Artists need the Beth Belton’s of this world.
The energetic Cathedral of St Stephen Art Group (COSSAG) member is an admirer, facilitator, a friend and ‘patron’ of artists in the very best sense of the word.
Together with her fellow volunteers, COSSAG are soon to mount their signature event – the annual winter exhibition and art prize competition from July 24-29.
Those city-goers who visit the showing will note a departure from previous year’s formats with the theme of “Interconnections” realised via an array of 3D entries and ‘mixed’ media.
As always, it will synthesise the group’s founding philosophy – to hospitably make artists feel welcome within the Cathedral environment.
Mrs Belton said the sharing of knowledge and information about art was at the core of COSSAG’s mission.
Founded in 2009 by the indomitable Margaret Moore, it was sparked by women passionate about art and inspired by the religious works displayed in St Stephens.
“At heart it’s about art, artists, people and the cathedral all coming together, and when you read the history of art, you can see how very important it has always been to Cathedrals.
“It’s fascinating to me that the Popes all talked to and addressed the various artists of their day, encouraging them to continue in their work and applauding the valuable contribution they make to society.
“To me, art, then as now, is a visual sign of where we are as a society and it’s because we feel artists have a message which needs hearing that we want them to converse with our (Catholic) community and beyond.
“Therefore we gather the people together through an act of simple hospitality, which is very important,” she said.
Mrs Belton’s love of art has been nurtured over many years through various educational, travel and personal experiences.
Growing up in the Presbyterian faith in Eumundi, she was forever grateful for her country upbringing.
As one of the first women to attend university from the town, however, she was also eager to embrace the new worlds opened up through study.
She completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in geography and English at St Lucia.
“It was such a wonderful experience to come to Brisbane. Students in those days really stood on their soapboxes and expressed their ideas freely confident they could change the world,” she said.
“In our faculty we had a lot of young leaders whose names I have followed on through the years as they’ve gone on to achieve.
“The theatre director Bryan Nason, for one, was a fellow student who became quite a force in the arts world and I recall going to some of his productions.
“I can also remember having great arguments in the library about the Catholic and Presbyterian faiths, even though I didn’t really know a lot.
“Later, when I married my Catholic husband, I went to the Jesuits at Auchenflower and actually studied the religion before being received into the church.”
Both the religious and tertiary studies proved invaluable for Beth as her husband was soon posted to Tuaran to run an Agricultural College in North Borneo and she worked as a teacher with the Dutch missionaries in St John’s Catholic School.
The De La Salle order operated a Secondary School in Kota Kinabalu the capital of Sabah a state of Malaysia. It was formerly North Borneo a British Colony.
“Those fathers and brothers were absolutely incredible people, especially the De La Salle brothers,” Beth said.
“Br Brendan Dunne was principal of the college and I recall him getting money out of the drawer in the morning and saying ‘oh, one of the kid’s fainted on parade as he didn’t have breakfast probably been tapping rubber since daybreak… it was just wonderful all the things they did and many of them were very learned men.
“We had an Amah (nanny) for the first of our four daughters, so I could assist for half a day. Towards the end of the sixties I couldn’t work for a wage as expats like me weren’t allowed to work. But I enjoyed teaching for no wage. The children were so keen to learn.
“It was certainly fortuitous as I never wanted to be anything else other than a teacher.
“As a young girl I used to teach my dolls, so it was a vocation for me, teaching, and I would never do anything else because I so dearly loved it and children,” she said.
Those echoes of wanting to impart knowledge continue today through the work with COSSAG.
For example the “Hands of the World” project, an annual pre-Christmas sale hosted in the Cathedral precinct in November, showcases the wares of developing world artisans at fair prices.
By virtue of COSSAG hosting the event it provides an arena in which the suppliers can talk about their projects and educate the wider public about artisans in these far off places.
“Although many would argue it’s not art, it is art because these people are expressing themselves with traditional designs and through their handicrafts,” she said.
“Hands of the World has been a great success because of the clientele and the people we bring in.
“People actually save up now to shop ahead of Christmas and for us it is an example of social justice at work because for so long people were exploited for their wares in India, Vietnam , Pakistan and other countries.
“COSSAG has brought together a group of suppliers who sign a document saying they apply fair trade practices in their dealings with the artisans so now they are assured of getting a reasonable wage,” she said.
Although the 10 current members of COSSAG are all volunteers the professionalism of the group should not be doubted.
Out of respect for the artists they observe certain processes and standards to ensure the ongoing reputation of the mid-year exhibition and competition.
The appointment of a curator and the hiring of proper stands ensure a professional displaying of the art, plus the addition of a reputable judge from within the art community gives confidence to exhibitors.
“Many of the artists have been with us for the full 4 years and COSSAG treasures these artists as they have been with us from very humble beginnings,” she said.
“We have a prize now of $2000, and although it is hard to raise this amount it encourages reputable artists to exhibit with us and compete for the prize.”
“When you think about it artists spend years and years developing their skills, and we have some entrants who are highly skilled, as well as being inspirational, and I think people can forget that.
“I think artists at times are used, and that’s one thing we don’t do. We really appreciate and admire them and want to honour their work by providing the best facilities for them.
The COSSAG Cycle of Life Exhibition on the theme “Interconnections” will be held in the Francis Rush Centre from July 24 – 29. Entry is $10. All exhibited works are for sale, up to a limit of $1200. Volunteers who wish to offer their time in helping COSSAG mount the show would also be graciously accepted.
Released by the Catholic Communications Office
July 23, 2014