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All about art

Updated: Sep 12, 2023


Gretchen Keelty is a positive force of nature. Her enthusiasm and passion for art is infectious, and in her role as Sculpture on the Edge Festival Director, it’s clear the event is in good hands!


By Victoria McGuin


To me, Gretchen Keelty encompasses colour, joy, and imagination; so, who better to work as the Festival Director for Sculpture on the Edge (SOTE)?


I was invited to Gretchen’s home for our recent conversation: a cosy space filled with art, children’s paraphernalia and musical instruments (her partner is acclaimed Sunshine Coast musician Cory Carlyon).


“It’s getting quite hectic now,” Gretchen said, as she swept posters, notes and programs to one side of the dining table.


“The annual SOTE exhibition has expanded at Flaxton Gardens, to include workshops, immersive events, artist talks and more, all to be revealed shortly in the new program!”

Gretchen lives and breathes art – this much is obvious. “Imagine what change we would see in the world if we gave the arts the funding and acknowledgment it deserves,” she said as we settled in with a cup of tea.


Gretchen’s background reflects her constant passion to create, learn and connect, with a Master of Fine Art Production from La Universitat Politècnica de València, a BA in Design, a BSc in Anatomical Sciences, a B Bus in Marketing, a Certificate of Painting from the Julian Ashton Art School and a Masterclass from Shillington College, Sydney.


How did all this begin? “I grew up in Palmwoods on farm in Winston Road,” said Gretchen. “The neighbours were all like extended family, and still are, and there were plenty of kids my age, but I was an only child, so I did spend a lot of time just me and the dog hanging out.


“I entertained myself through creativity. Rocks, dirt, playdough, painting, I used it all. Even now I do the same with my kids. We recently made Origami jumping frogs from the remaining flyers from last year’s Sculpture on the Edge!


“I would wake up as a small child and start drawing; then as a teenager I was making wearable art. It’s fun, and the reaction you can have is wonderful! My parents realised this was something I was into and encouraged me all the way.”


Gretchen has long believed in the healing and community power of art, and shared the story of her time in Ecuador, rescued by a family from a dangerous situation there.


“I thought, ‘how can I repay them for their kindness?’ I saw they had a church, where various kids were living. It was run down, with cracked windows and peeling beige paint. We painted it white, and covered the entire chapel with murals, including a giant tree.

“We also painted a beautiful seascape with stars, and the children said, ‘we love being here now’.


“You can transform someone’s entire world and how they feel about themselves with art,” said Gretchen.


“I believe you can tell people something, but it doesn’t reach them in quite the same way as in their heart space through art.”


After years of travelling, learning, and creating, Gretchen returned to the Sunshine Coast and became a member of Arts Connect Inc.


“It is such a positive group of artists, encompassing the hinterland and the coast, with so many varied mediums, so many ideas and wonderful artist studio spaces to visit through the annual ‘Open Studios’ over ten days.


“To be able to meet art lovers, to share your thoughts about art, how you create, to hear what they love, to pique others’ interest, it’s invaluable. We really do ‘connect’ in the best way possible!”


Gretchen is keen for a collaborative approach for all artistic events across the region to build awareness, where everyone supports and highlights each other.


She’s right, we have an abundance of creativity here : Arts Connect, Sculpture on the Edge, Open Studios, the Australian Wearable Art Festival, the Rangebow Festival, Knitfest, Horizon Festival, Kenilworth Arts Fest, Arts Alive, Woodford, the Butter Factory, Lind Lane Theatre, the Old Ambo, Maleny Players…


“There are so many things happening that make this area the heart of the arts in South-East Queensland!” said Gretchen, with her trademark big smile.


Sculpture on the Edge, however, is Gretchen’s great passion for the moment. “I am staying up late almost every night working on this as there is so much to do, from applying for funding, to contacting artists, to arranging the social media. I have to be organised!


“I did some part-time military officer training from 1997-1999. There were many different things, like measuring the smile on your sock, tying your shoelaces outside over, where I thought at the time, what’s the point?


“But now I’m older and have had experience in marketing and organising events, I realise that if one thing is out of place, the whole thing can fall apart. Those little details can make a difference.


“We have five local councillors supporting us with funding and a Sunshine Coast Council Major Events grant, so far. They recognise that SOTE contribute to the community and the economy, thanks to the thousands who visit Sculpture on the Edge.”


Gretchen is hoping for funding to bring live music to the event, and is also arranging children’s workshops for the weekends, satellite events, professional development workshops, masterclasses and art workshops, such as the ‘wax to bronze’ workshop.


“There will be something interesting and different every day. The artist talks are an important element for visitors, but they are also important for the artists’ own professional development.


“We will have Quiet Mondays, and Flaxton Gardens is wheelchair friendly. We want art to be accessible for everyone.”


Now in its 13th year, Sculpture on the Edge continues to evolve and exhibit a vast selection of artworks for all ages to enjoy. Running from November 23-December 10, artworks include indoor and outdoor sculptures, and the winning artist will be awarded the $10,000 first prize, generously donated by Flaxton Gardens.


There will be a small entry fee this year, with ‘cheap Tuesdays’, concessions and school-age kids can visit for free.


“Art brings joy to the viewer, sparks imagination, and it’s healthy for the artist, and Sculpture on the Edge brings all this to Flaxton Gardens. We can’t wait to showcase all the incredible art for everyone who comes along!”


Arts Connect Inc is a volunteer-run, membership-based, not-for-profit group, and the generous support of the Sunshine Coast Council, sponsors and donors helps make SOTE possible. To find out more, visit: scultpureontheedge.com.au or artsconnectinc.com.au

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