Arts Upper Hunter has appointed a new executive director in John O'Brien, who brings with him an extensive and varied set of skills with a background in music, film, TV, improvisation, museums, travel writing and community groups.
Arts Upper Hunter (AUH) is one of 14 Regional Arts Development Organisations across the state and a key community group for local creative people and organisations.
The organisation supports and promotes opportunities for those involved in the creative industries across the Shires of Dungog, Muswellbrook, Singleton and Upper Hunter.
"Creativity and the arts have been crucial to my life," said O'Brien.
"So it's wonderful to be able to sing the praises of this industry and help strengthen the network round here and build support for others."
O'Brien's background is extensive, from editing labels in the Powerhouse Museum and London's Natural History Museum to making short films, writing episodes for TV shows and creating TV series, to a more recent shift into music and live performance.
"There've been some leftfield highlights along the way, such as driving around Estonia rewriting a guidebook to the country," he said.
"And some fantastic experiences in this very region, mentoring drama students in Singleton or Aberdeen, for example. I know what it's like to connect with your local community, how hungry people are to be offered the chance to access new skills, and how buzzy it is to be learning or teaching those skills."
For five years, O'Brien was co-coordinator of Dungog Community College.
"In community education it's all about finding out what's needed, matching it to what's possible and seeing if you can put a course or event together, whether that's A Day In The Roses or a Certificate in Aged Care," he said.
"It's the same principle with the creative industries - trying to match needs with opportunities, hopes with happenings."
His musical life includes playing the vibraphone and Pianica for trio Fancy and duo The De Factos. Most recently, he has been a founding member of the Performing Artists of Dungog non-profit community group.
"We made a great start, but we are a bit snookered by coronavirus, at the moment," he confessed.
But if there's a renewed energy in many parts of the bush, it's partly a positive side-effect to the otherwise dark effects of COVID-19. Tourists and tree-changers are coming to the country in unprecedented numbers. Benefits are being reaped. And according to the Chair of Arts Upper Hunter, Ivan Skaines, there's a buzz around.
"This is a great time to be promoting the arts and creative industries," Skaines said. "One example: shops and galleries opening in main streets, which can be good for the economy, for local artists and for visitors wanting things to do."
O'Brien agreed adding art serves as a connector in difficult times.
"Of course the flip side of that is shops closed because of lockdown, loneliness, mental health problems," O'Brien said. "I see the arts as sites of connection and discovery - but you have to reach people and talk to them in their language."
As for Arts Upper Hunter itself, says Skaines, "Our priorities include building on existing partnerships and developing new ones, generally providing day-to-day and strategic support for creative people working in the Upper Hunter, and increasing and diversifying our income."