Coffs Harbour Wins Prestigious Dobell Exhibition Grant

Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery has been awarded the highly prestigious Dobell Exhibition Grant, supported by the Sir William Dobell Art Foundation and managed by Museums & Galleries of NSW.

Awarded to one regional gallery per year, this grant is highly contested and has been awarded to the upcoming exhibition Halfway.

Halfway is a contemporary art exhibition about Coffs Harbour as a highway town about to be by-passed. It will be a signature exhibition of  the 2023 exhibition program in Yarrila Arts & Museum (YAM).

Halfway will be curated by the Museum and Gallery curatorial team encompassing commissions, loans and items from the gallery and museum’s collection to create an exhibition that engages local communities but also resonates with broader audiences.

Coffs Harbour City Council Project Curator Jo Besley said most Australians know Coffs Harbour as a place on the Pacific Highway, with a big banana, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane.

“Now it’s the last of 30 towns to be by-passed by the highway upgrade.  Highways and the places associated with them are sometimes thought of as ‘non-places’: spaces of transience and anonymity.

“The exhibition explores the duality of Coffs Harbour as a place and non-place, where the built environment is dominated by motels, service stations, ‘Big Things’ and tourism objects like windmills and model villages.

“Access to high quality visual arts is the principal intention in presenting this exhibition, along with increasing and diversifying the gallery’s audiences as we move to a new purpose-designed space.

“First and foremost, the exhibition targets locals who have never visited by exploring our place and our community, both critically and playfully. Visitation to Yarrila Place as a whole is projected at 400,000 per annum, a vast expansion of our current visitation and the grant provides an opportunity to offer a meaningful and accessible exhibition for locals and tourists alike.”

Halfway will be fun and celebratory but also provocative, it will signal the kind of exhibitions the community can expect to see at YAM:

 • Inclusive and inviting: welcoming to people of all ages and backgrounds;

• Approachable, down to earth;

• Surprising and thought provoking;

• Our local stories and arts will be a revelation: diverse, playful and inspiring.

This exhibition embeds extensive community engagement and public programs to build a strong sense of local ownership and authenticity. Jane Skeer’s installation, for example, will be created from trucking straps, collected via a call-out to local trucking companies. In turn, long haul truck-drivers will be invited to share their stories of life on the road in storytelling sessions during the exhibition.  Three local artists will be commissioned to design a new era souvenir for Coffs Harbour and the Gallery will run souvenir design and making workshops for kids.

Other Halfway programs:

• In Loving Memory honours the lives of those lost on our highways and the friends and family who pay tribute to them through roadside memorials.

• Avoiding the by-pass blues, a public debate about how we become a more sustainable city post-by-pass.

• Show ‘n Shine engages with car culture groups like the Coffs Harbour Veteran and Vintage Car Club, car restorers and those who just love to pimp their ride to present a celebratory event in the carpark and laneway adjacent to Yarrila Place. Coffs Coast has an established culture of motor sport and general motoring enthusiasm.

• Big Things plays on Coffs’ infamy as the home of the Big Banana and our collective love of souvenirs.

• Life on the Road, storytelling by locals: tall tales and true.