Innovative charity Café Art Australia is branching out with another worthy project – a calendar featuring indigenous people from Alice Springs.
Above photo: "Alice Springs Township" by AAT Kings Tours Pty Ltd
As if running Australia’s most interesting calendar competition wasn’t enough, now Café Art’s energetic founder Michael Allwright has just begun work on a second calendar project – this time in the Northern Territory.
For the last few years, Michael has helmed the annual My Sydney Calendar – of which State Custodians is a proud sponsor. The charity distributes disposable cameras to more than 100 homeless people around Sydney to snap inspiring, touching and moving pictures of their daily lives. The best 13 images are then selected for the following year’s calendar, with proceeds going back to the homeless community.
State Custodians' General Manager Joanna Pretty says the annual photography competition is one of the most unique initiatives around. “It is truly inspiring that homeless people are getting a chance to show off their creativity and develop self-worth in the face of such adversity.”
In addition to the Sydney calendar, which will have its initial kick-off for the 2019 calendar on July 3, Michael has also just established a similar project in Alice Springs.
Michael says he’s been wanting to do a calendar with an indigenous community for a while. “In particular I wanted the young indigenous people to perhaps develop an interest in photography. I’ve seen with the Sydney calendar that giving homeless people something to focus on has been beneficial for their self-esteem, so I thought it would also work well with an indigenous community.”
The 36-year-old recently visited Alice Springs to broach the idea and was welcomed by students at St Joseph’s Catholic Flexible Learning Centre, as well as members of the Larapinta community who were keen to participate in a 2019 calendar. He plans to visit again next month and distribute around 50 cameras.
Additionally, this year a team will be shooting a documentary on the Sydney calendar which will then be pitched to major networks. One of the doco participants will be 2018 calendar winner Shane – a former lawyer who found himself homeless following a mental breakdown and financial problems.
“I’m chuffed but still embarrassed that my pictures of my dog was voted the top shot given the standard of the other photos submitted for the calendar,” Shane modestly says.
Another participant will be Jai, who originally came to Sydney 10 years ago “to jump off the Harbour Bridge.” After many years of being homeless, Jai shot three images in the 2017 calendar for which she won multiple awards. “People love having their images printed out and framed to treasure,” she says. “Getting in the calendar is very special. It gives you a sense of pride and self-esteem and when you’re homeless that’s hard to find.”
A data strategist by trade, Michael first read about Café Art’s London project three years ago. Inspired to do something similar here, he founded Café Art Australia and also now runs another charity – the Minerva Collective – which does data sharing for social good.
“It’s been so incredibly rewarding being able to bring a little joy into people’s lives,” he says. “Homeless people really are just like anyone else. Many have ended up in difficult circumstances due to things like relationship breakdowns, bad luck and illness.
“Each year with the calendar many of the participants gain so much more than they signed up for, including a sense of meaning and a renewed purpose to find some kind of way into secure housing.
“Photographs can be very powerful and can really shine a spotlight on people in a difficult situation. When you’re homeless you often feel lonely and unworthy, and to connect with the public over art you have produced can be a transformative experience.”
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