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From the vault: Interview with RAW Australia’s Executive Director, Kristen Wehlow

Need a little more creative inspiration on your Tuesday? This interview with RAW Australia’s Executive Director, Kristen Wehlow, should sort you out.

**Originally posted on my former blog, Lonely Arts, January 2014.

It was the news Brisbane locals have secretly known for a while, but Lonely Planet has now confirmed it: the River City is the hippest place in Australia, with “an edgy arts scene” and “pumping night life” to boot.

No doubt the glowing review has made quite a number of Brisbanites happy, but one woman in particular should be smiling to herself – RAW Australia Executive Director Kristen Wehlow.

Since launching the RAW: Natural Born Artists events 18 months ago, Wehlow has created one of the city’s most anticipated emerging arts events and provided a platform for talented young artists working across film, music, visual and performing art, hair and makeup, fashion and photography.

It was just what her hometown had been waiting for, she says.

“At the time, it seemed a lot of people thought there wasn’t anything really here to support emerging artists, or that it was a bit of a boring city and they needed to move away,” she explains.

“But we found that when we launched RAW and it was exclusive to Brisbane, the other cities were getting a bit jealous! So it was really cool to start here, and not in your usual suspects like Sydney or Melbourne.”

Following the overwhelming response to the showcases, Wehlow launched RAW in six other Australian cities last year, with more locations in the pipeline for 2014.

“The growth of RAW happened very quickly and next year we want to launch in more cities and also New Zealand. Adelaide and Hobart will be the next cities and we also want to try smaller locations like Newcastle,” she says.

Not bad for the former events planner, who says she had “no expectations” when she took the step to trial RAW here in Australia (Wehlow’s old high school friend, Heidi Luerra, founded the arts organisation in the US in 2009).

“I thought let’s just try it and see where it goes,’’ she says. “I didn’t really think we would be where we are when I launched, but I was organising an event every month with 400-500 people coming to each one and they were always sold out, and I needed to find a new venue within six months.

“We now have double the artists and double the attendees. It was surprising but also really, really good.”

On January 10, nine artists who participated in the 2013 showcases will be honoured at the second annual RAWards Indie Arts Awards ceremony, held at the Arena in Fortitude Valley. Wehlow says the RAWards are just another way of supporting emerging artists and developing their confidence as professionals in their chosen fields.

“(The (RAWards) judges are people our emerging artists look up to, and winners receive consultation with industry experts and other opportunities, such as placements with galleries or fashion boutiques,’’ she says.

“There are so many talented people who don’t know what to do with it, they don’t have that business side and it can be very hard to push themselves into the industry.

“So it’s about giving them that push and the confidence, which opens up other doors for them.” Sadly, Wehlow will be moving interstate in the coming months to run the Sydney showcases and continue in her role as RAW Australia Executive Director.

“It’s always really busy but a lot of fun. I meet so many amazing people and I really love making a difference and helping artists showcase their work,” she says.

“It will be sad to be leaving my RAW Brisbane baby behind, but the new showcase director is just amazing and has been on board for about a year, so I know she is going to be great.”

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