Art lovers save Wollongong gallery

When Victoria Velozo was first invited to join the Art Arena Gallery team more than 20 years ago, she couldn't afford the $45 membership fee.

"Starving artist and all that," she laughs.

A ceramics major, she pursued her art elsewhere, as well as finding time to complete a psychology degree, find a job in this field and have a family.

While she still had many friends in the art community who used Art Arena, it wasn't until Velozo heard the Wollongong gallery might be closing its doors that she decided to involve herself with the space once more.

"When I heard that it was closing I thought it was terrible and we had to do something," she says.

Five weeks ago, the decision to close the gallery was very nearly made. With only five financial members and little money in the bank, it was struggling to survive.

A meeting was held to discuss the options available.

Luckily, Kylie Sweeney de Havilland, a former gallery owner and well-known figure in the Wollongong art community, decided to step up and take on the role of president of the gallery's new team, determined to turn its fortunes around.

"I really believe in community spaces and this is a community space we couldn't afford to lose," Sweeney de Havilland says.

As the number of creative spaces in the CBD continues to grow, she says the almost 30-year-old gallery just needed some new blood and a new direction to keep it competitive in a changing creative world and to maintain its legacy for the Wollongong community.

In the month since the new team was established, a membership drive has swelled the members to 37 and goals have been set for the future growth of the gallery.

"Our motto is anything is possible until proven otherwise. Possibility is what we're about," Sweeney de Havilland says.

"The main message about Art Arena is that we're open to ideas."

Instead of just renting the space to artists, Art Arena is inviting people from all creative areas to utilise the gallery's rooms.

A range of musicians, artist, poets, a book club and even a film-maker have already expressed interest in renting space to work and exhibit.

"That's what Art Arena has always been about, a 'from the ground up' sort of thing," Velozo says.

Now fully capable of paying the membership fee, Velozo is exhibiting her works.

The opening night is this Saturday, November 10 at 5.30pm at Art Arena Gallery, located at 1a/39 Market St, Wollongong.

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