OMG! SAQA’s Oceania mentorship program

by Ali George (SAQA Journal)

The Oceania Mentorship Group (OMG!) was created in response to the changing membership structure within our region. With membership drives resulting in more members, one of the challenges about the “anyone and everyone” approach was how to retain those new members into the future.

Many of our new members were not and are not established artists in the art-quilt genre. Many had been recruited as a result of attending a quilt show or participating in a class facilitated by one of our members. These have been alternating between elements of design and a theme set by a guest artist.

My initial idea was that some of our groups’ professional artist members could contribute and support newer members through this forum. It has evolved quite differently from how I envisioned. I now approach an artist within the broader SAQA membership whose artistic merit, work ethic, or body of work has something which I believe can contribute to the growth of our group. Our two guest artists have so far been Sue Reno from Pennsylvania in the United States and Sue Dennis from Brisbane, Australia.

The OMG! works on a challenge which runs for three months. Our four challenges in the first 12 months of OMG! have been unity (design element), roots (set by Sue Reno), balance (element of design) and adventure (set by Sue Dennis). Members can determine the size or scope of the challenge and their finished pieces. We suggest that 12 x 12 inches is a great size to start with, as it also creates the opportunity to have a Benefit Auction contribution prepared well ahead of time.

Our group was not formed to provide how-to guidance or techniques. There are plenty of books, videos, and DVDs for learning the basics. There are also plenty of workshops available online and in person for those wanting those opportunities. What OMG! offers is another way to obtain the most benefit out of a regionally based membership.

What have been the best aspects? The way our members have engaged with the challenges. Members have expressed an appreciation for being able to share experiments, ideas, effort, and process outcomes within a protective and supportive environment. I’m in awe of the talent that resides in our region, evidenced by the way our members respond to the quarterly challenges.

The biggest problem has been meeting the needs of everyone. Every person has a different perception of what a mentorship group might look like. SAQA’s Visioning Project was a wonderful inspiration for me person-ally some years ago, and I liked the self-directed but disciplined approach of reporting to myself each month and to the group. The wonderful group Textile Arts run by Oceania member Neroli Henderson is another fantastic forum for engaging with textile artists and art quilters. OMG! sits comfortably in between, but it is not for everyone.

What’s in our future?

In addition to quarterly challenges, we are introducing some discussion on how to get your art out there and related small business advice meant to inspire ideas and action by our members. It’s very much on a take what you want or need basis, rather than a preachy approach. I’m also hoping that some of our group will be able to find the time to sup-port the OMG! and take it to the next level — perhaps as the launch pad for our own exhibition, retreat, or mini-conference. Who knows? I think that’s the magic behind OMG! It’s always a creative surprise.

- Ali George is a textile and mixed-media artist and is a SAQA Oceania representative.