Lisa van den Dolder – Local Artist

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From the vibrancy of nature to the beautiful innocence of childhood dreams, the Glasshouse plays host to an exhibition with a difference throughout April and May 2011.

Lisa van den Dolder, Operation Art Project Officer, explains how one exhibition not only becomes a visual feast for the eyes, but also benefits sick children …

Exactly what is the Operation Art exhibition?

Operation Art is the premier state wide visual arts exhibition for students in Kindergarten to Year 10. It is a unique, contemporary children’s exhibition that attracts public support from the government, health and education sectors and the wider community.

The exhibition began 16 years ago, when the Children’s Hospital at Westmead wanted to display children’s art in the hospital, with the aim of creating a positive environment and aid the healing and recovery process of young patients.

Each year, every school across the state is invited to enter up to 4 artworks in this exhibition. All works entered are framed and hung in the main exhibition. From this exhibition, some works are selected to tour regional galleries across the state, before being given to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Other works are selected to be given to regional hospitals, and some works have even been given to hospitals internationally.

What’s your association with the exhibition, and how did you become involved?

My first experience with Operation Art was as a teacher entering students’ work in the exhibition. I found the exhibition a wonderful opportunity for students to gain wider recognition for their creativity and at the same time give them a real purpose – to create artworks for sick kids.

I have now been involved with Operation Art for 8 years, coordinating workshops for students and teachers across the state in association with the exhibition. This year I have taken on the additional role of coordinating the whole program. I feel very privileged to work with a project that encourages active engagement in the arts and culture and creates strong links within the community.

What’s the aim of Operation Art?

The exhibition aims to encourage students to create artworks for children in hospital and through the connections with hospitals and galleries, the student artists also become aware of their audience. They begin to realise that artworks may mean different things to themselves, their peers and other people.

Through the workshops we aim to enrich and creatively extend students in visual arts, and through our teacher development days we aim to support teachers in teaching visual arts.

Who are the organisers/ sponsors of the program?

Operation Art is an initiative of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in association with the Department of Education and Communities. The annual touring exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Nelson Meers Foundation, and the workshops are supported by S&S Wholesalers.

How many schools and students were involved in the program this time around?

In 2010, 707 students participated in the exhibition, from 222 schools throughout NSW. We have entries from students at big city schools and from students at remote one teacher schools. This program definitely breaks down geographical barriers.

What was the process behind these students’ artworks being accepted for the exhibition?

Each school can enter up to four works from students in Kindergarten up to Year 10. Often the schools have their own selection process to decide on their entries. We frame and hang every artwork that is entered, because we want all students to gain recognition for their art.

What types of artwork mediums are represented in Operation Art?

The artworks come in a huge variety. Every year I’m amazed by the imagination and creativity shown by our talented students. We have lots of works that use traditional media of drawing, painting and printmaking, but we also receive many mixed media works which use lots of interesting combinations of these. Digital artworks are also becoming more common.

What are your favourite pieces from the exhibition – and why?

This is a hard one! I do love the clever watercolour done by Rebecca Mackenzie, aged 16 from Lismore High School, of her sister eating an ice cream – or maybe the ice cream is eating her!

Then there is the colourful, lively painting of turtles titled Tropical Element by four 11-year-old students from Old Bar Public School: Isabel Lynch, Chelsea Bardan, Zoe Williams and Jasmine Aldous.

I also love the printed work by Zeek Lukacic, aged 6, from Banks Public School. The bird looks like it might just fly out of the frame!

Where and when was the opening of the exhibition held – and how was it received by the wider public?

The main exhibition was opened at The Armory Gallery, Sydney Olympic Park in October 2010. We had 3,000 people visit on the opening day and 5,000 visitors in total during the whole exhibition. The main opening day has a festival feel. We individually welcome all our young artists and encourage them to bring along their families to enjoy the experience.

The general public also love our exhibition, with many visitors commenting on the delightful feel of the exhibition and some even wishing they could purchase the works.

An exhibition of some of the artwork will be held at the Glasshouse in Port Macquarie during April and May. What can visitors to this exhibition expect to see, feel and experience?

The exhibition being held at the Glasshouse is of 51 artworks, which were selected by a panel of judges – including Joanna Capon OAM, patron and honorary art curator of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

The works on exhibition range from delightfully fresh, colourful works done by students in Kindergarten to very developed and complex works done by high school students.

The wall plaques beside the work describe the artists’ intent, and reading them always brings a smile to the viewers. It’s hard to say which works you will be drawn to most, but I’m sure the colour, charm and positive feel of this exhibition will compel you to linger.

What’s next for Operation Art – will it be travelling more extensively around the country?

After the Glasshouse, this exhibition will tour to Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Cowra, before it returns to Sydney, where the artworks will be permanently hung as a part of the collection at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

Meanwhile, we are starting to receive new entries for this year’s exhibition, which will open on 10 September at the Armory Gallery, Sydney Olympic Park.

What is the likelihood that this program will run again in the future?

This is the 16th year of Operation Art. We have grown from 50 works in our first exhibition to the 699 that we received last year. Our reach of schools grows every year, as more and more schools realise what a wonderful experience it is to be a part of Operation Art.

I’m sure we will continue to exhibit and provide wonderful opportunities for students and teachers across the state for a long time.

Thank you Lisa.

The Operation Art exhibition of 51 selected artworks will be on display in the Glasshouse from 5 – 29 May.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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