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By GEMMA WOLK

Providing a unique opportunity that brings joy to disabled people across the Mid North Coast is not an easy achievement. However, one group outshines all others in their efforts to unite the community through artistic expression.

This is the amazing accomplishment of Mariet Ludriks, one of the founders of Bago Magic, a voluntarily run drama group based in Wauchope, New South Wales. The 51 year old mother of five has dedicated most of her life to working with those less fortunate, attempting to enable access for all to the arts, regardless of social circumstance.

Unfortunately though, Bago Magic’s amazing achievements may be short lived. Primarily due to the recent recession, there is a severe lack of funding available for community groups, and Mariet Ludriks has just discovered that her application for the Country Arts Support Program (CASP) grant, which has been a major source of funding for Bago magic in the past, was unsuccessful. With the loss of this vital money, the future of this unique company is in serious doubt, and now there is every chance that this valuable collection of extraordinary individuals may crumble.

In person, Mariet exudes warmth and graciousness, contradicting the dire straits confronting her. Though, as she speaks more in depth about the situation, it is clear she is anything but relaxed.

“It’s terrible Bago Magic might fall because of this”, she sighs.

“…and the participants rely on us so much. Our group is a highlight in their lives, and it’s awful they might miss out on something so important to them”.

All supervisors are volunteers, so the hours of work put into organising and sustaining the group are financially uncompensated. As applications for grants take huge amounts of effort, but are now regularly unsuccessful, Mariet is fed up with rejection after such tedious struggles.

“At the moment there just seems to be little reward. It takes so much time to put an application for funding together and it feels like it’s all for nothing, I don’t think I can sustain it anymore, I’ve had enough”, she confessed.

For months, Mariet has been organising the resources to be purchased with the grant, so the news of the rejection was a massive disappointment. Not only was the money to be put toward merely sustaining Bago Magic, plans were to employ a local artist qualified to teach the group valuable new skills, and to look into upgrading their current premises.

“We meet in a tin shed with one toilet and no insulation. We have huge industrial heaters but they make so much noise we actually have to use a loudspeaker. That, plus when it rains, it’s just unbearable”

“We’re trying our hardest to generate money other ways, people helping with things like garage sales, but it’s just not enough” she explained.

Richard Holloway, Regional Art Development Officer for Arts Mid North Coast, was in charge of the proposal to Regional Arts NSW for Bago Magic’s funding. On the phone, he sounds remorseful and admits there just isn’t enough money to go around at the moment.

“It almost brought me to tears when Mariet told me of Bago Magic’s unsuccessful application” He murmured.

“We [Regional Arts NSW] are only given $200,000 to distribute to the whole of New South Wales, so I guess they decided to go for something different. Unfortunately we only end up being able to fund around eight or ten small groups.”

Mr Holloway emphasised that unfortunately because Bago Magic is attempting to steer away from being classified as a ‘disability service’ by now inviting any members of the public to join their group, it means they have reached a crossroads as to who to turn to for funding.

“Please don’t get me wrong, we’re very supportive of Bago Magic, but they fall between the cracks of arts and disabilities and we just don’t have enough money to support everyone.”

Mariet Ludriks is at a dead end. Her wish is merely to continue providing the service she set up nine years ago, the service she knows brings joy and the opportunity for self expression to those who would otherwise be denied it. She is worn out from her unrewarded labor stemming from the uncertain financial climate, and despite her best efforts, the lack of recognition Bago Magic generates from the government.

“Cutbacks are everywhere at the moment, but when are things going to change so the Government starts to appreciate the enormous positive ripple effect a group like Bago Magic has for the participants, their families, and the whole social well being of their community?” she wrote to Mr. Holloway.

Sadly, Bago Magic’s story is far from rare. Many small organisations are floundering in the current sea of financial uncertainty. The only hope is that the dedicated people like Mariet Ludriks can somehow find means to continue spreading the happiness and hope that obviously benefits so many.

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