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Pulling Apart the Fabric of Montsalvat

The following article in today’s Age by Carolyn Webb brought back my memories of the Residency that I undertook on site at Montsalvat in 2014.

Whilst at the residency I wrote an article for Res Artis: Worldwide Network of Arts Residencies based on the question: What constitutes a great and satisfying residency? Website: https://resartis.org/

Here is an extract from that article:

“My current residency is at a place that I am familiar with. I have been to the location many times. Although it is a place that I am familiar with I want to know it intimately, so my proposal read as:

“My project Marks, Makings and other Memories will be investigating those environments, places of history, of beauty, of intrigue, of mystery and the relationship between site, structure and memory. Taken from the concept of Barbara Triggs: Scats, Tracks and other Traces, I propose to look for and express what I see as mapping Montsalvat.  Under guidance, like the naturalist, I will discover Montsalvat icons – be it a specific site, shadow, structure or story that will influence the artwork development, materials and production.

I will look at what has been, what is left behind and what is now.”

This type of proposal allows me to make whatever artwork I want.  Think of any art discipline and it could be done using this proposal. So always keep it broad.

A great residency for me is one that challenges and inspires me to create new works. A great residency makes me think about the site, my relationship with that site and how I will interact with it.

A satisfying residency should allow an artist the freedom to develop, create and present the resulting artwork even if incomplete. In all my residencies I have found that I continue themes or techniques developed during the residency.

AIR is an appropriate anagram for often starting a residency has the sense of air; nothing is solid, decided, consolidated or yet thought out.

A great and satisfying residency is one where the artist needs only think of his/herself and his/her developing artwork. It is a residency where life outside of these two things is a world away.”

What can one say about the changes occurring at Montsalvat after the fact that it was rescued from going under then gifted to the people of Victoria. I empathise with those Jorgensen family members who, for some reason, believe they have the right to live on the properties ‘rent free’ and wonder how many generations that term related to. So sad that the two brothers Sigmund and Sebastian passed away within weeks of each other, it is an end to an era.

I would hope that the Arts are kept alive and ongoing and the history stays significant within the organisation of Montsalvat. It is a worthy site to Victoria and Australia.

‘Pulling apart the fabric of Montsalvat’: Artist colony cuts family ties

By Carolyn Webb

February 26, 2020 — 11.30pm

The family that founded Melbourne’s famous bohemian artist colony Montsalvat has been ousted after three generations involved in the institution.

Rhiannon Jorgensen, granddaughter of the colony’s late founder Justus Jorgensen, has been evicted by the Montsalvat board from its satellite arts venue, a farm at Christmas Hills, 45 kilometres north-east of Melbourne.

Ms Jorgensen has until now lived rent-free at the Christmas Hills farm. But six months after the death of her father, classical guitarist Sebastian Jorgensen, the Montsalvat board has decided to sell the Christmas Hills site.

The running of Montsalvat was taken out of the families’ hands, with a new board appointed, after a state government rescue package 14 years ago when it fell into debt.

Raphael Kilpatrick, son of the late, long-time Montsalvat resident artist Matcham Skipper, slammed the latest decision, saying it was “like pulling apart the fabric of Montsalvat”.

He said the Jorgensens, including Rhiannon, had maintained the farmhouse and barn for more than 40 years, hosting art exhibitions and poetry and music festivals.

Mr Kilpatrick is a member of the Montsalvat Meeting Pool, which is calling for reform of the Montsalvat board, saying a commercial culture is destroying Montsalvat’s artistic focus.

He said it was wrong that no one remained on the board from the founding families or their associates.

Montsalvat was created in1934 and the artists built a series of properties with a group of friends. Mr Kilpatrick’s aunt, Helen Skipper, was Justus’ long-time partner.

Mr Kilpatrick said Montsalvat “was established on a community of people living and working and contributing to that place”.

He said there were now three artists in residence, but when he lived there more than a decade ago there were about 16.

The Meeting Pool group says Montsalvat’s constitution should be altered to mandate that the board include at least two artists or people connected to founding families.

A spokeswoman for the Montsalvat board said the proceeds of the Christmas Hills site sale would be invested “in the future of Montsalvat” and that no part of Montsalvat’s main hub in Eltham – 20 kilometres away – was being sold. The spokeswoman said the Montsalvat board had allowed Sebastian Jorgensen to live at the Christmas Hills property for his lifetime, at no cost. After his death, “his daughter has remained at the property at no cost to her”.

“She has no entitlements to the property. The board has advised her of its decision to sell the property and [she] has been given notice to vacate.”

Local real estate agent Ian Mason, from Mason White McDougall, said the property on Eltham-Yarra Glen Road was “a very pretty block of land” with pasture and a bush section abutting a creek, and it could fetch $800,000 to $1 million.

A Montsalvat source said the board acted according to Justus’ 1974 will, which left the estate to a trust “and didn’t include any family members as beneficiaries”.

“He left Montsalvat as a gift for the people of Victoria, not for his family’s financial benefit. The trust’s job is financial governance, looking after the proper running of Montsalvat,” they said.

On the board, “we don’t absolutely have to have a family member, it isn’t the royal family, it’s not a situation by inheritance. It is a merit-based board.”

An original – but not current – trustee, media identity Phillip Adams, said any suggestion that any board members “have ever had anything but the best interests of Montsalvat at heart, are bullshit”.

Mr Adams said there was “a huge amount of activity going on at Montsalvat, still, despite all its problems, which are artist-related. And looking at the endless amount of bitching over the years, at my 80-plus age, I feel incredibly irritated by it.”

Fourteen years ago, the then-board including brothers Sigmund and Max Jorgensen sold part of the Christmas Hills land to help pay a $750,000 debt.

The Jorgensens agreed to a state government rescue package, including Sigmund being replaced as CEO and chairman by arts bureaucrats.

In 2014 he told The Age he was pleased Montsalvat was in better shape, and that it derived $600,000 a year – more than 50 per cent of its income – from weddings on the grounds. He said it was a practical way of supporting Montsalvat.

Featured Image: Denise with Indigenous Artist Rachel Shields with a collaborative Project titled Flag Montsalvat 2014 for Reconciliation Week.

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