YOOKAPA: Where real-life collaboration and connection empowers First Nations artists

Get the latest from Beat


YOOKAPA: Where real-life collaboration and connection empowers First Nations artists

Words by Staff Writer

Latest research shows two-thirds of young people are grappling with feelings of disconnection and isolation. And a recent survey by VicHealth found more than half of 18-25-year-olds here in Victoria are struggling to make new connections.

One powerful solution is to seek in-person connections with others who share similar interests. This is precisely where the new YOOKAPA program steps in, offering a nurturing space for First Nations artists on Wadawurrung Country in Geelong to come together, collaborate, and create something extraordinary.

Curated by celebrated Gunditjmara Keerray Woorroong artist, Tarryn Love, the YOOKAPA program is a space where genuine connections are formed and a sense of belonging is fostered.

Drawing from the very essence of its name, YOOKAPA embodies the spirit of “giving and receiving” in a shared space; empowering artists of all ages with time, money, space, tailored mentorship, group intensives and presentation opportunities, as well as in-house technical, producing, and marketing support.

The program gives First Nations creatives a unique opportunity to be part of an accessible and culturally safe space within the community.

“The program is for First Nations artists, whether that’s locally within the Wadawurrung community or regionally,” Tarryn says. “We put out the expression of interest by just asking artists to come in, introduce themselves and tell us what they’re working on.”

At YOOKAPA, meaningful connections flourish. Within the old magistrate court-turned-gallery building of Platform Arts, these creatives come together through open studio sessions, week after week, in conversation, sharing cuppers and yarns, and finding inspiration in each other’s presence.

“Every week, we run an open studio, every Wednesday, from four to six. And that’s just a space for the artists to come together in conversation, bring what they’re working on, and meet weekly to do a check-in.

“It’s a really nice space every week to come into, and yet, it’s not compulsory for the artist to be there as part of the program,” Tarryn explains. “It’s more if they’re around that week; if they’ve got time, everyone’s welcome to come in, come together and just talk about their work and bounce off each other. And that’s also not just the artists themselves, but their family, their friends and who they’re connected with.”

While there’s something special about seeing a group of artists huddled together working on their crafts or participating in workshops led by their peers, it’s not just about the art. It’s about building bridges of understanding, empathy, and cultural expression with like-minded individuals through shared physical experiences.

“It’s been really, really beautiful because we’ve got artists from all different ranges, from early emerging artists, young artists who are still in school, to more established artists, to people who maybe had an arts practice and they are coming back to it in a different way,” Tarryn says.

“There’s a lot of that two-way learning and two-way talking happening between people. And it’s just been nice to see those friendships building. Even if we’re not coming in to do our art stuff, it’s usually to chat, rant for the week, or just be in the space together.”

The impact of such a supportive community goes far beyond art, contributing to participants’ mental well-being. VicHealth research reveals that a whopping 87% of young people in Victoria acknowledge that meaningful connections are good for their mental health, but more than half don’t find it easy to make those new connections.

For young artists like Bri Pengarte Apma Hayes, who participates in YOOKAPA with her artist moniker Ntulye Art, the program has been a game-changer.

Having known Tarryn Love through the community for a while, Bri was invited to join the YOOKAPA program. Moving into the studio at Platform Arts, she found herself immersed in a supportive and creative environment that allowed her to broaden her artistic horizons.

For Bri, YOOKAPA is more than just a program; it’s an opportunity to connect with other Indigenous artists and collaborate on projects. Within the physical space of YOOKAPA, she can navigate the challenges of her busy life while engaging in spontaneous conversations, observing and learning from the likes of Tarryn, multi-award-winning creative sand artist Lowell Hunter and multimedia artist Kiri Tawhai; all while sharing her creative thinking, stories, and culture through art.

“The biggest impact of this program since I’ve been in it is just having advice when it comes to things and being able to learn from one another,” Bri shares.

“Tarryn is a very experienced artist and has done many deadly things with her art so I’ve been able to turn to her, and the other artists. A lot of them have had opportunities so they have experience, whereas some of us are still new to the whole game of commissions and putting ourselves out there as artists.

“It can be tricky trying to navigate the space, so just to have their backing and support is really important.”

Having a space like YOOKAPA to work alongside other Indigenous artists is a privilege for Bri, who dreams of one day owning her own gallery, allowing her to safely foster connections and collaborations that are deeply rooted in her cultural identity. For her, the program is about creating art and being part of a community that shares a common passion for creativity and cultural expression.

“It’s so important to have a space in Geelong where we can express ourselves as artists, especially with our stories that we tell. They’re ingrained in what we do. Our stories are not just anything, they’re stories that we’ve experienced, that our people have experienced. They’re our history, our future,” Bri says.

“We shouldn’t have to sit in a space and be questioned about our processes and what we’re doing.”

Through community opportunities like YOOKAPA, young First Nations artists like Bri are finding their voice, support network, and place within the larger artistic community. They are creating a collective narrative that celebrates art, culture, and the power of real-life connections.

Being part of YOOKAPA allows these artists to grow professionally and find support, encouragement, and a sense of purpose in their creative journeys.

“I’m pretty enthusiastic and always have really big dreams when it comes to things like this,” Tarryn adds. “But our main goal is just for this to be here in this space and this community for a long time, just in whatever kind of capacity that looks like.

“It’s really important to be forming those genuine, long-term relationships and be responding to what this community needs and what the artists who are in this program need and want to achieve and what their hopes and goals are for their practice and how we might be able to support that; both with their individual art practices, but also collectively together.”

Diving into a new activity or joining a community group like YOOKAPA can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but remember, it’s all about taking one step at a time. Embrace your unique style and hold true to your values while connecting with and learning from others. As Bri advises, “Take on any opportunities that you’re given, try and get yourself out there and share with others your stories.”

For more info about Platform Arts and YOOKAPA, head here. 

Need some more inspo for connecting with other people into the same sorts of things you are? Check out the map of free in-person activities on offer as part of VicHealth’s Future Healthy initiative

This article was made in partnership with VicHealth. VicHealth is the world’s first health promotion foundation focused on promoting good health and preventing chronic disease.