Ballarat is fast becoming a hub for creatives, turning lanes into art galleries, bank buildings into studios and cul-de-sacs into exhibition spaces.
Every two years Ballarat comes alive as the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB), transforms the city with curated art and photography, hosted by more than 100 cafés, restaurants, and historical venues over several months.
This year’s headlining show Linda McCartney: Retrospective is a world first and takes audiences down memory lane with some of the most iconic artists and moments from the 1960s music scene alongside intimate family portraits.
The Ballarat exhibition has been curated by her family, including husband Paul and daughters Stella and Mary.
The photographs capture the world as Linda McCartney experienced it, in her inimitable, spontaneous and experimental style.
And whilst ‘Retrospective’ reflects on the past, its presence at the Art Galley of Ballarat is paving the way forward for the city’s creative and artistic future.
Outgoing Artistic Director and CEO Fiona Sweet says it took four years of negotiations to secure the exhibition, but it’s this attention to quality that drives audiences to the biennale every two years.
“I think it’s really important to note that in 2017, 41,000 attendees to the Biennale had never been to Ballarat before, this audience is not necessarily interested in history they are interested in art - and the reason they came again is the quality of the art,” she says.
Sweet says this year’s ticket holders has expanded to music and celebrity lovers, with the increased foot traffic already having an impact.
“After ongoing restrictions and lockdowns across the country, the Biennale is vital to restart and encourage tourism in Ballarat, which we know delivers enormous flow-on benefits for the community and local businesses.”
This is something local wine bar Mitchell Harris has experienced firsthand, with a fifty per cent increase in trade off the back of the Biennale.
Dr Craig Mitchell is part of the successful duo that founded Mitchell Harris. He’s also a Specialist Anaesthetist and finds the time to capture Ballarat through photography.
This year he’s showcasing his work during the Biennale, with his exhibit Cinematic Ballarat.
“In this year’s Biennale I’ve used cues from cinema and movies as a way to show parts of Ballarat and people in Ballarat in a different way than they have been seen before,” he says.
Craig believes photography and art will play an important part of Ballarat’s future branding - as it entices visitors back post-pandemic.
“One of the best things about photography as an art medium is that it really has so many aspects that appeals to everyone,” says Craig.
“It can be high art, or sport, even news. There is always something that can interest people to have them thinking about taking a trip to Ballarat.”
Not just for visitors from Melbourne, art and photography is appealing to regional Victorians and locals as well.
Ballarat Tourism Chair Paul Martino says the recent 1000 Doors exhibition, which opened to regional Victorians in between lockdowns, proved there was an appetite for art.
“We sold 10,000 tickets over the four-week period. The event sold out every weekend with a diverse audience of age groups from young families, students, visitors and seniors,” he said.
Created by Australian artists Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, the installation toured the Melbourne International Arts Festival, Brisbane Festival, Adelaide Fringe Festival, Auckland’s Aotea Square and the Bendigo Art Gallery.
In Ballarat, the installation came together thanks to a $100,000 investment from the Victorian Government’s Regional Recovery Fund.
“We received a wonderful reception in Ballarat and without a doubt the imagery captured of individuals immersing themselves in the work as seen on social media was indeed some of the most spectacular images of any city we have visited,” says Christian.
It’s talent like this that Fiona Sweet is wanting to foster. After several years of advocacy from the BIFB team, Ballarat cemented its artistic future securing funding for the National Centre for Photography - a cornerstone project of Ballarat’s ‘Creative City Strategy’.
Built in 1864, the historic Union Bank Building will over the next two years transform into the National Centre of Photography thanks to $6.7 million from the Victorian Government.
“There are no other regional cities that have a major festival like the Biennale and to have the National Centre - it really will put us on the map as the home of photography,” says Fiona.
“What makes a city great, and what makes Ballarat a great city, is its art.”
For more information on the Regional Recovery Fun visit the Regional Development Victoria website.
The Linda McCartney: Retrospective is open daily (except 25/26 December) until 9 January 2022. The full Core Program of indoor exhibitions are open Thursday – Sunday, including the Linda McCartney: Retrospective.
For more information on the exhibit visit the Ballarat International Foto Biennale website.