Connection and Community
By Kate Smiley
AT Stockyard Gallery, Foster, volunteers play a vital role in supporting the local art community. One such dedicated volunteer is Cheryl Roberts, who graciously shared her experience and insights into the world of volunteering at the gallery.
Cheryl’s journey began with a serendipitous twist. Having her own exhibition at the gallery in January 2020, just as the pandemic hit, Cheryl found herself almost single-handedly manning the gallery throughout the month. This experience allowed her insight into the gallery’s inner workings and kindled a sense of responsibility towards supporting its ongoing success.
Reflecting on her role at the gallery, Cheryl explains, “To be honest, it is a bit of a slow job – being a small regional gallery. However, as it is connected to the visitor information centre, we do get tourists who come into the gallery and shop. They come in looking for a map and walk out with gifts for their family.”
What Cheryl enjoys most about volunteering at Stockyard Gallery is the chance to interact with people. These encounters can be fun. “Meeting people is a good experience. I am getting to know locals better, and the fleeting interactions with visitors from other states or overseas can be quite meaningful,” she said.
Cheryl’s involvement at the gallery has provided her with a sense of fulfillment by contributing to her local community. Through her volunteer work, she feels she is making a small but significant difference in supporting the gallery’s mission which is to promote local artists through monthly exhibitions in the light-filled gallery space, and to also provide an outlet though the gallery shop for local craftspeople and creators to sell their wares. This is no ordinary gallery shop filled with mass-produced items to catch the tourist’s eye. There are exquisite handmade textile creations, pewter sculpture, ceramics, prints, silver jewellery, books by local writers and illustrators, gift cards, glassware and woodwork.
When asked about memorable experiences, Cheryl recalls some unexpected occurrences. “Recently, while I was training a new volunteer, the fire alarm went off. No one even knew we had a fire alarm, so that was a bit exciting. And we had a flood in the office too, so these things make the day more interesting.”
The sense of community and camaraderie among the volunteers at Stockyard Gallery is undeniable. Cheryl mentions that since the gallery is entirely run by volunteers, they navigate their responsibilities together, learning from one another and forming friendships along the way.
To ensure volunteers succeed in their roles, Stockyard Gallery provides support and training. “A new volunteer will be paired with an older one to learn the ropes,” Cheryl explains. This mentorship approach allows volunteers to feel confident and well-prepared as they contribute to the gallery’s operations.
Cheryl’s involvement with Stockyard Gallery has also deepened her appreciation for art. She spends time observing visitors interacting with each exhibition, noticing their preferences and interests. “People tend to enjoy more traditional, accessible types of art,” she notes. “It is an older demographic, and they may have more conservative tastes. We get very few young people visiting, which is a shame.”
Beyond her volunteer work, Cheryl nurtures her own artistic practice. She has been painting and creating for over 30 years, with a recent fascination for cold wax medium. Together with her partner, Graeme Anthony, a sculptor, they have dedicated studio spaces and find inspiration in their travels. Their upcoming trip to France in August promises to be an exciting artistic adventure.
Cheryl’s dedication to Stockyard Gallery showcases the importance of volunteers in sustaining and enriching the local art scene. Through her experiences, we can glimpse the sense of community, personal growth, and connection that volunteering at the gallery provides. As the gallery continues to flourish with the support of volunteers like Cheryl, it remains a significant destination for art enthusiasts and a hub for creativity in the region.