When Emma Cother inherited a broken down vintage bus in the backyard of her Maryville home, she saw beyond its dilapidated condition to the possibility of creating something special. Soon the wheels were set in motion for a new artist in residence program.
With professional experience in mental health through her work with the Hunter Institute of Mental Health as well as a Masters of Social Development majoring in refugees and forced migration, last year Emma was fortunate to complete the Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery Certificate program run by the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma. This course had an arts health focus on the role of creativity in healing from trauma.
With this background as well as a keen interest in the arts, the arts and health movement seemed to be ‘the natural fit’ for Emma – leading her to start the social enterprise Emerald Violin.
“There are a few leading organisations undertaking this work nationally and internationally, but I just felt the time was right to try something small on my own terms and in my own environment,” Emma says.
Emma came up with the idea for the bus while researching possible artist in residence spaces for her client, musician Amy Vee.
“I remember suggesting that Amy undertake a residency and she was enthralled by the idea of going somewhere to just absorb herself fully in her art,” Emma recalls. “I was struck by the power of artists giving themselves permission to create and be alone in that process and the power of people giving them spaces in which to do it. It then dawned on me that I had an incredible space in my yard, and I could give the gift of permission to others.”
As part of Emerald Violin, Emma converted the bus into comfortable accommodation which will form part of the program. The outside of the bus was transformed with a mural by local artist Mitch Resevsky.
“For me, the unique repurposing of a bus in a suburban backyard as a space for artists reflects Newcastle’s often irreverent, yet always innovative and practical approach to fostering creativity,” says Emma.
A key feature of the residency will be the requirement for all artists to make a tangible contribution to the local community by devising and facilitating a community engagement activity such as a lecture, workshop, performance or master class. Emma is excited about the artists coming to Newcastle and experiencing the nuances of the city for themselves and passing that torch on.
“With no other Australian live-in residency program being dedicated to the nexus of arts practice with health/social justice or community development values, I feel the Backyard Bus will honour and bolster the cultural credentials of the city as well as occupy a niche in the ‘residency’ market that is currently not being serviced,” Emma explains.
The pilot phase of the program consists of three free residencies of three weeks each beginning in August of this year. Applicants will be selected by a panel, which will also provide strategic guidance and leadership. In addition to Emma, the panel consists of arts manager Justine Potter, singer/songwriter and mental health advocate Amy Vee as well as Dr Nasir Warfa, Associate Professor at Queen Mary University of London, who is currently in the process of establishing the world’s first Masters program in mental health and creative arts.
Applications for 2013 residencies close on June 30. For more information about how to apply, visit the Emerald Violin website.