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My Gateway Project; Healing Community Through Art and Contribution

June 4, 2022

By Dora Rognvaldsdottir

It was New Year’s Eve 2019 when the world went black for most in the Shoalhaven. We sat around the kitchen table with snacks, drinks, gloves, masks and a board game that moved along veeery slowly.

We were glued to the wireless or ABC radio Illawarra for news of wind change and unfolding events from the southern communities informing the northern communities. It was the most reliable and fastest source as we listened to people sharing their stories and news.

Never have I remembered such togetherness where neighbours shared ladders, hoses and resources making sure that they knew the movements of each other. Fences between properties were not boundaries anymore.

In the midst of this dire time there was an overwhelming notion that we as a community were in this together, there was a beautiful thread of comradery, good will and kindness. The rural fire brigade and all the selfless voluntaries were a beacon to us all, selfless, brave and caring.

local fire and rescue volunteers at Ulladulla Harbour to celebrate the opening of the art work Gateway sculpture to remember the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires
Local heroes , local volunteers, community coming together, strong together. Photo credit: Chris Senior

There is nothing as powerful as the strength of a community.

It was this notion that inspired me as a sculptor and a community artist to create an opportunity for communities in the Shoalhaven to work together on a common goal, to create a sculpture, a public work that we could all be proud of. A project where people could share stories, skills and heal together.

Gateway would have to speak through symbolism about so many aspects about this big subject, this catastrophe. The artwork needed to be a visual dialogue that the viewer could engage with. The laser cut artwork on each shape is a story from different parts of the Shoalhaven gathered through photographs from people from all parts within the community.

The Gateway sculpture at Ulladulla Harbour is a powerful reminder of the devastation, loss and grief experienced during and after the Black Summer bushfires, by the people, by the animals, by the environment, an immeasurable loss for all these communities and life forms, celebrating community strengths has never been more important.
Powerful reminders of the devastation, loss and grief experienced during and after the Black Summer bushfires, by the people, by the animals, by the environment, an immeasurable loss for all these communities and life forms, celebrating community strengths has never been more important. Photo credit: Chris Senior

Over 1200 ceramic works made by hundreds of participants speak of lost fauna and flora.

The shape of the work, the three spires, resemble seedlings or fire and create an intimate space within for the viewer to engage with the sculpture.

The shape of the Gateway sculptures, the three spires, resemble seedlings or fire and create an intimate space within for the viewer to engage with the sculpture.
The shape of the work, the three spires, resemble seedlings or fire and create an intimate space within for the viewer to engage with the sculpture. Photo credit: Chris Senior

Gateway has been a big journey and an enormously successful community arts project. It has involved over 500 participants throughout the Shoalhaven. There have been no boundaries to age or capability. A 5-year-old sat next to a 95-year-old and shared tools and ideas in detailing native ceramic animals.

There is no language as beautiful and powerful as art. Art is a language that is deeply personal yet in the right environment it is the most inclusive way to express and share ideas. This is the heart of community arts.

Dreaming big, which I am guilty of, always requires support and people believing in my vision.

I am the wealthiest person that I know of when it comes to the number of good people in my life, people who encourage me and support me in achieving the end goal.

I have so many people to thank for coming on this journey with me. It has been a real community effort and without each and every wonderful and often selfless contribution none of this would have been possible. These include fabrication, laser cutters, animal makers for moulds, workshop participants, art students, grouters, photographers, documentary maker, transporters and more.

Group photo at the opening of the public sculpture Gateway, Ulladulla Harbour, Sunday 29 May 2022, congratulations Dora, amazing artwork, amazing effort, a dream come true.
Group photo at the opening of Gateway, Ulladulla Harbour, Sunday 29 May 2022, congratulations Dora, amazing artwork, amazing effort, a dream come true. Photo credit: Chris Senior

So many have contributed so much. And right to the very end. One person in particular needs to be thanked, Anne Stuart, who spent countless days and weekends with me delicately weaving the thousands of pieces of animals, flora and tiles representing the wind and glowing ambers.

The cost of manufacturing Gateway went far beyond the grant and after exploring other unsuccessful options I had to ask the community to help with covering the outstanding cost to get this significant work completed. Through crowdfunding and the generosity of many we got there. Huge thanks to all who donated.

There are so many people that have helped in so many ways and I extend my gratitude to all of them. I am deeply proud of Gateway. It is beautiful, graceful and a true reflection of community arts at its best.

Feature image: Shoalhaven artist Dora Rognvaldsdottir from Madcowstudio at the official opening of the public sculpture Gateway art project at Ulladulla Harbour. Photo credit: Chris Senior

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