Elise Slater: Art Therapist

I’ve lived in Surry Hills for seven years. Surry Hills has proximity to everything. I grew up in the suburbs, so when I moved back from London, I wanted to be in the heart of things and the bustling life. I love that I’m on the border of Surry Hills and Redfern. One of my favourite places in Sydney is Redfern. I love the diversity. There is still some grit and authenticity to Redfern that is being smoothed over in other areas of Sydney.

I rarely leave my orbit of Surry Hills. There is always something going on. It’s not far from the beaches too. I can ride my bike to where I want to go. I like Clover’s bike lanes.

Surry Hills concerns me because of the government’s focus on wealth and building up commerce and the whole real estate industry. There is so much growth going on at the cost of community and grassroots enterprises. They are getting bulldozed for the sake of big high rises. It feels like some seminal parts of our city that were meeting places for community to gather are being bulldozed. I feel like the essence, or soul of Sydney is getting bulldozed, like the fig trees in Centennial Park for example, to make way for the new light rail.

Some development has to happen. I’m not anti-development, but when some people who have been here for a long time and are the backbone of a community are shoved out, it changes the soul and sense of connection to a place. The light rail for example, I’m pro public transport, but a lot of businesses have closed because of this. I wish the light rail went to the beaches, but it’s stopping at the racetrack.

Progress needs to be done with sensitivity I wonder about the proposed Surry Hills Shopping Village development. Will the shoe repair man who has had a shop for such a long time be offered a new space? Or, will the same franchises as any other shopping centre be brought in instead? History is being lost. Maybe Melbourne does this better, because Sydney is sometimes more about the ego. Here in Sydney we get carried away with the shiny and new and we throw away the old. Why not support local artists and do something a bit more interesting?

I should engage with community more here in Surry Hills. I tend to jump around a bit, rather than having one go to place. So that’s not as conducive to my sense of community. I need to work on that. Surry Hills can be a place where people come in and out and it’s a bit touristy, so sometimes it can be hard to connect with locals.

I love some of the local pubs like The Carrington, The Cricketers Arms and the Hollywood hotel. They are like old friends.

I worked in the fashion industry all my life, but I have always been a soul seeker. I wondered about how I could contribute back to the world, this was my biggest turning point. So even though I studied fashion, my impetus was around the way that females were represented in fashion. I wanted to change that. While my career had that slant, four years ago I woke up one day and decided to quit even though it was probably the only job for me in Sydney. I knew it was a cliché, but I went to India and Nepal. I fell into a Buddhist retreat and that was my first time sitting in a room where everything people said to me just made sense. It felt like how I had always seen the world, was now being narrated back to me. It was a poignant moment. I had a bird’s eye view of my life and I reassessed what I was about and somewhat changed directions. I now teach students, trying to teach them to be conscious designers and how they might contribute to the world.

This all led to my project in Nepal, Live Softly and led me also to study art therapy. This has helped me to see how important it is to bring back old cultures and reapply them today.

When I returned to Sydney after that experience in India, I had to work out how to retain this state of mind in a context that is so ego driven. How do you cultivate non-attachment in a culture that worships all the shiny things? This links back to the point about community, the richer a city gets and Sydney seems to be getting richer, the more isolated people become. Then they start to build walls around themselves. Maybe we would not need so many therapists if we supported each other more.

I’ve always sought out a sense of purpose. Ever since I was a little girl I have always wondered “Why am I here?”. And I feel that my work now is satisfying this deep need. What’s important to me now is putting roots down and to make a go of it in Sydney. I feel like all the threads in my life have come together now. It’s a nice turning point when you feel that everything you have learned can now be of service back to the community.

I might tell my younger self to relax and that it’s all going to be ok.

2nd Feb 2018

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