by MICHELE STERNBERG

At first glance, Gretchen Keelty appears to be the antithesis of herself: artistic yet scientific, capricious yet calculated, refined yet resilient. 

With a personality as complex and intriguing as the Fibonacci sequence, the tenacious Buderim artist and socialite knows how to wield a paintbrush as expertly as she does a firearm.

And while she’s no stranger to army greens, these days she’s more at home in a pair of jeans tending her pet chickens or donning a bejewelled ballgown for a special fundraising occasion.

The recently elected president of Arts Connect Inc is well credentialled with a Bachelor of Arts in design and a Bachelor of Business from the University of the Sunshine Coast, as well as a Bachelor of Science (Anatomical Sciences) from the University of Queensland, a Masters of Artistic Production from Universitat Politecnica de Valencia in Spain, a Certificate in Fine Arts – Painting from the Julian Ashton Fine Art School and a Diploma in Market Research, and has studied permaculture design and yoga, and completed officer training with the Australian Army.

The world traveller has planted her feet on home soil for a while as she prepares for the arrival of her first child in September and works to unite creatives on the Sunny Coast through her volunteer role with Arts Connect Inc.

She was appointed president on November 16 last year and is relishing the task of raising the profile of the arts on the Coast through workshops, exhibitions and networking events for its 200-plus members.

Gretchen understands there is strength in numbers and the Coast has “probably the highest density of artists anywhere in the world”, but so many are isolated in home studios.

“A lot of artists are working in isolation so this is where having an organisation to really advocate and push for collaboration – and to see the opportunities – is quite important,” she says.

“Our vision for Arts Connect is to provide a platform to improve economic sustainability for artists and the arts in our region. 

“We do this through our various activities such as our major events, member exhibitions, social events and workshops including the business of art. 

“It’s a big role for a volunteer organisation but with the help of our members and sponsors, we hope to see our community grow and prosper.”

Despite the long unpaid hours in the role, including organising the closing of the Truth, Healing and Prophecy exhibition on March 5, Open Studios Sunshine Coast over two weekends from March 18 and the annual Arty Farty Party on March 30 (which she missed attending thanks to a bout of Covid), Gretchen seems in her element.

“It was a mad month, mad March. Now it’s more consolidation; we’re having a members’ survey and planning our calendar ahead so there’s more structure for learning and opportunities,” she says.

Members are of all ages and range from those just starting their careers to others with international profiles and those who do art as a hobby or just for fun.

Gretchen says this year the group is introducing four teams to support its key activities – Open Studios Sunshine Coast, SOTE (Sculpture On The Edge), exhibitions and workshops.

“The one thing that we really need more than anything is people to volunteer,” she says. “It’s a lot of work for a couple of people but if you have 10 people helping by doing little amounts of works, it’s much more manageable.”

Gretchen says she used to feel that being an artist was almost indulgent. 

“Art was something I enjoyed so much, that flowed so naturally, that it wasn’t a ‘real’ job. I have finally come to see how ridiculous this is,” she says.

However, it’s a misconception still held by many. Gretchen would love to see public appreciation for art on par with other services and professions.

“Do you say to the builder, ‘I’ll let you come and build my house as a demo for public appreciation? And if you’re lucky I might chip in for the materials’? You just wouldn’t.”

At the end of the day, she hopes Arts Connect can support artists to build a more sustainable arts economy and truly put the Sunny Coast on the cultural map.

“We are looking at education, collaborations to create activations and asking, ‘what’s the best way for everyone to get benefit, for artists to get fair recognition and pay for their work?’ as well,” Gretchen says.

In the lead-up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, she’s hoping there will be many opportunities.

“Sunshine Coast Council has been very supportive of us and Open Studios, and we would really like to work together more closely with them in the future,” she says.

“We could have Arts Connect members create really unique things, like cards in the Olympic Village rooms, that people will cherish for the rest of their lives. A lot of what artists bring can really activate spaces.

“We could have ethically, sustainably made gifts, uniforms, furnishings, public art in the Olympic village that is really unique, celebrating everything that it is to be Australian.

“Later that public art goes out into the community – it’s not just a one-off thing, it’s also a future tourist attraction if all these different towns had their own piece which formed an Olympic art trail throughout South-East Queensland.

“We’re trying to help from an economic point of view; it’s not just cultural.”

 

If you’re an artist and would like to join for $55 a year visit artsconnectinc.com.au.

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