A CHANCE meeting at The Lost Ones gallery helped lead Clare Schreenan and Julie McLaren on a path to find renewed purpose and a fresh perspective in all they do.
Julie had suggested Clare sign up for Leadership Ballarat and Western Region's leaders forum first. Personally, Julie had not felt ready to embark on the community empowerment program but thought Clare was a great candidate.
One year later, Julie is following in Clare's footsteps to learning a lot more about herself and the wider region than she ever expected. The Hugh Williamson Foundation scholarship is for emerging leaders in the region's creative arts and has allowed both Clare and Julie to break out of what they say is an "arts bubble".
Their lives have tended to revolve around fashion, art and great music. Both reached a point where they wanted more.
Fashion designer Clare (Clasch Design) felt she had become a "bit stale".
Clare had worked extensively in the bridal industry in Melbourne before working through Sydney, Paris, London and Los Angeles on projects. Moving home to Ballarat, Clare had been running her own business as a sole trader for about 12 years when the LBWR opportunity came up.
"I needed something to think about that wasn't about me," Clare said.
"I'd always wanted to be involved in the community. I am involved in the arts a bit but there's a whole world out there...It was just me seeing clients or socially going to the art gallery or music."
The program took Clare completely out of her comfort zone, mixing with people who had completely different outlooks on life.
"In little ways, whether I hear about something through friends or on social media, I take time to look at things differently," Clare said. "There's a little voice inside my head that says read this or you can be a part of this."
One example of this, Clare said, was in choosing Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre's social enterprise kitchen to cater for her wedding later in the year. Understanding where her great food was coming from, and the impact it could have on people's lives, made a big difference to Clare.
She was introduced to the kitchen's work on a program day.
Clare's experience helped inspired Julie to take up the experiential LBWR program this year.
A change in director at Art Gallery of Ballarat, where Julie is curator, created new opportunities and the timing felt right for Julie to take the plunge.
"It's a good time for me to reflect on my career and how I interact with people. I give talks all the time on radio, to school groups and I showed the Lord Mayor of Melbourne through the gallery recently but I haven't really had that confidence boost to help me speak up and express my opinion," Julie said.
"I've thinking all the time now in the way I work with colleagues and artists."
Exposure to the wider community has helped Julie start to explore a long-held passion in cross-overs between the arts and health. The program has opened her eyes to the city's homelessness and mental health crisis.
"I want to find what role the gallery can play. Art can be a powerful way to change a life," Julie said. "The challenge we really face is ensuring people understand the gallery is here for everyone."
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