Harbinger Consultants

Creative Sustainability :: Place, People, Product, Potential, Partnership + Pollinating

OPEN | Beautiful One Day, Fruit Salad the Next

As curator of the Flying Arts exhibition, Beautiful One Day, Fruit Salad the Next!, John gave a speech at the opening, which was very well attended. The exhibition continues at the Judith Wright Centre in Fortitude Valley until 15 December. Great to see such positive support for Queensland based artists. John’s speech is below.

john and lyn ahmat

John with exhibiting artist Lyn Ahmat during the hang.

Good evening all and welcome.

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land and pay my respects to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders, and also the elders from other cultures, who share their wisdoms with us in such a generous way.

And I acknowledge and thank our artists who are generously sharing their creative works with us and allowing us, as viewers, to experience the world a little differently.

Each of these artists attended a Flying Arts workshop earlier this year. I facilitated this workshop on Exhibition Development and it quickly became apparent that this group of artists were not only a very nice bunch of quite different people but shared some similarities of approach to their creative activities. During the workshop this phenomenon of similar yet different was described as ‘like a fruit salad’ and it was suggested that it’d be a great idea to have a group show in the future. We thought, yep, good idea – might be possible in a couple of years or so! But, the opportunity for a show arose faster than any of us expected and this exhibition has been exactly six weeks in development – pretty good work by all of us I reckon!

I curated this show in a way I hadn’t done before – it was a bit of a risk but – it worked! As part of the workshop each artist developed a 250 word artist statement so I asked them each to send those to me and I crunched those together as three wordclouds and it became very apparent that there were some distinct thematics emerging – words like: relationships, materials, nature, people, conversation, life, human and world loomed large. I then sent these wordclouds to the artists and asked them to send me 3 images of works that they thought reflected some of the keywords. From these I selected the works for the show – it was a jointly created curatorial premise like no other!

To give some context to the show and to the creativity of these artists I’d like you to consider a room – not this room but a room without any lights. Now this room contains an elephant. Five people spend some time in this room – in the dark. The five people are; a plumber, a sailor, a plasterer, a stonemason and a philosopher.

None of these five people have ever encountered an elephant before and each one of them gropes about in the dark until they touch an elephant bit.

When they have left the dark room they are asked of their experience – what did they think was within this particular room?

The Plumber was amazed at the extreme flexibility of the piping he had found. He’d felt the elephant’s trunk.

The Sailor was quite impressed with the incredibly strong sailcloth she’d discovered. She’d felt the elephant’s ear.

The Plasterer was pleased that someone had made such lovely textured wall surfaces. He’d felt the elephant’s side.

However the Stonemason was not very enthusiastic about the lumpy and irregular column he had investigated. He had felt one of the elephant’s legs.

And the Philosopher, well the Philosopher complained that no matter how hard she had pulled the cord the lights just would not go on. She had been tugging the elephant’s tail.

Each of these people had brought their own cultural experience and expectation to the elephant – and therefore each had encountered something quite different and unique to themselves.

I suggest that we all construct our own world view from the material of our own histories and sometimes this world view may have little to do with reality yet a lot to do with imagination.

The artworks created by these artists show us some different imagined realities and I thank all of them for allowing us to enjoy the way they remake the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Picasso said, “everything you can imagine is real” and another great artist Groucho Marx said, “Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” Somewhere in there is an important concept I’m sure!

Seeing and hearing a story is one of the ways that creativity adds to the understanding of our own culture and the culture of others – when we listen and see good things and bad things, funny things and sad things, we start to think and feel outside of our own experiences – we become better able to make some sense of the confusion that sometimes seems to surround the environment we all live in. The sharing of an artist’s work is an act of generosity and should be the starting point for a conversation – art is a catalyst for interaction and the pondering of imponderables.

So, thank you to all the artists – Anthony, Beverley, Bronwyn, Cathy, Chrys, Deborah, Fiona and Donna Maree and Tracey and Mulum, Hazel, Janet, Jennifer, Karen, Kate, Lyn, Mandy, Nicola, Sally, Simone, and Todd – your stories are unique, and this show is an important milestone in your creative careers, and it has been a joy to work with you all.


fruit salad group

John with the Fruit Salad and Flying Arts team


These artists now invite you to have a conversation, firstly with their remarkable creative works and then, with them as artists with so much to say and so much to offer to enrich our cultural life here in Queensland. Please take time to talk with the artists – they are all deeply immersed in their creative practice and each of them is, in various ways, demonstrating what the surrealist artist Rene Magritte articulated when he said, “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”

Enjoy the work, most of it is for sale so why not buy some and not only support these artists but also enliven and enhance your own environment. And please be aware that just inside the gallery is Sally Jones’ sculpture of Saint Hubert and, quite remarkably, today is the feast day of Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians, and metalworkers, and now, of fruit saladers as well!!

