Australian arts organisation The Wired Lab was founded with a simple mission: to ensure people living in rural and regional communities don’t miss out on cultural experiences their metropolitan counterparts get to enjoy.
Now, 13 years later, artistic director and CEO Sarah Last says that as an artist herself, it’s always been important to maintain a space for her practice in rural areas.
“I don’t want people to think that living rurally means isolation,” she says. “Instead, it can be an entirely enlightening, authentic experience.”
Five years ago, Sarah came up with the idea for Wired Open Labs, a series of workshops that provide people of all levels of artistic ability in Canberra and its surrounding region with access to creative skills and a community.
She explains these workshops capitalise on what she calls the ‘experience economy’.
“I don’t think people are necessarily interested in acquiring more things – they want more experiences,” says Sarah.
She says in many rural areas, participation is greater in creative groups than in sport.
“It might have something to do with the ageing population we are grappling with because there comes a time in your life when you can’t play sport,” says Sarah.
“But we’re also seeing family groups come through who are creating intergenerational memories and getting to go home with something they’ve made.”
Getting Wired Open Labs off the ground has required many community partnerships.
“They’re readily welcomed and while they are a big commitment, we also reap rewards in terms of spaces to host our workshops and strong ties with different community groups,” says Sarah.
Some of the Wired Open Labs success stories so far include women who have started small businesses after learning new creative skills, or have shared them through networks such as the Country Women’s Association or various mothers’ groups.
According to Sarah, in light of the difficulties rural communities have faced during the past few years with the drought and COVID-19, the social element of interacting with likeminded people is really important.
As proof of just how much variety Wired Open Labs can provide, acclaimed horticulturist and indoor plant stylist Tammy Huynh is set to run her first Wired Open Lab workshop on Saturday, 19 June, at Jugiong Memorial Hall.
She says she couldn’t be more excited to connect with rural communities.
“When they first contacted me I was initially surprised because I live in Sydney and thought they would prefer someone a bit more local, but I realised the whole philosophy is about having new experiences that regional communities might not otherwise be exposed to,” says Tammy.
She has been a horticulturalist for more than 10 years, but says her love for gardening and plants began when she was a child and her grandma would spend all of her time out in the garden.
Tammy’s family had fled war-torn Vietnam to settle in Australia and she was initially surprised by how supportive they were of her dreams to pursue studies in horticulture.
“You’d think they would have preferred it if I had gone on to become an accountant or lawyer instead,” she says.
However, Tammy’s dad had the lofty ambition of planting and raising a bamboo forest in Sydney, and he wanted his daughter’s help.
Tammy began her career writing for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and now runs her own business where she delivers workshops and talks about plants.
“I think people really turned to indoor plants last year because they wanted something to look after at home [during COVID-19 lockdown],” she says.
“I like teaching people that even when plants die or they have brown spots, it’s all normal and they shouldn’t be disheartened.
“Gardening is only meant to be a hobby. It’s never meant to be something stressful.”
Tammy’s indoor plant workshops will be held in Jugiong on Saturday, 19 June. You can view the full Wired Open Labs program online.