A still from Karen’s “Young Leaders of the West” project which will launch on June 17 at Whitten Oval.


May 16, 2019 BY

Karen Steenbergen moved to Torquay from Altona about two years ago in search of a thriving art community by the water.

Luckily for the ceramicist, art teacher and community development worker, she’s not only found a place to call home, she’s discovered how artistic mediums can bring the most vulnerable people together.

Holding a diploma in ceramics from Holmesglen Institute and boasting over 10 years’ experience behind the pottery wheel, Karen enjoys the hands-on nature of the craft and its ability to stimulate meaningful discussion.

“I work on a number of different projects and use pottery or ceramics as an activity to engage communities,” Karen said.

“I find it often helps with bringing people together who perhaps don’t know each other that well or are feeling disconnected.

“I see the joy in people coming together more than the end product – it’s kind of the journey and the process of learning something new.”

Karen – who runs intimate classes out of her Torquay studio – set up a stall at this year’s Torquay Nightjar Festival and joined the Surf Coast Arts committee in a bid to network with creatives in the area.

The jack-of-all-trades has an extensive background in community development, a passion she channels through her work with Improving and Promoting Community (IPC) Health.

“I work three days a week for IPC Health on community arts projects. I put in applications on behalf of IPC Health to Wyndham City Council, twice this year and last year, and was successful in getting funding to some big community art projects.

“I’ve been granted $20,000 each for two projects.”

The first project will see Karen work with the Indigenous Wathaurong people to create a mural in Werribee based around the theme of a “sense of belonging”. The second project involves producing a large-scale silo art piece in Wyndham Vale.

Most recently, Karen was part of a twoyear project titled “Young Leaders of the West”, which was funded by the Victorian
Responsible Gambling Association through its Prevention Partnership program.

The aim of the project was to increase knowledge and awareness, particularly among young men and women, about the harmful risks of gambling.

Karen landed the role of project lead and worked with a mixed group of 20- to 25-year-olds to create three 30 second advertisements on the state’s gambling epidemic.

“The project was all about working with a group of young people to build their capacity and understanding of the gambling issue and how insidious it is in the younger age group,” she says.

“Once they (the group) started to realise how harmful excessive gambling really is, they really wanted to create something to counteract all those gambling ads that make it look so attractive and so peer-group.”

With no experience in film production, Karen helped the “young leaders” formulate scripts for the anti-gambling campaign and assisted in the editing process.

The ads will be launched on June 27 at Whitten Oval as part of the project’s partnership with the Western Bulldogs.

While juggling a host of commitments and managing her own classes, Karen doesn’t hesitate in putting her hand up to take on more.

The Torquay artist recently finished co-ordinating a series of creative workshops with an Ethiopian community in conjunction with the Ethiopian Sports and Culture Federation Victoria’s “Cultural Connections” series.

Members of the group shared their personal artefacts – including an incense burner stamped with intricate cultural markings – as inspiration for Karen.

“The Ethiopian Sports and Culture Federation Victoria are very communityminded in that they don’t just promote sport in their community, they promote cultural connections,” Karen said.

Karen’s move to Torquay has seen her develop new connections beyond the 3228. During her time showcasing work at the Nightjar, a woman from The Hive Gallery in Ocean Grove spotted Karen’s work and asked to feature it in the space.

Karen’s “Milk Shed” series remain on display at the gallery.

“It’s been amazing in my growth as an artist,” she smiles.

“I’m the only ceramicist there – it’s mainly paintings, oils and big sculptures.

“What I love about ceramics is you can just lose yourself for hours. It’s very meditating, relaxing and good for mental health.”

Karen has also hosted two successful exhibitions at Anglesea’s Surf Coast Arts Space where she will base herself for this year’s Surf Coast Arts Trail in August.

To learn more about Karen and her art classes, email karstceramics@gmail.com, visit facebook.com/Karensteenbergenceramicartist, search @karensteenbergen_ceramics on Instagram or phone 0417 539 343.