Thank you.


EXHIBITION | Beautiful One Day, Fruit Salad the Next!

John Armstrong is curating an exhibition for Flying Arts Alliance resulting from his facilitation of the Flying Arts Alliance’s Exhibition Development Program. The participating artists expressed an interest in exhibiting together and so it is happening … Beautiful One Day, Fruit Salad the Next! will open on 3 November and run until 15 December. The exhibition features Queensland artists who, by happenstance, discovered some relationships between their works.

Venue: Shopfront Gallery, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts
Gallery open: 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday
Cost: FREE

This exhibition features the works of:

Anthony Binder, Beverley Teske, Bronwyn Doherty, Cathy Godwin, Chrys Zantis, Deborah Wyss, Fiona Bishop-Vuibeqa with Donna Maree Robinson and Tracey Johnson and Mulum Stone, Hazel Procter, Janet Ambrose, Jennifer Stuerzl, Karen Benjamin, Kate Douglas, Lyn Laver-Ahmat, Mandy Quadrio, Nicola Tierney, Sally Jones, Simone Arnol, Todd Whisson.

fruit salad

PUBLISH | Flourish! in The Journal of Public Space

The latest issue of The Journal of Public Space (v2 n3) is now online, featuring Mandy Ridley’s Flourish! on the cover. Flourish! was developed in collaboration with Harbinger Consultants to revive and reclaim the Ernest Street tunnel, under the rail line, in South Brisbane. The Journal of Public Space also includes some background and documentation of the project.

We express our thanks to the editors, Luisa Bravo and Mirko Guaralda, for inviting us to share this project. It makes apparent that modest brief and budget constrained public art projects in difficult infrastructural spaces can make a difference to the look and feel of public space while enhancing the pedestrian experience.


The journal is freely available online and can be download as a PDF, which contains the cover, the colophon and the table of contents.


As we step into the last quarter of the year, our work is stretching. John will be continuing to work with Flying Arts as a facilitator into the new year, developing and delivering workshops and masterclasses to artsworkers and artists around the state. He is also curating an exhibition for Flying Arts involving a diverse group of artists. He is also developing other projects that aim to catalyse and support Indigenous enterprise and entrepreneurs.

In the next two months, Linda will be participating in two forums addressing social innovation. She has been invited to participate in the Smart Cities Council of Australia and New Zealand Social Impact Task Force, which meets for the first time next week, as well as accepted into the Brisbane City Council’s roundtable brainstorm session at Brisbane Innovate. Both provide contexts to explore opportunities for social innovation and sustainable transition in the urban context.

REPORT | Forget Memory Loss – Professor Steven Sabat


For over three decades, Professor Steven Sabat has been researching the intact cognitive and social abilities of people with Alzheimer’s disease as well as the ways in which communication between those diagnosed and their caregivers may be enhanced. This month is Dementia Awareness Month #dementia2017 and Professor Sabat is touring the country sharing his knowledge and experience in a lecture titled Forget Memory Loss – What About the Person? Professor Sabat has specifically researched the importance of selfhood for people living with dementia.

He explained that terms commonly used in reference to dementia, like ‘memory loss’ and ‘wandering’, were misleading and resulted in mistreatment of people with dementia. He said that the term ‘memory loss’ misrepresented not only the nature and complexity of memory but also the experiences of people with dementia. He declared that “this term needs to go” because it negatively impacts on people with dementia and the way in which they are treated.

Professor Sabat recounted the horrific case of a woman with dementia living in a residential care environment being raped by another resident who was known to be sexually aggressive. The family mounted a legal action. In response, the legal team for the residential care facility based their defence on assumptions about memory loss arguing that the woman would experience no enduring impacts from the experience because she would not remember. The case was ultimately settled out of court. However, Professor Sabat said that the woman’s behaviour and demeanour changed after the incident and she would often cry, although the care facility responded to this by describing her as ’emotionally labile’. He cited other cases where it was shown that people with dementia were able to make new memories or respond in tacit or implicit ways.

