Caroline Downer has received an Order of Australia Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, after dedicating more than 20 years to arts in the local region.
A former director of New England Regional Art Museum, Caroline said the OAM emphasised the importance of arts and creativity in our communities, particularly during this difficult COVID-19 pandemic.
"When many of our arts venues have had to close, it has been really obvious that the arts play such an important role in a healthy, happy and inclusive community," Caroline said.
QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY HONOURS:
"So I am delighted that the arts sector is acknowledged in this special way."
Caroline started working at NERAM when she arrived in Armidale 23 years ago.
Originally from Canberra, she had studied fine arts and music at the University of Melbourne and while initially music had been her greatest interest, during her time at university she became more involved with visual arts.
After making Armidale her home, she was soon involved in the city's arts community through both work and volunteer roles.
"I started work at NERAM about a month after I arrived here," Caroline recalled.
Her first role was as public programs officer, then she became curator and in 2008 she stepped up to become its director for the next seven years.
Meanwhile, as a volunteer Caroline helped out with Musica Viva Armidale and the New England Bach Festival in the early days, as well as the Armidale International Film Festival.
She also played cello with the Armidale Youth Orchestra and for a long time she was chair of the orchestra.
Caroline said rebuilding NERAM after becoming director had been a highlight of her years of local involvement in the arts scene. It revitalised the exhibition program to include regional artist exhibitions and more than doubled its visitor attendance by 2014.
"I also love working with the wonderful arts people in our community to deliver concerts, workshops, and festivals," Caroline said.
In 2015, when she departed NERAM after 18 years, Caroline started working with Arts North West as regional arts development officer.
Receiving the Order of Australia Medal for service to the visual and performing arts through a range of roles, Caroline said her work was not a solo effort.
"I would like to think that I share this award with the many incredible creative people that live and work in the New England North West," she said.
"And also with the amazing volunteers who support and sustain arts and culture in this region - without them, so many of our arts activities just would not happen."