“We can all appreciate the incredible surroundings we live in; it’s even more thrilling to have an outdoor exhibition in the middle of it!”

This September, Sculpture in the Valley is back up and running with aplomb. The exhibition is returning after an enforced pause, caused for reasons that we are all only too aware of. This year is going to be particularly memorable because of the sheer quality and variety of works on show, curated by artist David Ball. There’s also been artists entering from local areas, across NSW and interstate too. Finalists stand to win a combined $38,500, one of the largest sculpture prizes south of Sydney, plus they can offer works for sale. Everyone attending gets to enjoy local music and curated cuisine, making it a special day to enjoy. All this in a high-calibre natural gallery that showcases both area and art. With typically over 2000 visitors, Sculpture in the Valley is a calendar landmark for artists, lovers of art and the KV community. 

The exhibition is Wilburra Estate, a glorious 100-acre property in Barrengarry, deep into Kangaroo Valley. It is a classically beautiful house in magnificent gardens with a generous shaded veranda from which to take in views of the escarpment, roaming paddocks and a dam complete with obligatory ducks! The property has been lent by its owners, Susan Teasey and Andrew McKindlay for the duration of the event as they put a hold on their normal lives. This generosity of spirit is not an isolated occurrence – Sculpture in the Valley could not happen without genuinely fantastic support from locals, who offer up time, experience and expertise in spades. There is, however, an extra layer of enrichment that the exhibition brings to the area: it firmly enhances community connections. There are over 100 locals involved using skills in management, accounts, marketing, infrastructure, catering, entertainment and much more. They apply for grants, navigate council regulations, work out how to engage and entertain and keep things authentically KV. 

Planning for Sculpture in the Valley began back in January with Stuart McCreery as the new Director. Stuart has been in project management for an impressive 50 years, in areas from civil engineering to theatre to the Olympics, so he has a slight inkling about what appeals to people and how to get it all in place for an opening ceremony.  

“I’m involved because of connections. A mate has an artist wife who has a friend who is involved. That’s [Vice President] Gudula Dornseifer; she asked the question, and I didn’t know enough to say no,” he says. “My subliminal expectations of meeting some fascinating people has been satisfied in buckets. And that’s just in the preparation. I’m fortunate to watch the wave of sculptors applying. We have an outstanding curator, David Ball, and two great artists as judges – Janet Laurence and Michael Snape. And then there’s the audience to come. What’s not to like?”

The event was launched by Elizabeth George and Belinda Webster in 2007. Kathy Harrington has been involved with umbrella organisation Arts in the Valley for many of those years. She recalls, “It was a side show for the central classical music program. The inaugural sculpture event was a great success and since then it has taken on a life of its own, it has gone from strength to strength.”

This year, the challenge has been to spread the news that the event is back, rejuvenated and ready. Talented KV videographer and editor Harry Keilly produced a video including the Valley, Wilburra Estate and artists. Working with him was the extremely experienced journalist and local, Howard Sacre. He visited sculptors to explore their works, approach and connections with our area. 

“I’m astonished how they create something so beautiful, straight out of their head”, he says. “There is so much thought, they need to produce something that fits the landscape: the right size and shape and how artwork will catch the light, from morning sun to the last glow of sunset. They also need to consider how it travels so it can be delivered to the show, then delivered safely to a new home when someone buys it.”

Julie Ward, another experienced broadcast professional, is managing events including music. She explains how the setting has inspired her.

“Wilburra provides experiences for visitors on many levels. The exhibition will unfold in a way unlike previous years, from the bus journey up the hill, the sudden reveal of the works in the landscape, the food and music. For the first time, it will be held over two weekends, opening space and time for featured artist talks and tours, workshops, curated cuisine, music and more.”

Nat Harker is the overall event  manager, keeping all the wheels turning. 

“I think we can all appreciate the incredible surroundings we live in, but it’s even more thrilling to have an outdoor exhibition in the middle of it”, she says.

“When I experienced Sculpture in the Valley for the first time, I knew I wanted to be part of it. The Manager position was advertised and I applied with lots of anticipation. I still thrive to help others experience that feeling of people coming together for a common experience in the arts. More of it I say!”

Stephen Wilson, managing the intricacies of infrastructure, explains, “Volunteering at Sculpture in the Valley allows people to utilise their skills while gaining professional experience. It supports not only the event, but also shows the wider local community and visitors what the beautiful Kangaroo Valley has to offer. All this while being a valuable member of a team, meeting people interested in the arts. It is an amazing event and well worth being part of while helping to bringing people together.”

None of this could happen without community. If you would like to join us, we’d love to hear from you. 

Sculpture in the Valley. September 9-10 and 17-18. Wilburra Estate, 32 Smarts Road, Barrengarry, Kangaroo Valley. The program will be released in the coming weeks and advance purchase of tickets is highly recommended.

See artsinthevalley.net.au or info@artsinthevalley.net.au for more info

Lisa Anthony