Breaking the Mould – Cooroy Butter Factory Arts Centre
Every Monday, artists of all abilities gather at the Butter Factory Arts Centre in Cooroy to sculpt clay into unique creations. Georgia Beard speaks with students and coordinators to discover just how important the All Abilities Art program is to our community
A roaming polar bear, a crouching rabbit and a bright-painted coil pot. These are the creations taking shape outside the red brick walls of the Butter Factory Arts Centre. Scattered around workbenches in the open-air pottery studio, amateur ceramicists pinch, roll and smooth out their imaginations into tangible artwork.
Some have already begun to sculpt their artistic careers.
They belong to All Abilities Art, a class for artists living with disabilities, no matter their skill level. Even if they’ve never set hands on pencils, paintbrushes or clay, this program puts artists in a learning environment that is spontaneous, individualised and self-regulated.
Forget pressure from a masterful mentor – the only expectations here are the ones the artists set for themselves.
Before he signed up, Ollie’s only knowledge of clay sculpting came from art classes in high school. Years later, he found out his support worker taught pottery at the Butter Factory and decided to give it a go.
“Now I’ve realised that I enjoy pottery, and I’m quite good at it,” he says. “I’m hoping I’ve found myself a new hobby.
“Having been always told I have hand-eye coordination problems, I just automatically assumed I would not be much good at creating things. But it’s probably improved some skills and it’s very good for teaching me patience.
“You have to be very patient with pottery. It’s a slow process, and there are steps that need following but it can be quite therapeutic.”
Butter Factory Arts Centre coordinator Alicia Sharples said the program allowed people with special needs to involve themselves in community and pursue meaningful work.
“In addition to displaying their creations in the upcoming Mentors and Makers outcome exhibition, artists will also get the chance to sell artwork in the Butter Factory’s Artisan Store,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s many things like this on the Coast. This is probably one of the unique places where budding artists are working with two very experienced teachers, and being in the Arts Centre environment puts them at another level where they can be taken more seriously.
“We have always been an inclusive and welcoming space and we’re excited by what is being produced from the All Abilities Program in particular.”
Artist and class facilitator Kim Guthrie has taught sculpture, painting and drawing to people with disabilities for several years.
“We love providing an environment and approach that creates a safe and inclusive space for all,” he said.
“Our All Abilities Art members bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking from a unique perspective. Students tend to work more intuitively because they often think outside the box and can be more sensitive to the environment around them.
“Often the work is produced not for the end result but from showing intrigue and respect for the process and a fascination to explore the materials.
“It’s so creative in the true sense of the word and that’s what’s so exciting about it for me.”
The Butter Factory is hoping to expand the program beyond ceramics, renovating new studio spaces for lessons in other mediums.
While not all participants will want to become professional artists, Alicia says it’s important they gain satisfaction and community participation, as well as opportunities to grow and create meaningful careers if they wish.
For some students, the class is more than a light-hearted pastime. Since discovering his artistic talent atop the pottery workbenches, Ollie has set up a ceramic studio in his own home and plans to attend evening courses alongside people without disabilities.
“Everyone’s been really patient,” he says. “There’s been room for individuality. You’re not sitting in the classroom and being told what you will make. It’s an all-round positive experience, I think, for everyone.”
The All Abilities Art program runs during school terms on Mondays when BFAC is closed to the public, with breaks during the school holidays. To get involved, visit