Framing justice

Court, community services hub and meeting place, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre is also, of all things, an art gallery.

For over a decade we've displayed thousands of artworks by hundreds of artists in our biannual art exhibition Urban Campfire.

Art made by people from all walks of life and ages saturates our building with colour and warmth, creating a welcoming atmosphere for staff and clients.

For clients who are emotionally fragile, at lowest points of their lives or on difficult journeys to higher ground art is distraction. And sometimes the spark that ignites insight.

Designed to remove social stigmas and isolation, Urban Campfire burns brightest for people who face physical, mental, economic, and cultural barriers to mainstream life. It's our way of saying: 'you're heard, respected and safe'.

The program also gives the community we serve a sense of ownership of what is, ultimately, their community justice centre.  

 

Defining community art programs

Community art programs use the Arts art as the conduit through which communities explore their aspirations, needs, identity, sense of place, or tackle broader social issues. 

Participants come away with new skills, new friends, and a new or renewed sense of being heard and respected.  

Participants are defined as art-makers or artists whether they see themselves as artists or not; it’s a mark of respect for their creative process.

Programs are based on the principle that our innate creativity can bring about positive social and individual change.

 

How exhibitions work

We host two shows a year (late April and October). Works are displayed for the entire six months. 

Exhibitions are launched with a morning or afternoon tea for artists, friends, and staff to meet and celebrate together.

The launch is usually first time artists see their work in place and thus the moment they fully understand the importance of their contribution. 

Exhibition team

Exhibitions are developed by an independent curator and our local Neighbourhood House. (Neighbourhood houses are a community meeting places for people connect to local life through social and educational activities). The Neighbourhood House is contracted in with contracts renewed annually.

A member of staff acts as art program manager and is the conduit between the Neighhourhood House team, our facilities manager who is supervises each installation, and our communications team.

The program model is lean and efficient, and there is little to no disruption to daily business. 

Neighbourhood House manager

  • Runs art workshops with participants of the Neighbourhood House
  • Manages the curator
  • Oversees the launch

Curator

  • Sources and chooses artwork 
  • Aligns the selection and display of each work in line with the objectives of the NJC, and the broad needs of our clients - more on this below.
  • Facilitates the delivery of workshops that produce works for the exhibition   
  • Manages a small installation team and ensures installation process provides vocational skill development opportunities for participating community members
  • Liaises with NJC to produce exhibition collateral, communications content, and an exhibition launch where artists are actively supported to attend. 

NJC art program manager

  • Contact point for curator and project manager
  • Provides access to NJC for installation. 

Participating artists and art-makers

Our art makers (both individuals and groups) are typically:

  • Art therapy groups 
  • Neighbourhood House workshops and art program participants
  • Community groups, such as senior citizen groups, and newly arrived and migrant collectives
  • Therapeutic workshop participants
  • Social enterprise students/staff
  • Primary and preschool children 

We welcome emerging and professional artists who have a connection to our community, and we are developing the program in line with the burgeoning arts sector in our neighbourhood.

All participants are connected to the City of Yarra, usually: 

  • Residents
  • Working from local art studios/workshops
  • Tied to the place through culture or heritage
  • Live elsewhere but contribute work that has strong thematic ties to the place.
 

Sample artworks

  

Curatorial model 

The core of the program is the curation of art.

Urban Campfire exhibitions are celebrated because we defer to the expertise, connections, and wisdom of an expert artist with a deep understanding of, and passion for, community art.

The curator ensures the program is focused on its mission: raise the voices, representation, and stories of the people in our community who, without help, are marginalised from mainstream life, and help clients through the justice process.

In this, the curator delivers a program that:

  • Represents a diverse cast of community arts groups and people
  • Gives emerging artists a platform 
  • Celebrates the stories and character of our community, and justice.

Artful purpose

By the time people step into a court, they have run the emotional gauntlet from stress to tedium and back, hardly conducive mental states for focusing on the most important part of the day.

And so, while everyone like the art, it's the effect it has on vulnerable clients that makes the program an indispensable therapeutic practice.

Purposeful display

Each piece of art is displayed with purpose.  

A painting made by and for children would hang in a secure room used by women here for family violence matters. A photo of a street scene would hang in public space. A charcoal drawing exploring an artist's personal journey would hang in room our caseworkers and lawyers use to hold private conversations with clients.

This attention to detail has led to a surprising benefit.

Vulnerable clients are drawn to works that explore complex issues such as mental illness, social isolation, and addiction, and caseworkers use this as a door through which to open difficult conversations.

Caseworkers say that sterile, utilitarian workplaces dampen these conversations.

Foundations of our community art model

 

Engagement  

  • Give the community a sense of ownership and connection to their local justice service
  • Ensure the NJC is a welcoming space.

Awareness 

  • Promote our services using art as a form of soft diplomacy
  • Open our eyes to what's happening in our community.

Enhance life 

  • Ensure high levels of artistic standards that contribute to strong sense of personal and community identity
  • Use arts practice as a form of social inclusion
  • Use arts activities as a mechanism of social justice.

 

Create your court's urban campfire

Urban Campfire works for us, and all or parts of it may work at your court. Time and a bit of flexible experimentation will tell. 

We can help you with templates, community contracts, expertise, curatorial advise and more. 

Contact us on (03) 9948 8777 or njc@courts.vic.gov.au (External link)