Subscribe to our regular 'What's on in Victoria' newsletter

Shepparton Festival uses the arts to dive deep into life’s big questions

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Kristen was 18 years old when she decided to leave her home town of Katunga in the Goulburn Valley and make for Melbourne in search of new possibilities.

As a young woman with a zest for adventure, she knew there was much to discover in the world beyond.

‘There is this belief here that young people need to stay (in Shepparton) that I kind of disagree with,’ Kristen says. ‘I think they need to experience other ways of thinking and then be able to return which I think is a much more powerful thing.’

Kristen says life in the city opened up her mind, and she was able to return to Shepparton years later with a deeper appreciation for the region she grew up in and a yearning to drive change – particularly in the arena of the creative arts in which she is trained.

As a visual artist, her return to the region saw her work as a council arts and culture officer as well as a gallery manager in neighbouring Nathalia. This year, Kristen takes the reins as the director of the Shepparton Festival – an annual program of events that combines performance, music, literature, visual arts and food into one melting pot of artistic brilliance.

Kristen says she believes the festival is one avenue for strengthening her town’s creative landscape and to effect change in her ever-evolving community.

Shepparton Festival She says the arts are a powerful medium to explore topics relating to climate, acceptance, equality, equitable living, and she hopes others feel inspired by the festival and feel comfortable to converse openly on such important issues.

‘One of the things I reflected upon before coming (back) here was I was really worried and afraid about conversations around those topics and the divide they might cause. But I was so pleased that the community around the festival meant those conversations weren’t necessarily always negative and often people are discussing similar ways of thinking,’ she says.

‘Shepparton has made huge progress when it comes to certain areas and I believe that has a lot to do with having those involved in arts and culture present. People who make art are generally big thinkers, and them having a place in these communities allows for the nurturing of strong ideas.’

The two-week Shepparton Festival will take place across a number of spaces, with a diverse program that also includes workshops and networking events for local creatives – an element which Kristen says is necessary for artists especially following the challenges of the recent floods and health pandemic.

One of the program highlights is the sound installation OnBelonging which is comprised of musical compositions created from field recordings of the Shepparton area’s environmental resonances and sounds.

The installation is set to provide a connection with place while also leaving the audience feeling that their presence will, in some way, affect their environment.

Kristen says the work plays on the idea that sound can be art in and of itself – something which is is really quite novel.

The program will also showcase the region’s finest artists and creatives including the likes of Yorta Yorta artists Tammy-Lee Atkinson and Brady Jones aka BRICKY B. Along with Dery Theodorus, Rachel Doller and Meg Doller.

‘Shepparton has this quiet achiever thing going on with the arts,’ Kristen says. ‘There have always been artists and creatives around but it’s never been loud and public.

‘I think this is good because it’s a blank canvas every time and there’s no national expectation for the Festival. That might change but I think at the moment, anything is possible here.’

The 2023 program is live and tickets are now on sale.


WHAT: Shepparton Festival
WHEN: March 17 to April 2
FIND OUT MORE: Shepparton Festival

We wish to acknowledge the Yorta Yorta people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
Every week we send you
our picks of the best
stuff happening outside
We will never share your information with a third-party.