Making art during a pandemic
Adamstown Uniting Church’s arts program is a staple of Newcastle’s music and visual arts scene. The church has a long tradition of music performance, making their building available to performers and incorporating music into worship services for decades.
This program expanded to include the visual arts with the induction of Rev. Dr Rod Pattenden in 2012, who has a background as an artist and art historian. He told Insights that, “the arts allow us to express a range of emotions,” as well as to engage with justice concerns and explore faith.
The Adamstown Uniting Church building is often host to art installations and exhibitions, choir concerts, and solo recitals – however most of these programs came to an abrupt halt with the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020.
The creative people of Adamstown Arts persevered, adapting to restrictions by investing in technological solutions. One project which emerged during this time was Restoration Messiah, for which members of the Adamstown Uniting Church choir were recorded individually and edited together into one video.
Rod Barnes, head of the arts program, described in an interview with Insights some of the unexpected outcomes of this process. Working one-on-one over Zoom allowed choristers to get to know each other “so much better,” and their singing noticeably improved when focusing on their individual parts. Though the project was “difficult” to assemble, he said the process “brought us together in a different way.”
As COVID-19 restrictions gradually ease, Adamstown Arts have been able to host live performances again, though with limited capacity due to the building’s status as a place of worship. On 5 August, they will host the resident Dungeon Big Band, named for the jazz venue underneath the church.
Titled Blues in the Night, Rod Barnes told Insights that this performance is “about coming out of COVID-19 and how we’ve all been affected by it, positively and negatively.” Dungeon Big Band will join forces with Peter Guy, organist at Newcastle’s Christchurch Cathedral, who will play Adamstown’s pipe organ.
Through these performances, Adamstown Arts have connected with their local TAFE to mentor student technicians who operate the sound, lighting, camera and livestreaming equipment.
Adamstown Arts was also recently home to a collection of illustrations by Fiona Pfenningwerth, pairing Psalms with images of the Australian landscape. These original works are among the first exhibited in the church space since the pandemic hit. Due to the exhibition format, these artworks are able to be viewed by larger audiences over time despite distancing restrictions.
From 2 to 3 July, Rev. Dr Rod Pattenden’s own artworks will be displayed in the church. This exhibition maps his own experience of the pandemic over the past year and explores landscapes both real and imagined.
Adamstown Arts persists as a hub for creative activity in Newcastle, despite the impacts of COVID-19. This arts program is adapting well to the challenges thrown its way and continues to offer thought-provoking performances and exhibitions to its community.
Blues in the Night will take place at Adamstown Uniting Church on 5 August.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ intern