When Four Winds set up their first concert on a rough Bermagui hillside 25 years ago, it was clear the passion for music was there long before the infrastructure was.
But under the guidance of former chairwoman Sheena Boughen, a venue was built to match the ambitious nature of the Four Winds project.
Ms Boughen’s efforts have now been recognised by Creative Partnerships Australia. She was awarded the Arts Leadership Prize for 2017.
The national award is a testament to the commitment and confidence Ms Boughen embodied as she grew the music venue into the nationally and internationally recognised space that it is today.
“I am proud to be recognized nationally, as our aspiration was to give both locals and visitors an experience in Australia of listening to world class music in a world class venue,” she said.
“This has added to a period of transformation for Bermagui, building on the fishing industry responding to change with innovation and confidence. And likewise the Bega co-op. Where you live has nothing to do with limitation. It's an advantage!”
For Ms Boughen, the key to success was to dream big.
“It was never going to be a risk if we surrounded ourselves with the best, the biggest,” she said. “It was only going to be risky if we made a little project, with little ambition, in a little town.”
This meant Ms Boughen needed to present Four Winds as more than just a local music space.
“I felt concerned that regional arts were so focused on valuing what you do locally,” she said. “But for us it is much more about providing a national contribution to arts and arts making as well.”
To do this, Ms Boughen and the Four Winds team looked at what the whole nation needed in a music venue.
“We saw that there was no designated place for music making in Australia and we want to become that,” she said. “We wanted to give music makers from around the world a place to record, be in residence, perform and collaborate.”
But what is most significant about Four Winds is not the music-making it enables, but the environment in which it allows the artists to work.
Far from the rough hillside of its early days, Four Winds now boasts the outdoor amphitheater, “Nature’s Concert Hall”, designed by Phillip Cox to seat 2000.
Ms Boughen saw this combination of music and natural beauty as the secret to Four Winds’ success.
“I was sure that listening to music in nature would be something the world would need,” she said. “I knew that people would travel for the experience of nature and art together.”
The growth of Four Winds is also attributed to Ms Boughen’s tireless networking and fundraising efforts.
“We have over 300 donors and 20 key partners who give their time for free, and they are so crucial to our success,” she said.
Ms Boughen knows that people give their time and money to Four Winds because they want to be a part of the project, and she said this commitment needs to be recognised.
“You’ve really got to say thanks and celebrate them,” she said. “Our first local donor was from Narooma, and she gave us $100, but on the same day a woman from Victoria donated $50,000. It’s not about how much they give, it’s the support. People want to belong to the project and they believe in us. We just can’t do it unless people believe in us.”
Ms Boughen has passed the torch to new Four Winds chairman Michael Darling, as she pursues her own work in coaching and mentoring consulting at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Even though she has left the board, Four Winds still provides Ms Boughen with invaluable material to inspire her new colleagues.
“I love that I can use the Four Winds story to challenge people to be imaginative and creative and ambitious,” she said. “It’s just a fabulous story to inspire people to be leaders in their own work.”
Going forward, Ms Boughen is looking forward to putting some distance between herself and the event planning at Four Winds.
“I said to the team I didn’t want to know everything that’s happening,” she said. “I want to be surprised by what comes next. I’m going to enjoy discovering it as a member of the audience now.”
Creative Partnerships awarded three other prizes on the night, the Business Leadership Award, the Emerging Philanthropy Leadership Award and the Philanthropy Leadership Award.