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There is something magical about New Brighton – and now, artists will be able to soak in the tranquillity and create some special pieces in paradise thanks to the first dedicated hideaway for creatives.

Hair slicked back and skin still damp from the creek, Natalie Popovski sits in front of a canvas of half-imagined flowers. The oil painter and ceramicist is “painting her little heart out” each day while it’s light in New Brighton’s first dedicated art residency space.

It’s called Merge Creative – founded by Clare Maynard, who grew up in New Zealand watching her mum create beautiful pieces out of clay.

“Mum was a potter and quite an alternative individual,” she says. “I think everybody has a creative side, that’s what sets humans apart. I’m really drawn to artists and creative people.”

Clare moved to Australia and went on to have a creative career herself - working as an interior designer - but it was after buying a cute three-bedroom house on Marshalls Creek, and seeing how the floods impacted the community, that was the turning point.

“To see everyone’s possessions piled up on the road was devastating,” says Clare. “We have this beautiful little property and after the floods I sat back with my partner Richard and thought, ‘What can we do here? How can we add to this community? How can we allow different people to experience this place?’”

And so, Merge Creative Residency Art and Youth Foundation was born. The freshly renovated three-bedroom house, writers’ studio and shed will be opened to artists to stay, soak in the serenity and immerse themselves in a body of work. “You can’t help but be impacted by being in an environment like this, where everything is very slow. There’s limited cell phone connection and Wi-Fi so you’re sort of forced to be present.”

Whilst the residency will allow them access to local galleries and mentors, the relationship with the community is two-way. Artists will also be able to contribute to New Brighton during their stay – through artistic evenings and workshops that the community can come to, enabling them to rub shoulders with emerging and established creatives. The residencies will also be open to local, interstate and even international artists – an American sculptor has already been accepted for an upcoming residency.

“I’m really excited about the period after an artist leaves us and being able to watch their career develop” says Clare with a smile. “When we can step back and say, ‘Oh, that was the time of their residency at New Brighton’.”

As a step mum of four and with a son of her own, Clare is passionate about nurturing youth enterprises and initiatives. Firstly, through Merge itself encouraging young artists to apply, and also as an ongoing sponsor of Currumbin Beach’s annual SWELL Sculpture Festival in the form of a bursary.

“I’d like to be able to offer a residency for people that are graduating uni and not really sure of where to go next,” Clare says. “From there, we want to have a mentorship integrated in and help provide paths to take, and we’re developing relationships with local galleries.”

Clare also hopes that the house – and its gardens – will become an ever-growing gallery, a legacy of the artists that have found inspiration from their time at Merge Creative.

As for Natalie, she has already seen a change in her work during her immersion in New Brighton. “I’ve noticed my work is getting more expressive, the colours are brighter and a bit looser” she says, putting this change down to the fact there’s no distractions. “You spend a lot of time alone and there’s a lot of silence so you’re able to look a bit deeper into yourself… It helps the process.”

Even her daily routine has changed. “I’m getting up earlier and I work until the sun goes down,” Natalie says. “Then I lock myself away, for reading and reflecting time.” New Brighton is definitely working its magic. The property’s lush gardens, and creek-side location, also help the artists feel a part of nature. “And this small, quaint community has a real earthy vibe - it feels very spiritual” adds Natalie, who believes that one of the greatest challenges facing artists is having the financial freedom to be able to create.

“It’s not like an apprenticeship, where there are markers and you’re kind of working and earning money while you learn,” she says. “I’m very appreciative to Clare and people like her. It’s amazing to feel so supported.”

And for those keen to soak up those creative vibes and be inspired to release the artist within, the property will also be available in between residencies for short-term holiday rental.

Artists can apply for a residency at Merge Creative by visiting @mergcreativeart @natpop


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