Kangaroo Valley Voice

The local arts festival that began at Playgroup

Left to right: Gloria Tsong, Lenka Kripac, Amelia Ramsden, Fleur Townley

I’d heard about the OpenField Arts Festival at the KV Crop & Swap, that it was the brainchild of two women who were really doing things differently and resonating with the arts community. Lenka and Amelia; two Berry mums who connected at Playgroup during Covid, the former an artist/musician and the latter an arts administrator. It was easy for us all to bemoan the state of the nation during lockdown, but these two impressive women took a casual conversation about the lack of local performance/art spaces and opportunities, and created a dynamic contemporary arts festival which will see its inaugural launch on the weekend of 22-25 June.

With nearly a decade at the Biennale, Amelia was confident they could get funding for the project, and with that Lenka knew they could draw from a strong pool of local artists – painters, sculptors, illustrators, weavers, multi disciplinarian artists working in photography, video, film and performance. Lenka’s husband created the logo and Amelia’s the website, and from there they sold the vision and acquired grants and a Founding Patron program that garnered the support of benevolent locals.

Over two years, the dream grew bigger and the team they gathered around them expanded – more mums with at least one foot in Berry and some with one in Sydney, managing thriving careers and young families. There’s a human rights lawyer, a restaurant manager, PR guru, yoga teacher and wedding celebrant, CFO and me, this long-ago young mum and sometimes still television producer. In the short time I’ve been involved to help co-ordinate the army of volunteers for the weekend itself, I’ve been super impressed by the organisation, creativity and cohesion of this group who are all volunteers lending their skills to bring to life a vision that began in a playground.

OpenField is a walking tour, with 22 artists in some 14 venues throughout Berry. There are installations, artists creating live and interactive works, roaming performance artists, workshops and panels. In the evenings, the Berry School of Arts will become a music and film venue, with an acoustic performance night on Friday and electronic on Saturday, bringing the town to life in a way that feels like it’s ushering in a new era in a good and respectful way that is including the CWA, the local Berry Spinners and Weavers and The Men’s Shed, along with many of the local businesses.  

At the heart of the festival is that opportunity Lenka sought and Amelia backed: a way for local artists to share their work and their passion, and discovering the depth of talent within the Shoalhaven has been eye opening for me. Really innovative creatives with international credentials, living locally. Understandably, there is a keen family focus with the majority of the festival entry free, with some ticketed workshops and the music nights, and many of the works on sale.

I have always believed that the success of a creative project comes from the energy of the team behind it and, if this holds true, OpenField will be a runaway. It deserves to be; for Lenka and Amelia, and everyone who got behind them. And for Berry.

Julie Ward

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