NJC art show Urban Campfire 2022

A window to the soul of community

Any work of art, declared Paul Cezanne, that does not begin in emotion isn’t art.

Suffice it to say, the artmakers whose works are now on display at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre tapped deep into their emotional wells because they’ve made some very fine works of art indeed.

Our second Urban Campfire art show for the year is now on display at the NJC and once again artists from across the community have given their philosophies and stories form in acrylic, oil on canvas, photography, and other mediums.

This exhibition is particularly poignant as it’s the first time since the world scurried indoors in 2020 that we have been able to bring artists, staff, and guests together and we’re also celebrating NJC’s 15th anniversary.

The Urban Campfire art program, which comprises two shows per year, comprises works made by people who live, work, study, volunteer or has some connection to Yarra. While professional artists are encouraged to exhibit, we emphasis contributions from art makers who participate in community groups, art workshops and other grassroots and social organisations. 

A recent convert to the program is our new judicial officer, Magistrate Noreen Toohey who delighted guests at the recent launch by leading tours through the building to view the works. 

“The coming together of the community with the NJC is fabulous and the launch was a great opportunity for me to speak to artists and community members

“The attention to the selection of art and the ethos behind it are such good examples of what a community court is and does,” said Magistrate Toohey.

As we celebrate 15 years of community justice and some 13 years hosting these biannual exhibitions, it’s worth reflecting on why this art program is so important to us for nurturing and sustaining community relations.

To begin, we don't run the show. Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House and an independent curator (now the fabulous art Dr Paula Mahoney) manage the program from beginning to end which ensures it's the community's program. This operational model also let's us get on with business as usual.

The program is a softly diplomatic way for us to say ‘we’re here for you’ without labelling people as somehow intrinically vulnerable.

Soft diplomacy, however, goes both ways.  The artmakers explore their cultures, languages, religions, and worldviews thus providing us with a way to understand, respect and celebrate, the cultural diversity that defines the community we serve.

Notably, art makers explore themes ranging from mental health to migration, race, and structural disadvantage; a centre of justice is pretty good place to shine a light on these things.

And of course adorning the building with art made by locals is a wonderful way to transform our otherwise utilitarian set of rooms and offices into a welcoming and accommodating hub of services and justice activities.  

To our knowledge we’re the only justice centre in Australia to run this sort of program, however there are great examples of courts using art to create respectful, inclusive, and calm environments. Our friends over at the Koori Court provide excellent example of how carefully curated art, in this case art made by and for First Nations peoples, sends the right messages from justice.

Over the years art makers have taken their practices to new heights, staff have bought pieces, and across Yarra art made purely for the joy of creating work with friends have had time in the sun before disappearing to be cherished behind closed doors.

From Ancient Athens to contemporary America, justice systems have always used art to moralise, propagandise, embed power, and illustrate the law.   Perhaps Urban Campfire— community driven, wholly inclusive, humble, and democratic— is where art and justice need to be.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to Belgium Ave Neighbourhood House Cultural Catering for the delicious food we enjoyed at the launch. Thank you to singer-songwriter Apu for his beautiful compositions. ||

It goes without say that we thank Sue Kent, Manager of Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House and Dr Paula Mahoney for working with artists, choosing each piece and managing the installation.

And of course, a huge thank you to all the amazing artists who contributed! Keep using art to shine the light we need to find our way!

Anyone is welcome to visit the art at any time from Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm.

Artwork above L to R: BANH Neighbour House and
RMIT Industrial Design Program, Collingwood Makes; Jacqueline Felstead, Atlas; Photo NJC, launch

Thumbnail: Apu, playing guitar at the launch