For Professor Sabat, the term ‘memory loss’ means carers, family, friends, neighbours and medical teams aren’t held very accountable for the way people with dementia are treated. He described how partners and carers of people with dementia have described them as ‘useless’, ‘not good for anything’ and ‘unable to remember anything’. If people with dementia are assumed to forget (or, perhaps, if all we see if the lack of recall), then developing meaningful exchanges isn’t prioritised. However, memory is complex and people often respond to different triggers and access different aspects of memory including recognition and implicit retrieval.

In his summary points, Professor Sabat stressed that ‘recalling is not the same as remembering: just because one fails to recall, does not mean one fails to remember’. A person can remember even though they are unable to recall, because they might still be able to recognise and implicit memory can still exist. This raises important questions about what ‘memory loss’ really means. “It’s really explicit memory dysfunction and that is not the same as ‘memory loss’,” Professor Sabat explained. In turn this informs the way we treat people – do we treat them differently or indifferently if we believe they cannot remember anything? What does this mean for the way we care? If we understood that people with dementia remembered things that were important to them, would we treat them differently or better? People with dementia may not be able to remember what you say, but they can remember how you have made them feel.

Professor Sabat also provided some concluding recommendations, highlighting the need to create good days and make moments matter (with reference to Dorothy Pringle’s work). It is particularly important to not set up people living with dementia to fail – don’t ask questions like ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ which ultimately are not very important and rely on explicit recall. Instead, he suggests opening up conversations to let people with dementia express themselves and their memories in a broad range of ways. This is an important part of selfhood and to show what people can do rather than emphasise what they can’t.

Afterwards, during question time, one audience member described herself as an aged care professional and described the need to change the aged care environment. She asked about how to change culture and learn new approaches. The question drew applause from the audience and Professor Sabat acknowledged the importance of the question. He said “the power of one” still mattered. He encouraged the audience member to take the initiative and model different and better ways of doing things to change the systems from within.

It seems an indictment on all of us that after decades of research, advocates and researchers like Professor Sabat still need to end their lectures with reminders for showing everyone respect and common courtesy. The continued use of the term ‘memory loss’ to describe the condition of people living with dementia seems to be one of the many ways that people with dementia are not only denied dignity but erased and forgotten.

SUPPORT | Dementia Awareness Month

Recently I encountered two very distressing incidents involving people with dementia and have come to see these as indicative of a general lack of understanding about dementia and the impact it has on on individuals. This month is Dementia Awareness Month #dementia17 and this small post is one way of raising that agenda. As a member of the Dementia Friendly Communities Advisory Group, I feel a sense of responsibility to share the work of this dedicated group and my experiences in relation to dementia friendly communities.

While poking around a local op shop, I overheard an interaction with an elderly man who came into the shop and the subsequent conversation between two of the staff. The man came into the store, looked around and started asking about whether the newspaper had been passed on. The shop attendants, a young man and middle aged woman, were a bit confused and informed him that newspapers weren’t sold in that particular store. The elderly man was impatient and walked around the shop as though looking for something. He endeavoured to explain that he knew they didn’t sell newspapers but just wanted to check that it had been passed on because usually he passes it on after he has read it. At this, the shop attendant clearly wasn’t following what the man was saying. He became abrupt and told the man that they couldn’t help him and he should check at the local grocery store. When the man left, the two shop attendants then started talking about how the elderly man came in often and probably had dementia, which was ‘sad’. One also commented that the elderly man had been inappropriate with some of the female shop assistants, which understandably upset them. The young man said if he did that again then he would have words with the elderly man. At this point, I was truly speechless at the many levels of wrong in this interaction.

The second story was recounted by my partner who heard it from a shop assistant at our local supermarket. Apparently, an elderly couple frequent the shopping centre where the supermarket is located. It was reported to my partner that the man is caring for his wife who is assumed to have dementia. When they come into the centre, the man will sometimes leave his wife while he does other things. However, she can be unpredictable and aggressive. The shop assistant reported that the woman hits people on the back of the head. On that morning, my partner was told that the woman was left alone and apparently had picked up two bottles of vinegar that she smashed together near a pram carrying an infant. While a mess resulted, thankfully neither the infant nor the woman were harmed. The shopping centre and supermarket management are considering whether to ban the woman from the premises.

