The sounds of justice in motion—the murmur of conversations, the whoosh of doors opening and closing, scurrying footsteps, phones ringing—fell silent at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre recently when, for a brief interlude, justice sounded like xylophones and ukuleles.

Grade Three children from Collingwood’s St Joseph’s Primary School played a number of rollicking tunes for artists, NJCs clients, guests and staff as part of the opening of the Centre’s latest Urban Campfire art show.

In this exhibition artists from Yarra’s community art groups, Neighbourhood Houses, art collectives and solo practitioners explore the theme Weddings, Parties, Anything through found object sculptures, photography, clay, digital illustration, oil on canvas, screen-print, pencil, and plasticine.

Urban Campfire is the NJC’s long-running community arts program. Managed by Belgium Neighbourhood House and an independent curator engaged to source the artwork and work with artists, the much lauded partnership ties together the Centre and our local community.

As a way to contribute to community life, the NJC provides space for local residents, community groups, school children, and professional artists to exhibit their art.  In return, the community’s art imbues the Centre with a sense of welcome and calm—necessary attributes for place that’s many things to many people, but is generally a place people only come to in times of adversity.

And significantly since the first show way back in 2009, the inclusion of the community’s creative input has quietly shaped how the Centre works.

A lot of thought goes into how, why and where works are displayed to ensure art helps our clients feel safe and calm. For instance, children’s art adorns the rooms used by women attending court for family violence matters, photos of community life hangs in the public areas, and contemplative pieces—cheery or meditative—are displayed in the small rooms used for private meetings.

Indeed art is often a comforting arm around the shoulder. Case workers talk to clients about the visual appeal or the story behind the art as a way to elicit deeper conversations about the issues clients’ face, conversations more clinical settings can dampen.

And while most works are joyous, pieces made made by people participating in therapeutic workshops are often accompanied by poignant and moving stories of personal struggles. It may appear counterproductive for our clients to read about other people’s personal battles but these stories and their accompanying art resonate, and there’s something respectful about justice acknowledging the layers that shape the community.

Joyous, contemplative, festive and fantastical, there’s something in an Urban Campfire for everyone. Drop in over summer and see for yourself.

Tour the exhibition from where you are (click arrows left and right)

Urban Campfire Spring 2018 (External link)

If you are interested in learning more about how the NJC runs the program email info@njc.vic.gov.au (External link).