Rae Bolotin’s not-for-profit artists’ residency invigorates local and international artists alike

Tiffany Turtabudi

Deep in the heart of the Bilpin bush land stands a shed unlike any other. Six metres tall, fitted with 41 solar panels and constructed primarily out of recycled materials, its purpose is to foster and exhibit the creativity of the residents of the BigCi, an independent, not-for-profit artist residency program established by internationally recognised sculptor, Rae Bolotin.

The Art Shed was unveiled two weeks ago and the opening was tremendous,” she says. “We had a huge gathering of about 90 people and it was a very vibrant occasion. So now we have this extraordinary facility and hopefully artists will be inspired to do something that maybe they can’t do anywhere else.”

Passionate about nurturing the individual development of both Australian and international artists, Rae, along with her husband Yuri, founded the BigCi in 2011 after the couple relocated from Sydney’s Lane Cove to the Blue Mountains over seven years ago.

I used to have my studio in Sydney, but at the time it was really just a glamorous garage,” she laughs, “and when my sculptures started to become bigger and bigger, I needed a new space and that’s what prompted me to move to Bilpin where we are now based.”

Since then, Rae has transformed her personal studio into an eight-acre wide oasis that not only includes a two-story high exhibition area, but also unique work and living spaces that are set against breathtaking views of the Wollemi National Park. Rae says that each facility has been built with the intention of providing artists for around the world with the opportunity to focus on their professional development, improve their skills and expand their body of work.

The most important part is that artists can use their time in BigCi to push their career forward – it’s for serious artists who focus on their creative practice and who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, time, place or facilities to do work which takes them to another level,” she says. “Here we see artists progressing in whatever projects they are working on, so we are very focused on facilitating their projects and supporting their initiative.”

Having been a professional sculptor for several years, Rae says that she had participated in many artist residency programs in the past and was therefore very aware of the kind of environment that would naturally stimulate artistic practice and innovation. She says that the concept of the BigCi was birthed out of her own experiences and that the “extraordinary” landscape of the mountains made Bilpin an ideal location for the artist residency program that she envisioned.

It was the environment that was the main attraction at first,” Rae reveals. “Of course, later on, we discovered the cultural life in the Blue Mountains, which is a huge bonus, but originally, the idea came from a desire to be in an inspirational place.”

Sydney based artist and ex-resident of the BigCi, Keith Chidzey, says that his experience whilst on the grounds was “simply brilliant” and reinvigorated his enthusiasm to create.

The opportunity to just remove oneself from the day-to-day responsibilities, and immerse and concentrate fully on one’s creative work should never be underestimated.”

This is a concept that Rae has always understood. She says that above all, the BigCi is a place that is committed to encouraging true artistic pursuit.

For me personally, its exciting that we’re helping such a wide range of artists and that we are just seeing the extraordinary magical transformation for every artist that comes here – it’s heartwarming and inspiring.”