Q&A with Elevator ARI

Q&A with Betty Russ and Michael Donnelly, Elevator ARI Founders and Directors

Not-for-profit artist run initiative Elevator has opened its doors in the cultural hub of Lismore. Including a gallery space, artist studios and courtyard, Elevator is committed to provide a space of inclusivity and open dialogue. 

With a strong focus on experimental artforms including sound art, performance and multi-disciplinary practices, Elevator provides Lismore and the region exposure to art and artists not commonly provided in regional centres. With strong ties to both local and national artists and art organisations Elevator will function as a hub for vibrant cultural exchange, pursuing an engagement of inclusivity and equity bound by a clear idea of arts potential to heal and educate.

Behind the space are local artists, Betty Russ and Michael Donnelly, both graduates of SCU with solid ties to the local arts community and an ambition to draw vibrant cultural experiences to Lismore and facilitate a fluid exchange of ideas and forms with local artists and audiences. 


Congratulations on opening last month with your debut exhibition, ‘Doors Open’. Tell us more about the exhibition and the opening event?

‘Doors Open’ was our debut exhibition and presented current works by Elevator studio artists Kairan Ward, Fabian Pertzel, Betty Russ and Michael Donnelly as well as work by our resident sign writer and artist collaborator Gala Jane. The event was also a launch party for the venue, welcoming the community and letting folks know we’re here. We were absolutely blown away by the support of our peers and the broader community of Lismore and beyond. We had almost 140 people through the door over the course of the evening and we were thrilled by how easy it was, given some of the stringent COVID – Safety plan rules we had/have in place. One of the most memorable and frequently said things on the night was how much the guests appreciated the chance to (safely) commune for a cultural event after such a long hiatus. The evening was welcomed into being by the wonderful Aunty Thelma James, regaling us with beautiful anecdotes of family and community connection. Throughout the night we had an ambient live synth soundtrack that Michael put together, with a stellar unscheduled cameo by 3 year old Ike JJ Murphy. The most valuable understanding that we gathered from the evening is that our community needs us and we need them, and we all need art. 


What’s coming up next at Elevator? 

The next event is ‘Grad Show NOT Grad Show’. Both directors, Michael and Betty are recent graduates from SCU and both studio residents, Kairan and Fabian, have just finished their degrees. Given the current cluster fluff, the uni wasn’t able to provide the much coveted annual Grad Show so, being an independent ARI, we have gladly given the graduating students a space to show their friends, family and community their blood, sweat and tears from the last several years. This event will also function under a COVID – Safety Plan, but given the awesome cooperation at the last event, we will only require a QR Code sign in on entry, and we will have a host at the door monitoring the number of entrants in order to comply….and of course, we need everyone to practice safe socials. The event will open at 5pm on November 20th, with a licenced cash and card bar and beautiful snacks by donation (care of Milk Curd Cheese).


How can artists get involved? 

At present we’re tightening up ideas for 2021 programming, with a big focus on experimental art forms and sound. We will be calling for EOI’s/ applications soon, watch this space!


What advice would you give others who dream of starting an ARI?

Rob a bank! Do it for the reasons you believe in. Look after yourself and each other, philosophically as well as psychologically and physically. Be as well organised as you can but be flexible, soften up. Don’t sweat the small or big stuff, because it’s not particularly easy but it is worth it. Go for lots of walks in beautiful places and eat three serves of vegetables a day! 


Congratulations on being shortlisted for Your Big Idea! Tell us about your idea?

Our Big Idea is to create a place, a hub for experimental artforms and as an activation point for new ideas and collaborations across disciplines. With a focus on experimental sound and visual practices, we will bring unheard and unseen things to the Northern Rivers, giving new opportunities to artists and audiences alike. 

Elevator ARI is located at 16 King Street in Lismore. 

Image | Installation view from Doors Open. Photograph by Mia Zapata