Gold Coast comes of age with its cultural drawcards
As thousands of people crammed into the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre last month for Eurovision Australia Decides, they also witnessed something else.
They not only saw Kate Miller-Heidke crowned Australia's representative for Eurovision this year, they witnessed a changing point in the evolution of the Gold Coast as one of Queensland's major arts and cultural attractions.
For years the Gold Coast has been perceived as just a concrete jungle with surf added on; Surfers Paradise a tacky tourist hot spot with meter maids and souvenir stores.
But during recent years something has changed. The Gold Coast has welcomed internationally significant events such as the Eurovision extravaganza, the ever-expanding Bleach Festival, Sand Safari Arts Festival and much more.
The Gold Coast is now a destination you can visit not just for the surf, but for a cultural experience as well.
Bleach Festival CEO and artistic director Louise Bezzina said the Commonwealth Games in 2018 was a turning point for the coast's art scene.
"The Commonwealth Games was a
pivotal moment (for the Gold Coast art scene), it was that linchpin, we had to get ready," she said.
"Without the Commonwealth Games we might not have seen the energy we are seeing now. I think it was brewing anyway but I think the Games was vital in letting everyone else discover it."
Bleach Festival has been held in the various towns across the Gold Coast since 2012 and showcases the work of dozens of Australian artists across all mediums.
"Bleach is a really interesting, exciting and exhilarating way to experience the Gold Coast in a way you otherwise wouldn't have thought," Ms Bezzina said
"You'll get to go on interesting adventures in showgrounds, waterways, bounce on big beautiful balls on the beach in Burleigh.
"It takes you away from those stereotypes. You'll get to see that vibrant fresh energy here."
Movement collective The Farm expanded to the Gold Coast from Berlin after co-director Gavin Webber was shown a video from Bleach Festival.
"That's one of the reasons we moved," Mr Webber said.
"The fact that was happening on the Gold Coast made me realise the potential of a place like this.
"I've always firmly believed you don't have to be in Sydney or Melbourne to make great art and be successful.
"I've always believed in working in more regional locations for the influences they contain."
For his production company's piece Tide at the 2018 Bleach Festival, Mr Webber and The Farm became the only Queensland group to receive a prestigious Helpmann Award last year.
Tide was a two-day improvised performance on a sand bank in the Currumbin Creek estuary.
"I think it's a big flag to the rest of Australia that what's being created on the Gold Coast is of a standard that can compete anywhere," Mr Webber said.
"There is no longer that cultural cringe about this place that it can't create great art.
"For us it was not an award for ourselves and Bleach, but we thought it was an award for the whole Gold Coast and for local people it creates a sense of we are players on that national stage."
The Farm's latest piece, Throttle, a B-grade thriller viewed from within the safety of your own car at the Mudgeeraba Showgrounds, will be performed during this year's Bleach Festival.
Sculptor Clayton Blake has been involved in Swell Sculpture Festival on the Gold Coast as well as other festivals around Australia.
"When I compare my experience and involvement of the festivals, the place I enjoyed most is here on the Gold Coast," he said.
Originally from Melbourne, Mr Blake now runs his studio from Currumbin. He was selected as the artist-in-residence at this year's Sand Safari Arts Festival, where he created giant octopus tentacles and soldier crab statues that were scattered throughout the Surfers Paradise promenade.
He was also the only Australian artist to exhibit at the Burning Man festival in the United States last year.
"There is just a really strong art scene and supportive network here," he said.
"I came up here not knowing anyone, and I now just feel really supported. There are lots of opportunities, some I didn't expect. It's a beautiful surprise."
The changing cultural scene on the Gold Coast is not something lost on locals either.
One Uber driver, who moved to the Gold Coast from the Netherlands 25 years ago, said the change was happening all over the region, not just at the major tourist hot spots like Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach.
"There are just so many more cafes and events to go to," he said.
"There is something to do every weekend."
Bleach Festival will be held across the Gold Coast from April 17-28. Sand Safari will return to Surfers Paradise in 2020.
This reporter visited the Gold Coast as a guest of Tourism and Events Queensland.