Walking into Artpuff at The Mill in Castlemaine is in some sense a disconcerting experience:
while the space is not large, the feeling on entering is one of expansiveness and welcome. It’s an effect achieved not only through design, but more profoundly the result of the deliberate efforts of Artpuff founders, Melissa Proposch and Kir Larwill.
Image on right — Justine Hutchison, White Hellebores, 2022 (detail)
Kir describes their philosophy.
“We wanted to create a sense of belonging here; a place you’d feel comfortable, whether you’re working in the arts or not. We’re trying for intimacy, welcoming, warmth,” she says.
“This is a space where people can show art, make art, learn new skills, a place where you can join with us in engaging with the arts across this region. There’s always something interesting to look at.”
Melissa and Kir brought strong CVs and a sustained working relationship to this unique enterprise.
“We’ve worked together for a long time, including as Castlemaine Press chair and vice-chair for seven years,” explains Kir.
“Melissa has been an arts publisher and is a printmaker who has taught at tertiary level, with a focus on the overlap between photography and digital works. I was one of a group of makers who started the artists’ market here in town, and regularly worked with artists to mount shows.”
Part of the secret to Artpuff’s success is the degree to which Melissa and Kir, as artists themselves, recognise the challenges facing the artists whose work they host here.
“We help people get their art seen and understood. Recently I worked with an artist who hadn’t quite worked out the pricing of her pieces, I sat down with her and talked through that,” Kir says.
“We understand the ups and downs. We help people get their art seen and understood, and to present it in a way that conveys the professionalism and creativity of what they do. We can completely empathise.
We work in collaboration with established and emerging artists, audiences, institutions, organisations and businesses to develop new works that open the ways for artist/audience collaboration and participation. We experiment in installation and performance that encourages action and reflection; building contemporary art forms that are inclusive.
Our works are grown regionally and are presented locally, nationally and internationally.
Image on right — Melissa Proposch, There is a darkness, 2022
For non-artists who come in to see an Artpuff show, or simply happen to pass through the space while exploring the wider Mill site, the welcome is equally as engaging.
“Melissa and I want people to come in here with ease. We chat with them as they come through the door, even if they’ve accidentally done so while exploring The Mill – we’ll ask if they need any tips.
“The other day a woman brought her two teenage sons in, she mentioned quietly to me that she didn’t know how long they’d last in here. They ended up staying for over half an hour. The older boy was interested in the writing workshops we offer, part of a wider workshop program we’re establishing.
“Artpuff is neutral ground. People will get to sit side-by-side, talk organically. An experience that never fails to generate connection and humour. That’s Artpuff: a space that brings people together,” says Kir.