Paint our Poles Art project in Bellingen

Grace Menzies, Stella Rees, Kira Staheyeff, Gemma McAulay and Lunci Renshaw with the pole on Tuesday morning prepped for its makeover

Grace Menzies, Stella Rees, Kira Staheyeff, Gemma McAulay and Lunci Renshaw with the pole on Tuesday morning prepped for its makeover

A project to bring high-quality art to the wooden power poles of Bellingen has taken its first tentative steps into the public gaze.

Have you noticed that the pole on the east side of Church St near the public toilets has been decorated with  a song?

The partially finished pilot pole on Tuesday evening

The partially finished pilot pole on Tuesday evening

The painting extends from 15cm above the ground to a height of 1.8m, and it’s the work of students from Bellingen High and their artistic mentors, Grace Menzies, Josh McKenzie and Lunci Renshaw.

They’ve created an interactive power pole that a musician can walk up to and play, featuring a song about growing up in Bellingen with lyrics by Gemma McAulay and score by Rosabella Stephen.

The musical theme reflects the pole’s location across from 5 Church St, one of Bellingen’s prime spots for live music.

Painting power poles is not a new thing: there are Indigenous-themed decorations on poles in Nambucca, tartan-clad poles on the approach to the town of Maclean and flora and fauna on some poles in Kyogle – but if the possibilities swirling around the Bellingen project bear fruit, it will be be more ambitious than these in both scope and execution.

Potentially, Bellingen may have 40 painted power poles; in fact, every single one from the Centotaph down to the Golf Club, taking in the length of the main street and a block either side of it.

Each painting would be unique and the themes, designs and execution would be a collaborative partnership between young people and local artists, with input from the whole community.

A long list of organisations have already signed up to join the PoP Art (Paint our Poles Art) project, including the Bellingen Mentor Group, Bello Youth HUB, Arts Network, Essential Energy, Bellingen Public School, St Mary’s Primary School, Chrysalis Steiner School and Bellingen High.

“It started as an idea from Essential Energy and after just a few conversations with local youth, artists and schools, it was clear it had real potential,” said Grace Menzies from the Bellingen Mentor Group, who helped start the project.

“We then got support from the Bellingen Shire Council’s Creative Placemaking Initiative and we were away. The idea of local artists collaborating together, guiding the process as well as mentoring youth is tremendously exciting and we hope it will inspire and educate and really give the community some quality works to enjoy.”

However, the project’s steering team are keenly aware that the street works in the heart of Bellingen have caused distress and division within the community, particularly the removal of the Church Street camphor laurel trees in April.

“With the trees, we saw our community going in different directions,” Youth Hub coordinator Dean Besley said. “And a few of us were saying, why don’t we do something that unifies us a bit, that brings us together.

“So we want this project to lift the spirit of the town, but the risk is that it might be too much change and people won’t want it.”

The decision to start with just one pole in Church Street was deliberately taken to give the wider community a chance to see what it looks like and provide comments and feedback, including any ideas about themes or designs for subsequent poles.

Possibilities canvassed so far include Bellingen-focused themes connected to flora and fauna; endangered species; music and arts; people and diversity.

Ideally, the poles will be a source of local pride as well as a tourist attraction, so the quality of the high-visibility poles in the centre of town will receive close attention.

“They’re the ones that need to be very carefully done in terms of the art that’s going to be on them, and the quality and the style and the design theme,” Dean said.

If the general community consensus is yes, then the project will go to the next stage, which is to paint up to 40 poles around Bellingen over the next year or so.

Comments and ideas are welcome via Bellingen Shire Council’s Create website http://create.bellingen.nsw.gov.au/pop-art-project, Facebook (Bello Pop Art) or the Bello Youth HUB website www.belloyouthhub.net

Eve Fortin, Hugo Fortin and Ella Graydon doing stencils for the pilot pole

Eve Fortin, Hugo Fortin and Ella Graydon doing stencils for the pilot pole