The school of art

The Sisters of Mercy nuns arrived in Newcastle in 1884 to staff a small parish school on the outskirts of the city and later run a secondary school which they dedicated to St. Aloysius. The order was founded in Ireland in 1831 and immediately insisted in not being secluded behind cloistered walls, but participating in the life of the surrounding community. Very unorthodox indeed! The Sisters vowed to serve people suffering from poverty, sickness and a lack of education and in keeping with this mission they engaged in teaching, medical care and running community programs.

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Although it is now closed St. Aloysius Secondary School was run by the Sisters for over 100 years. They may be gone, but their site in Parry Street is still buzzing with activity and it seems fitting that it remains a place of learning. It is now home to the Newcastle Community Arts Centre which supports artists to create and exhibit new work, providing ‘accessible, supportive, collaborative and unique spaces and to build strategic partnerships with arts and non-arts sectors.’

The former school has been transformed, its hot asphalt playground cooled by sprawling green plants; the stark red brick buildings hung with colourful banners and decorated with the odd spray of accidental paint. If you are an up and coming artist the Centre runs painting and drawing classes and if you want a space to produce your own work the former classrooms have been reborn as individual studios.

Are you an artist ready to exhibit? The Centre is also home to the Newcastle Art Space, a vibrant artist run initiative and non-profit gallery, which provides a professional exhibition place for local artists. In the gallery I found artist Ahn Wells busy hanging work which will form part of a new six-woman group show Handwise VI (2013). She was creating an abstract pattern of intricately chain stitched wool which was directly attached to the walls, held in place with rows of nails. Ahn’s enthusiasm about the Centre was catching and when she said “There is nothing else like this place in Newcastle” it was a sentiment that was echoed by artist after artist.

Can art heal? Many practitioners believe it is a powerful tool to restore equilibrium and claim it is a path to rebuilding a centred self. The Centre is a founding member of Arts in Recovery – Hunter and a member of the Bounceback committee, both of which encourage participation in art and culture for those who find their mental well-being enhanced by unlocking their creativity.

Their annual art exhibition has just been held in the Centre’s Black Box Theatre which was transformed to showcase art work from people dealing with mental illness. Art had been part of their healing process and the beautiful work in the show vibrated with life and colour. Creativity doesn’t discriminate and to partner that with hope and recovery makes a powerful triumvirate of healing.

A former school seems a perfect place for Newcastle artists to gather, Pablo Picasso certainly saw the connection. When he was asked at what point he became an artist he replied “Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Newcastle Community Arts Centre, 246 Parry Street, Newcastle West/Hamilton East. Open Monday-Thursday 10:30am-4:30pm. Phone: 4961 1696. Email: Web:

Newcastle Art Space is open Thursday – Sunday 12.00pm-5.00pm. Handwise VI (2013) runs until 17 November 2013. The NCAC straddles the Newcastle West/Hamilton East boundary (Google maps can’t decide exactly where the boundary is), but I’ll let it sneak in to this blog because the Centre is just too good to leave out.


Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me:; 0413 250 155.


6 responses to “The school of art

  1. Well done Kimberly: Once again I learn more about what is happening in Newcastle’s West end from reading “West End Adventures” than ever I do from the major Newcastle newspaper. Great quote: “Creativity doesn’t discriminate”. It seems Newie West is a bit of an iceberg with lots happening, but not a lot visible. I can see it booming in a couple of years.

  2. Loved it Kimberly. And I am so glad there is a blog focusing on the West End as I have always touted it as the gateway to Newcastle AND there is so much creativity down this end.

  3. Great story Kimberly. There is a lot happening at NCAC and a former school is certainly a fitting place for creative, educational and cultural practices.

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