Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE - WORDS: TOBI LUF­TUS This re­porter vis­ited the Gold Coast as a guest of Tourism and Events Queens­land.

As thou­sands of peo­ple crammed into the Gold Coast Con­ven­tion and Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre last month for Euro­vi­sion Aus­tralia De­cides, they also wit­nessed some­thing else.

They not only saw Kate Miller-hei­dke crowned Aus­tralia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Euro­vi­sion this year, they wit­nessed a chang­ing point in the evo­lu­tion of the Gold Coast as one of Queens­land’s ma­jor arts and cul­tural at­trac­tions.

For years the Gold Coast has been per­ceived as just a con­crete jun­gle with surf added on; Surfers Par­adise a tacky tourist hot spot with meter maids and sou­venir stores.

But dur­ing re­cent years some­thing has changed. The Gold Coast has wel­comed in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant events such as the Euro­vi­sion ex­trav­a­ganza, the ever-ex­pand­ing Bleach Fes­ti­val, Sand Sa­fari Arts Fes­ti­val and much more.

The Gold Coast is now a des­ti­na­tion you can visit not just for the surf, but for a cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence as well.

Bleach Fes­ti­val CEO and artis­tic di­rec­tor Louise Bezzina said the Com­mon­wealth Games in 2018 was a turn­ing point for the coast’s art scene.

“The Com­mon­wealth Games was a piv­otal mo­ment (for the Gold Coast art scene), it was that linch­pin, we had to get ready,” she said.

“With­out the Com­mon­wealth Games we might not have seen the en­ergy we are see­ing now. I think it was brew­ing any­way but I think the Games was vi­tal in let­ting every­one else dis­cover it.”

Bleach Fes­ti­val has been held in the var­i­ous towns across the Gold Coast since 2012 and show­cases the work of dozens of Aus­tralian artists across all medi­ums.

“Bleach is a re­ally in­ter­est­ing, ex­cit­ing and ex­hil­a­rat­ing way to ex­pe­ri­ence the Gold Coast in a way you oth­er­wise wouldn’t have thought,” Ms Bezzina said

“You’ll get to go on in­ter­est­ing ad­ven­tures in show­grounds, wa­ter­ways, bounce on big beau­ti­ful balls on the beach in Burleigh.

“It takes you away from those stereo­types. You’ll get to see that vi­brant fresh en­ergy here.”

Move­ment col­lec­tive The Farm ex­panded to the Gold Coast from Ber­lin after co-di­rec­tor Gavin Web­ber was shown a video from Bleach Fes­ti­val.

“That’s one of the rea­sons we moved,” Mr Web­ber said.

“The fact that was hap­pen­ing on the Gold Coast made me re­alise the po­ten­tial of a place like this.

“I’ve al­ways firmly be­lieved you don’t have to be in Syd­ney or Mel­bourne to make great art and be suc­cess­ful.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved in work­ing in more re­gional lo­ca­tions for the in­flu­ences they con­tain.”

For his pro­duc­tion com­pany’s piece Tide at the 2018 Bleach Fes­ti­val, Mr Web­ber and The Farm be­came the only Queens­land group to re­ceive a pres­ti­gious Help­mann Award last year.

Tide was a two-day im­pro­vised per­for­mance on a sand bank in the Cur­rumbin Creek es­tu­ary.

“I think it’s a big flag to the rest of

Aus­tralia that what’s be­ing cre­ated on the Gold Coast is of a stan­dard that can com­pete any­where,” Mr Web­ber said.

“There is no longer that cul­tural cringe about this place that it can’t cre­ate great art.

“For us it was not an award for our­selves and Bleach, but we thought it was an award for the whole Gold Coast and for lo­cal peo­ple it cre­ates a sense of we are play­ers on that na­tional stage.”

The Farm’s lat­est piece, Throt­tle, a B-grade thriller viewed from within the safety of your own car at the Mudgeer­aba Show­grounds,

will be per­formed dur­ing this year’s Bleach Fes­ti­val.

Sculp­tor Clay­ton Blake has been in­volved in Swell Sculp­ture Fes­ti­val on the Gold Coast as well as other fes­ti­vals around Aus­tralia.

“When I com­pare my ex­pe­ri­ence and in­volve­ment of the fes­ti­vals, the place I en­joyed most is here on the Gold Coast,” he said.

Orig­i­nally from Mel­bourne, Mr Blake now runs his stu­dio from Cur­rumbin. He was se­lected as the artist-in-res­i­dence at this year’s Sand Sa­fari Arts Fes­ti­val, where he cre­ated gi­ant oc­to­pus ten­ta­cles and sol­dier crab stat­ues that were scat­tered through­out the Surfers Par­adise prom­e­nade.

He was also the only Aus­tralian artist to ex­hibit at the Burn­ing Man fes­ti­val in the United States last year.

“There is just a re­ally strong art scene and sup­port­ive net­work here,” he said.

“I came up here not know­ing any­one, and I now just feel re­ally sup­ported. There are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties, some I didn’t ex­pect. It’s a beau­ti­ful sur­prise.”

The chang­ing cul­tural scene on the Gold Coast is not some­thing lost on lo­cals ei­ther.

One Uber driver, who moved to the Gold Coast from the Nether­lands 25 years ago, said the change was hap­pen­ing all over the re­gion, not just at the ma­jor tourist hot spots like Surfers Par­adise and Broad­beach.

“There are just so many more cafes and events to go to,” he said.

“There is some­thing to do ev­ery week­end.” Bleach Fes­ti­val will be held across the

Gold Coast from April 17–28. Sand Sa­fari will re­turn to Surfers Par­adise in 2020.

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