She landed the role after volunteering as a writer in September 2014.

I’ve been an avid reader, writer and word-lover for as long as I can remember, but I never imagined I could make a regular living out of it,” she said. “I’d dabbled in freelance work for years in Brisbane – I guess you could call it sort of an overpaid hobby – and when I moved to the Gold Coast I was enjoying the local live music scene and decided to write a gig review for Blank, just for funsies. Next thing I knew, I’d been swept along in the wake of Hurricane Samantha, and was Cultural Editor and a senior writer. I think from the moment that happened, it was kind of in the back of everyone’s minds that I would one day take over the reins [as editor] when it became possible.”

Natalie said, being a Brisbane girl, she was originally brainwashed like everyone else about those tired old ideas around Gold Coast culture.

“What I love the most is the fact that I am now playing a role in informing other people about the enormous pool of talent we have here, and undoing the very stereotypes I once used to believe myself.”

Blank GC is run entirely by women and Natalie says other women and particularly other mums, just ‘get it’.

Life is not some kind of straight-edged, punch in and out event that can be planned from sunrise to sundown. Life with kids (and life in general) can be messy and difficult,” she said. “Flexibility is a concept that seems to be gaining a bit more traction in the working world, finally, and thank goodness. We have a way to go though. I wish more businesses would take a leap out of Blank GC’s book when it comes to their approach to staffing. Happy, appreciated workers are loyal and productive ones.”

Like many other women, Natalie can’t look past her own mother for inspiration.

She was a single mum doing it extremely tough without much in the way of family support, and managed to keep a roof over our heads while instilling in me an incredible sense of independence, self-worth and a love of the written word,” she said.

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