The artistic director of The Big Scrub Orchestra, Amanda Dumesny, with Winston Cox, implementation director of the Turnaround Arts program at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC.
The artistic director of The Big Scrub Orchestra, Amanda Dumesny, with Winston Cox, implementation director of the Turnaround Arts program at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC.

Musical group director heads from big scrub to big city

THE artistic director of a Northern Rivers non-profit arts group has returned from a trip to an iconic cultural centre in the US.

Amanda Dumesny, of The Big Scrub Orchestra, recently travelled to the John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC.

The group gives music, performing and recording opportunities to young people.

Ms Dumesny said the trip, during which she met Turnaround Arts program director Winston Cox, was an eye-opening experience.

"They have the most amazing people who are running arts programs in the schools over there that are really changing the lives of young people," she said.

"(Winston) told me how the arts program changed the entire culture of the school, got the students excited about going to school, and even had dramatic increases in test scores.

"He was really sceptical at first after trialling so many different programs over the years, but he was converted by the results in his school and he now heads up implementation of all the Turnaround programs in the USA."

She said they also discussed the Kennedy Center's Artist Citizenship program, in which artists use their skills and means to give back to the community.

"It's a really interesting approach, and something that I've being doing intuitively with The Big Scrub Orchestra over the years," she said.

"A number of local musicians including Ash Grunwald, Marshall O'Kell, Tim Stokes, Steve Nugent, and Phillip Brandolini have teamed up with us over the years to work on songs and visit the schools, which gives a real boost to our programs and gives the young people something to aspire to.

"I was super excited to discover some really strong links between the Kennedy Center and the Northern Rivers, as two of the Kennedy Center honourees Mavis Staples and Lionel Richie have both performed at Byron Bay Blues Fest, as well as a number of other citizen artists from the Turnaround programs including Jack Johnson, Citizen Cope, and Jackson Brown."

Having taken Big Scrub members along to Bluesfest in Byron Bay, she said this felt like "a really special connection" between "two unlikely regions".

That's something she and Mr Cox hope to build on.

Ms Dumesny was also able to visit the James Hill Ukelele Institute in Vancouver, Canada, through the Ian Potter Cultural Trust Fund for Community Arts.

"Canada was one of the first countries to use the ukulele as the main instrument for teaching music in schools, pioneered by the trail-blazing teacher Chalmers Doane who co-wrote the recent ukulele curriculum for music with James Hill," she said.

The Big Scrub Orchestra recently held a djembe drumming camp for young people at the Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre and performed at the Lismore Lantern Parade thanks to a Country Arts Support Program Grant from Regional Arts NSW.

"We like to link our programs and performances to the community and Arts Northern Rivers has been a great support for this," Ms Dumesny said.

The group will perform as pert of the 20th Anniversary of The Big Scrub Rainforest Day at Rocky Creek Dam on October 21.

They will perform an original song about the Big Scrub in ukulele ensembe.

Want to help? The Big Scrub Orchestra is seeking donors and sponsors to enable them to continue providing arts programs for young people. Phone Ms Dumesny on 0468371381.  



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