Art of justice

Artists from across the City of Yarra joined Neighbourhood Justice Centre staff to open Urban Campfire:autumn, the latest exhibition in the Centre’s long-running art program as part of Law Week.

The art program enables the NJC to provide community groups, schools, and professional artists working in Yarra with a place to exhibit their work, and in turn draws on art give the Centre a sense of welcome, and assist clients to deal with what are often daunting circumstances.

This exhibition features work from Open Canvas, Interact Art, North Fitzroy Childcare Co-operative, Yarra Seniors Art Group, RMIT art lecturer Sharon White and Yarra Sculpture Gallery artist-in-resident Vanessa White. Works include photography, sculpture, oil on canvas, water colours, and woodcuts.

The NJC emphasises contributions from people who face physical, mental, economic, and cultural barriers to mainstream life, and has designed the program to network community groups, and remove social stigmas and isolation.  

the Centre's Associate Director, Louise Bassett says the process of making art with others is as important as the final artworks on display.

“This program champions creative and often unusual partnerships that are integral to knitting together a community.

For example North Fitzroy Childcare Co-op connected with a Koori educator to study Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art to create their works, which fosters conversation and connections,” said Louise.

Community-created art also has a utilitarian application that makes the program indispensable to the Centre.

“Going to court can be daunting, but it's amazing how artwork is a comforting distraction when you’re waiting on a busy court floor. 

"We also pay attention to curating pieces to assist clients, which is why for example, children's art hangs in rooms where family violence clients wait for court, often with their children.  And staff use the artwork as a conversational tool to engage with clients,” Louise says. 

Over the years, one pattern has emerged; while art participants are free to explore themes important to them, most explore themes that are at the core of justice such as culture and belonging, having a voice, and self-identity.

"Clients are amazed to see that we take social justice seriously enough to go to the effort of putting their stories on our walls, and as justice grapples with these concepts every day, what better place to have a conversation about them than at a justice centre?” 

The NJC is pleased to announce that several local cafes wish to exhibit art from Urban Campfire. This will give marginalised people even greater visibility. Great news, and a testament to the power of art to unite.

Urban Campfire: autumn opened Thursday 17 May and runs throughout winter.  All welcome. Opening hours 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday