The inaugural Winter Blooming Festival, at NERAM on Saturday, was a vibrant celebration of diversity - or, as one attendee said, Armidale just got even better.
The festival was a friendly take-over of the museum, organisers Rachael Parsons, the art gallery's director, and Dr Christina Kenny, UNE sociologist, said.
NERAM was, as usual, open to the public, but weekend crowds might have encountered drag queens, Balinese dancers, Aboriginal poets, and Arab activists in the galleries - or enjoyed Iraqi, Nepalese, or Turkish food.
The festival explored multiculturalism, indigeneity, gender, and sexuality in an open, welcoming space. Armidale, Dr Kenny said, has a significant migrant diaspora, and large Indigenous, refugee, queer, and gender-diverse communities.
"Those communities are very active; they have deep cultural expression, and run their own events. I wanted to create a more public and integrated space that people could dip into, start learning about, in a non-confrontational way."
Speakers from Armidale and elsewhere talked about their experiences of growing up, and the political and cultural issues they address in their art.
Gomeroi playwright Rob Waters spoke about the Indigenous language revival, Aboriginal identity and storytelling, and how ongoing resistance to colonisation was often lost in more mainstream Australian stories.
Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli and Maria Bololia, from the Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council, discussed facing adversity based on ethnic and sexual identities. The Greek community, for instance, might accept someone as Greek, but not queer; the queer community might view them as "wogs"; and they might have to hide their sexuality in church.
Expat dissident Ms Saffaa provided an international perspective. She talked about women's rights in Saudi Arabia, how guardianship laws control and regulate women, and their struggle against this oppression. (Ms Saffaa is NERAM's resident artist this week.)
For participants, the afternoon was a welcome chance to step out of their normal lives.
They designed sloganed T-shirts with Brisbane queer feminist artist Courtney Coombs; wrote poetry responding to artworks with Maori / African-American Gabrielle Journey Jones; and learnt Balinese dancing with the UNE's Dr Jane Ahlstrand.
Armidale-born Hamish McPhee ("Daphne Gay") and Anaiwan man Zac Collins-Widders ("Zodiac") taught participants how to drag up; they turned the Hinton Collection, the museum's core, into a fab fashionista's pad.
"The political disruption of having a young Anaiwan person performing this outrageous drag show in such an auspicious collection represented the fantastic queer energy of the whole day," Dr Kenny said.
The festival ended with a social evening of drag and spoken word performances.
And there was plenty of tasty multicutural food, from Mak's Turkish Gozleme, Baghdad's Falafel, and Nepalese Kitchen.
Attendees came from Inverell, Glen Innes, and Tamworth - and learnt they were not alone.
"Some people said how isolated they felt in their hometowns," Dr Kenny said.
Even in Armidale, they struggled to meet people with similar interests or experiences, Dr Kenny explained after the event.
The day gave them the opportunity to talk about diversity, or explore their feminine side in a group of welcoming people.
"The festival showed there's a community; there are people who understand who you are, and see you for who you are," Dr Kenny said.
While NERAM plans to make the festival an annual event, the organisers said it was clear more needed to happen in the interim.
"People are yearning for opportunities to meet and form networks," Dr Kenny said.
"Winter Blooming was a great start for something - and that's all Christina and I thought we would achieve," Ms Parsons said. "We hope from here it will grow into something even more spectacular."
The event was sponsored by ACON, the UNE, and the AGMC. City Centre Motor Inn sponsored the artists' accommodation.