It’s a Friday night in February at The Queanbeyan Hive and the sound of Latin music is creating a taste of the culture to come in a city that appears very keen to break its long-held reputation as ‘Quangers’.
Down the road, you will still hear the familiar strains of Run to Paradise in the nearby pubs, but there is a steadily growing groundswell of artists creating the brushstrokes of an arts and culture scene bringing Queanbeyan into line with its big city cousin, Canberra, and nearby towns such as Braidwood.
The Queanbeyan Hive has long been giving a voice to the local arts and culture scene, but the city is now catching on.
Queanbeyan will also come to the rescue of this year’s National Folk Festival by hosting a scaled-back, COVID-19-safe event called Good Folk during two days of the Easter long weekend. Queanbeyan’s favourite son, Omar Musa, will perform exclusively for the festival.
Meanwhile, the town is also painting itself as an arts hub with a dash of cafe culture.
Cafes are beginning to thrive again, and while people may scoff at the thought of associating Queanbeyan with arts and culture, they can now do it while scoffing a quinoa and avocado salad while sipping an almond latte.
A construction tender for the $74 million Queanbeyan Civic and Cultural Precinct will soon have the first sod turned on a project described by Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council as “an essential component of the exciting Queanbeyan CBD transformation, and part of the catalyst for the future shape of the town”.
Upgrades to Bicentennial Hall are taking shape, while a new artistic director at The Q has a full card of events for at least the next six months.
The 2021 QPRC Art Awards has had a significant increase in prize money, with $12,000 to be offered in prizes thanks to sponsorship from Bendigo Bank.
The major prize of $5000 is $3000 more than when the awards were last held in 2019. The enhanced awards also include more categories including an emerging artist award for 18-25 year-olds ($2000); a small sculpture prize ($2000); a ceramics award ($1000); the Bendigo pick prize ($1000); and a viewer’s choice award ($1000).
Meanwhile, the refurbished Rusten House – a former hospital and one of Queanbeyan’s oldest buildings – will soon open as an exhibition space which is already booked from May until December 2021.
Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s newly appointed culture and arts officer, Janita Byrne, is a former educator at the National Gallery of Australia and she says there are lots more hidden gems of art and culture in the town.
“I’m blissfully discovering the history of Queanbeyan in the backstreets,” she says, admitting to previously only having a passing association with the city.
“People who pass through generally only see the main street so gems such as Rusten House will definitely become a tourist destination when it opens.”
The project to refurbish Rusten House, which was built in 1861, is the culmination of a six-year project that has seen asbestos removed and a new roof installed.
Janita says the transformation keeps the building’s original heritage and will provide a regular space for art exhibitions, as well as a space for community groups.
“We are at the pointy end of a very large project that will reactivate Rusten House, which will be known as the Rusten House Arts Centre and will open in mid-April,” she says.
The increased offerings of theatre and arts events in Queanbeyan are sorely needed, according to the owner of The Queanbeyan Hive, Helen Ferguson, who has been hosting live music events once a month, along with regular art exhibitions from local artists.
She regularly fields requests from local musicians and artists, but feels more could be done to help promote the burgeoning arts and culture scene in Queanbeyan.
“We’ve only just started back with regular events in the past month or so,” says Helen. “We’ve got our cafe here now, and we really just want to bring more people together.
“Queanbeyan has always been this kind of outsider to Canberra, and The Hive is one place where people can bring fresh and creative ideas. There are lots of little places like that here, but we need to all connect.”