This year's Cementa (6–9 April), which included several days of events, site-specific and experimental works by early-career and established artists, was somewhat of a turning point for the grassroots regional festival in the New South Wales town of Kandos. Even Artbank, the Australian Government’s art rental scheme, brought their ‘Roadshow’ initiative to town, scoping out artists from the region to enter its collection for corporate loan. Other new partnerships in the 2017 iteration included an assisted residency program allowing artists with a disability to travel to Kandos and develop specific works for the festival: visitors lined up to have their crowns translated into artworks in the local hairdresser by Thom Roberts, and Skye Saxon created a stress-relieving tepee structure in the pine forest.
While exhibitions formed punctuation points across Kandos, Cementa is a true festival in the sense that it is organised around events designed to bring people together. Visitors from the nearby Blue Mountains and Sydney mingled with residents (both longstanding and those newer to the area). As in any community, engagement with the festival by locals varied from enthusiastic participant to bemused onlooker – but in a town with a population of around 1000, the convergence is quite pronounced. Frontyard’s solicitation of conversational snippets for its ‘Bush Telegraph’ project drew all manner of submissions – decorous and otherwise – while the local teenaged girls were out in force to see the Dauntless Movement Crew in action as part of Powerhouse Youth Theatre’s Pagoda Parkour.
The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation, born out of Ian Milliss’s vision for the town presented at the original ‘Cementa 13’, continued its progress from ambition to reality via projects including ‘The Hemp Initiative’ and the launch of the Futurelands 2 publication. The closing of Kandos's cement works in 2012, expected to be the death knell of the town, could be the birth of a new era yet.
Chloé Wolifson, Kandos