Hello Koalas

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Hello Koalas is an exciting new local initiative that will bring national and international attention to our very own official Koala Sculpture Trail … we find out more about this signature cultural event  from Project Manager, Linda Hall.

Tell us about the background to this event …
Hello Koalas is a three year public art project, spanning 2013 to 2015. It is based on the creation of 50 large-scale fibreglass sculptures, painted and decorated by celebrity artists, professional artists and community groups.
The koala sculptures will be installed across the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council geographic boundary to form the Official Koala Sculpture Trail. As part of the project, 200,000 trail maps, supported by an online pdf version, will be circulated when the sculptures are revealed in situ in September 2014.

Where did the idea for this project originate?
Hello Koalas Project Director Margret Meagher is also Executive Director of locally based national organisation, Arts and Health Australia (AHA), which promotes health and wellbeing through creative expression and engagement. Margret’s extensive experience in cultural tourism and marketing was a catalyst in seeing the opportunity for staging a public art project in our region.
Public art projects, centred around animals, have been in evidence since the 1990s when Chicago established its ‘Cow Parade’, but the real inspiration for Hello Koalas came from the public sculpture project in the UK called ‘Larkin with Toads’ in 2010, which featured 40 decorated toad sculptures in the city of Hull. Over 120,000 people took part in the Toads Sculpture Trail in a 10-week period. One of Margret’s arts and health colleagues, Elaine Burke, was Toads Project Manager and has now joined us as international adviser to the Hello Koalas project.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is the principal sponsor – partnering with Arts and Health Australia to establish Hello Koalas as a signature cultural event for the region, complementing existing signature sporting and lifestyle events.

Linda, how did you become involved, and what do you love so much about the project?
I have been working in the tourism industry for over 20 years now. In my previous role as Tourism and Economic Development Manager at Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, one of my focus areas was attracting sporting, cultural and business events to the region that directly increased visitation from outside our LGA and provided a positive economic return for the wider community.
When Margret and I first met to discuss her event concept, I was instantly excited about the prospect of staging an event for the Port Macquarie-Hastings region that was essentially going to be like no other on our calendar. It delivers a signature cultural event for our area and has the potential to position Port Macquarie-Hastings as the arts and cultural capital of regional NSW.
I believe it will also stimulate economic development by portraying Port Macquarie Hastings as an area that has abundant natural attractions, is environmentally attuned and offers a vibrant and cosmopolitan lifestyle – a fun and interesting place to live, work, study and invest. From a tourism perspective, a key objective is to increase visitation (numbers, length of stay, expenditure) in the domestic, national and international markets by enhancing visitor destination appeal and showcasing the destination as having so much more to offer than just beautiful beaches.
Another major objective is to raise awareness of the importance of koala care and conservation and highlight the significant work of the Koala Hospital and Study Centre. The President of the Koala Preservation Society of NSW, Bob Sharpham, outstanding volunteers like Helen Meers, and the Koala Hospital’s Supervisor, Cheyne Flanagan, are incredibly passionate and committed individuals.
Our aim is to capture this knowledge and experience at the Koala Hospital and work collaboratively to develop a comprehensive education program. My background, prior to working in tourism, was high school teaching, so the education component of this Project for me personally is also very exciting.

Who else is part of the Hello Koalas team?
We have a small local team, which includes Gabriella Carroll and Mitch McKay, who have strong experience in events, heritage and community cultural development. AHA’s print and online design team – Drusilla Ross Jones, Emrys Hughes and Sally Ryan – have come on board too. And Elaine Burke and photographer Dave Lee are contributing from the UK. We also have a community advisory group to provide feedback from time to time.
Melbourne artist Ben Walsh is responsible for developing the digital design for the koala sculpture and has worked closely with Cheyne Flanagan, Supervisor at the Koala Hospital, to ensure that the sculptural image is a Port Macquarie Koala! One of the fascinating aspects of the project has been discovering how the appearance of koalas varies in different parts of Australia, due to environmental conditions.

How is the Hello Koalas project being funded?
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is the principal sponsor. In addition, we have already met with over 20 businesses throughout the Port Macquarie-Hastings region, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As an official sponsor of this event, organisations are deemed a ‘Community Champion’.
Sponsors will be proud to support one of the hand-decorated artworks that reflect the individual philosophy of their organisation or supports a charity of their choice. As the project encompasses a 3-year period, and the structures are installed halfway through the project, the Hello Koalas team has structured a package of sponsorship benefits to maximise an organisation’s investment in this signature cultural event for the region.
If anyone is interested in becoming a sponsor, they can visit our website: www.hellokoalas.com – email Linda@hellokoalas.com or call me on 0428 975 650.

Tell us about the next stage of the project in the coming months?
From May to August 2013, a call for designs will be circulated to artists, photographers, designers and craftspeople through supporting partner Arts Mid North Coast (Regional Arts NSW) and other avenues to attract a variety of innovative designs inspired by the Port Macquarie-Hastings Region.

Beyond the launch of the sculptures Greater Port Macquarie in September 2014, where else do you see the Koala sculptures appearing?
When planning the event, Margret and I recognised the significant international tourism opportunity offered by Hello Koalas. We have been able to utilise Margret’s arts and health network internationally to plan the placement of koala sculptures and organisation of sculpture exhibitions in the UK, USA, China, Singapore and Hong Kong. Many overseas locations are children’s hospitals, so there is a lovely link with our own unique Koala Hospital.

Thanks Linda.

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