People living with dementia are extremely vulnerable, and it is necessary to find the right balance between care and independence, particularly where there is a risk of harm to anyone. They can develop what is politely called ‘behaviours’ as a result of cognitive decline. This includes a lack of inhibition and propriety as well as other changes to temperament, judgement and relationships. Such behaviours often require some kind of management or redirection. Often spouses and other family members who become carers are incredibly stressed as the demands are immense and complex – carers don’t always cope well. Both responses by local businesses seem to adopt a punitive stance rather than a compassionate one. There is a sense of blaming the person with dementia and/or their carer and shifting the ‘problem’ (meaning the person with dementia) to someone else – in the case of the op shop, the man was redirected to another shop and in the case of the supermarket, responsibility was shifted back to the spouse. Excluding people with dementia from places is not an appropriate response; denying them access to support is not an appropriate response; failing to support a carer is not an appropriate response. It often takes someone on staff who has experience with a friend or family member with dementia to make the connection.

Both responses by local businesses seem to adopt a punitive stance rather than a compassionate one. There is a sense of blaming the person with dementia and/or their carer and shifting the ‘problem’ (meaning the person with dementia) to someone else – in the case of the op shop, the man was redirected to another shop and in the case of the supermarket, responsibility was shifted back to the spouse. Excluding people with dementia from places is not an appropriate response; denying them access to support is not an appropriate response; failing to support a carer is not an appropriate response. It often takes someone on staff who has experience with a friend or family member with dementia to make the connection. Neither of these businesses have information about dementia support and awareness displayed on their premises.

Most people living with dementia live in the community, not in care facilities. Dementia friendly approaches are one way of raising awareness and supporting people living with dementia. This enables people living with dementia to remain living independently or in the community. Everyone in a community has a role to play including businesses, workplaces, community organisations and local government. Earlier this month Alzheimer’s Australia relaunched its Dementia Friendly Communities website with new resources, online community and learning modules.

According to the website, in a dementia-friendly community:

  • people are aware of and understand dementia
  • people with dementia continue to be active participants in their own lives
  • health staff are educated about dementia and treat people living with dementia with respect and empathy
  • businesses provide accessible services to people with dementia, including having staff who understand dementia and know how to communicate effectively
  • employers provide support for people living with the disabilities of dementia to continue with paid employment
  • the physical environment enables people with dementia to get out and about safely
  • social groups and organisations are welcoming and inclusive of members with dementia.

In the stories recounted here, my locality on Brisbane’s northside is a long way from becoming a dementia friendly community. Businesses and organisations can make some positive changes to their services, procedures and environment to better meet the needs of people with dementia. The Dementia Friendly Communities online hub provides guidelines for businesses and organisations. There are several retirement villages in the locality which are proximate to the shopping centre and public transport interchange. This is potentially a workable environment for people with dementia to remain living in the community if only the local shopping centre and businesses could recognise who their customers are and the challenges they experience.

Next time, I will be naming and shaming …

See also my article, ‘Place Making with Dementia in Mind’, published in IN PLACE, the digital magazine of Place Leaders Asia Pacific. It examines what placemaking means for people living with dementia. The article is available online.

LEARN | Facilitation, engagement and participation

Our work has recently assumed greater focus on engagement and facilitation with John developing and delivering a series of workshops and masterclasses for Flying Arts, including a professional development intensive for mid-career artists and other workshops. John’s facilitation work has received high praise from participants and clients. John is also continuing to mentor at QUT and in the arts sector.

John can work with your organisation or community to facilitate and develop training. Having worked in a broad range of organisational contexts, including higher education, John is a skilled facilitator and educator.

We are also continuing in other involvements such as the Dementia Friendly Communities Advisory Group and the research projects at QUT, including project management for an engagement platform developed by the School of Design and currently being deployed in the health sector. This involves both community engagement and workshops with clients.

September is Dementia Awareness Month and the Dementia Friendly Communities website was launched this week. The new website offers resources, learning and an online community.

Also, Linda has been giving some thought to her learnings from the STEPS Summer School and written a blog post on how the Pathways Approach could be applied to examine the roles and opportunities for artist residencies in developing communities: “When such a Sustainability is at the core of artist engagements in projects and residencies in developing countries and communities, then contestation of sustainable development goals and, ultimately, ‘trading-off’ can be better understood as political actions and choices. “