Readers might have noticed a bright yellow door while driving down George Street recently.
The creative splash of colour is just a taste of the exciting opportunities the new Wee Waa Community Arts and Cultural Centre will offer artists and art lovers when it opens its yellow door next month.
“I have been appointed as the centre coordinator and it’s just amazing because Wee Waa is such a passionate community,” said Lisa Almagro.
“I must give thanks to the committee because they’ve done all the hard work behind the scenes and I feel like I’ve just arrived for the ‘fluff and cheer’.
“But my motto coming into this role is – ‘enthusiasm is contagious’, and all it takes is a couple of like-minded souls to think ‘we can do this’ and we can.”
Mrs Almagro is beyond excited about sharing the new art venue with the community when construction works are finished.
“The building has been completely gutted, reclad on the outside, they’ve knocked walls down inside to make a gallery space and a workshop space, the floors are done, the paintings done, the electricians were here today, we’re also going to have a wheelchair access ramp.”
Mrs Almagro oozes so much energy and elation when talking about the range of possibilities the centre hopes to offer, it’s impossible not to get just as excited as she is about its future.
“This building will be a dedicated art space for a gallery to hang and exhibit local, national and international artists,” Mrs Almagro explained.
“We will also have a workshop space, so anything that anybody in the community wants us to do – paint, weave, draw – they’ll be able to get in contact with us and I’ll see if we can arrange it.
“We also have a fully set-up kitchen, so will be able to cater for events.
“My job is to facilitate the programs that the community think they want to have here.
“So if the kids are watching YouTube tutorials on slime making or TikTok videos on ‘whatever’, even if it’s something I haven’t heard about before, if you think that the kids are involved, let us know and we’ll bring it to Wee Waa.
“We are a ‘can-do, let’s-make-it-happen’ group.
“We really want to get the school kids from around the district involved, exhibiting HSC artworks and liaising with Aboriginal education officers.”
As well as plenty of positivity, Mrs Almagro brings bucket loads of talent and qualifications to the role.
She has completed a Certificate II in Gamilaraay, Certificate II in Fine Arts, Certificate IV in Community Services, and is a trained merchandiser and marketer with more than 20 years experience in the retail sector.
Working at the George Street location is a step back in time for Mrs Almagro, who was once based at the same address as the town’s toy librarian.
“This was my first ever site in the community service industry,” she said.
“I was the Wee Waa toy librarian and it was the most rewarding job in the world, I felt terrible getting paid every fortnight because it was so much fun.
“I used to drive the toy library van and deliver toys and books and programs to children in Pilliga and Gwabegar every fortnight – it was like I was bush Santa.
“And then through that organisation I became a community development officer and a learning and development coordinator for frontline service workers in the community, in our local government area.
“And then COVID came and I went home to homeschool the children, I have two at home.”
Mrs Almagro has three children, one grandchild and is a self-described ‘Narrabri girl’.
“I married into a Wee Waa family (Daniel Almagro is her husband), so I’m ‘semi-local’ and now I’ll be here in a permanent role, on the inside of the levee bank.”
While the boredom of COVID lockdown has got many people’s creative juices flowing, for Mrs Almagro, art has always been a passion and part of her identity.
“I could stay in lockdown forever, I absolutely love it because apart from being a mum and a wife and an employee, a daughter and a friend and all those other things, before it all, I was always an art and crafter.
“So there’s always a project at home to do: painting, sculpting, drawing, knitting, weaving, sewing, visual merchandising. Creativity is everything.”
Once COVID restrictions are lifted for travellers, Mrs Almagro believes the centre will quench tourists’ thirst for an amazing arts and cultural experience, and attract visitors to the Cotton Capital.
“We’re going to have a great, big artistic installation at the front so we can be visual from the road, so we do become a tourist destination.
“When people think ‘oh we’re going to go out to Pilliga’ – well, we want them to think that they couldn’t possibly go there without popping in here first. I do hope we will be part of an arts trail. We have already engaged with Arts North West and I’m seeking funding through Create NSW presently to get a weaving workshop up and running.
“So COVID or no COVID, even if lockdown continues, I hope to get some programs into people’s homes through Zoom.”
Mrs Almagro said the arts and cultural centre would never have been realised without the town’s dedicated committee including, president Robyn Keeffe, vice president Gerda Vogel, secretary Stacey Vogel, treasurer Andrew Greste, Wee Waa Local Aboriginal Land Council representative Clifford Toomey and members Sonia Fogarty, Janelle Schwager and Maureen Smith.
The centre is being funded through the Australian government’s Murray–Darling Basin Economic Development Program, which supports communities impacted by water recovery under the Basin Plan.
“This funding is very important, especially in times of COVID and coming off the back of a drought.
“We’re incredibly fortunate that we had a committee who saw a need and were willing to put the hours in, in their own time, to see it to fruition.
“I’m so proud of the Wee Waa community, and I feel so honoured and privileged to become a little part of it.”
“We hope to have a soft opening in early October and then we will work with the community and the schools towards a grand opening in early 2022,” said Mrs Almagro.
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