MEJ Masthead

Genevieve Dugard: Designing for Change

Bettina Richter

Next week, a vibrant 12-hour art marathon ‘Colourathon’ will take place at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

Presented and produced by young rural women from across Australia, Colourathon will see communities, businesses and government coming together to colour for change to promote family violence prevention.

One of the key brains behind the initiative is Sydney-sider Genevieve Dugard who as National Director of Project O, is at the helm of this primary prevention initiative. Surprisingly, Genevieve’s unusual career journey began originally in theatre set design.

Genevieve Dugard. Photo by Frances Aldrijich.

Genevieve Dugard. Photo by Frances Aldrijich.

Born in Perth, Genevieve describes her teenage self as deep and serious, but she did love drama, film and making things so it was not surprising that from school she went to the critically acclaimed arts stomping ground WAAPA, to study set design. When asked if there are any synergies between set design and directing a family violence prevention initiative, Genevieve reflects that set design is collaborative but also flexible, “It evolves with the team, and responds to the development of the work, as new discoveries are made,” says Genevieve. “This is true also of working on these layered community projects – the projects shape themselves in response to community.”

One of Genevieve’s first stints working on a community theatre project was in Kalgoorlie WA, which proved a big eye opener for a recent graduate. She was brought into this tough remote male-dominated community to design a play written by Scott Rankin of Big hART. This was her first foray with the arts company who specialise in bringing to light the stories of disadvantaged Australians, which would gradually transform into a lifelong passion.

Moving to Sydney, Genevieve worked as a Set Designer with many distinguished companies, from Opera Australia to the Sydney Theatre Company, Bangarra Dance Theatre and Belvoir St Theatre. But like many new mums, when Genevieve had kids her priorities changed. The Big hART work became much more fulfilling and extensive and she became the Company Designer, working on branding, project identities, photo and film shoots.

Credit: Heath Holden.

Credit: Heath Holden.

Then, during maternity leave, whilst living in a small house raising their two young children, Genevieve’s design and entrepreneurial skills kicked in when she was looking for dynamic play solutions for them. She was also dying to create something. She started playing around with cardboard and mocked up playhouses and shadow puppet theatres, with packing tape and old boxes. They were a hit with her little ones so Genevieve designed it into a simple flat-pack design and took the concept – ‘Tinyfolk’ – to market.

“Around that time I found out about the lack of resources for children in women’s shelters, so I ran a crowdfunding campaign to supply shelters across the country with my products,” said Genevieve. “It was great because it meant kids who were having a tough time had a safe and friendly little place to relax and play, and then the shelter staff could pack them away when they needed to. I spoke to so many shelters and got a real sense of how hard it was for them to provide for the needs of kids in their care.”

These early concepts filtered through to Big hART’s young rural women’s initiative, Project O, which began in NW Tasmania three years ago, and now works with young rural women from across the country who learn to step up, speak out and be change-makers in their communities. The young women develop confidence, agency and entrepreneurialism by undertaking workshops in advocacy, speech-writing, production and social media, and running events in the community. This gives rise to incredible opportunities which just this year have seen the young women meet the Prime Minister, the Governor of Tasmania, the Premier of NSW and local MPs in the four states and territories.

Project O girls in North West Tasmania Photo: Heath Holden.

Project O girls in North West Tasmania Photo: Heath Holden.

On Thursday 30 November, 40 young women from Project O from Roebourne WA, Wynyard Tasmania, Cooma NSW and Canberra will design and deliver Colourathon, a world-first initiative where every hour of colouring in will be sponsored. All funds raised will go towards early childhood trauma training for women’s shelters, so the shelters can better respond to the needs of children impacted by family violence. This need is critical in Australia, with the average age of a child fleeing violence at just 2 ½ years old.

Image: supplied.

Image: supplied.

Genevieve speaks admirably of the young women aged just 12-15 who participate in Project O and are designing and delivering Colourathon.

“It is their courage that really inspires me, they’re honest and curious, and just so willing to take on a challenge. Mostly I love seeing them find their own voice. They want big things for their lives and they care a lot, it’s refreshing to be around.”

the essentials

What: Colourathon 2017
When: Thursday 30 November. Members of the public are invited to join the young women from Project O to colour for change from 4-7pm
Where: The National Gallery of Australia
More information: www.colourathon.com

HerCanberra are proud sponsors of Colourathon 2017

Feature image: Frances Aldrijich

user

Bettina Richter

Bettina Richter lives on the far south coast of NSW and works in the arts and music industry, working with artists, authors, theatre directors, musicians and filmmakers. She has an MA in Writing from UTS, has written and produced documentaries for ABC Radio National, been a producer and researcher for film and TV and has written for various publications over the years, including writing a regular column for Arts Hub.

More about the Author

Marian Leaderboard