Artist and activist Ailie Banks sits down with the Sentinel to discuss her community work encouraging young women to make their voices heard. Story by youth editor Corin Shearston.
A prolific illustrator and a previously commissioned artist with Bonds, Adobe and OK Cupid, Ailie Banks is a few weeks shy of turning 30. She defines herself as an activist and violence prevention worker, while staying on brand with her vibrantly radical style to reveal that she and her partner currently live in a converted bus-house in the burnt bushland of Dargan, near Lithgow. She moved back up after spending six years studying and working in Sydney, and growing up in the Blue Mountains.
Ailie’s decision to encourage positive community growth was prompted by a realisation that younger females were still being affected by the same issues that hindered her during her formative years attending Katoomba High School. Aside from practicing her notable visual talent and community work, Ailie publicly admits that she also has ADHD, so she’s “kind of always busy”.
The decision to convert a bus into a house occurred last year, while she was balancing freelance illustration with her position at the Blue Mountains Women’s Health and Resource Centre (BMWHRC) in Katoomba. The organisation discovered Ailie through a talk she gave at the Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival last year, in which she expressed her passion for “young women, feminism, and making things accessible to [young women]”.
Ailie’s reputation as an author was aided by tome The Book Of Bitch, a colourful catalogue of female subcultures reclaiming the word ‘bitch’ as a term for a righteous feminist. Its illustrations bear the same thin lines, pastel colours and uncensored details of sisterhood that saw her Instagram account grow to more than 37,000 followers.
After her talk at the writer’s festival, the BMWHRC invited Ailie to engage with them on their Ending Violence, Improving Equality (EVIE) project. “I really enjoyed it so much and saw a potential for how it could expand,” she explains.
The BMWHRC designed a specific part-time EVIE role for Ailie in February this year. From there, she progressed to running the Art Space program that evolved from the centre’s traditional weekly drop-in clinics for young women aged 12 to 25. With Ailie’s help, the centre is now looking at expanding their services to cater for trans and non-binary people.
Held during the school term, Covid-permitting, Art Space meets up every Thursday as ‘a creative social space’,. Advised by her ‘girls’, Ailie’s core group of 20 engage in making craft inspired largely by trends on TikTok. She says the program is based on experimentation and fun, and that it spawns new friendships and inspires insightful conversations about modern social issues and creative careers.
At their location on Lurline Street, the BMWHRC is aligned with the walk from Katoomba High School on the way up to Katoomba’s town centre, which is convenient for Art Space participants who seek a creative release after the thrills and rigours of high school days.
“I love Art Space very very much,” beams Ailie. “Its a good space for mentorship … and the group helps us dictate what workshops we run at the centre.” Their recent Your Rights At Work workshop is a fine example of this.
While EVIE and Art Space subsist largely on social media content, they’ve gained more power through the formal gender equity scheme adopted by the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC), which the Sentinel reported on in January. EVIE is now preparing to roll out a campaign about identifying coercive control, which is being funded and promoted by the council. EVIE has also enabled young people to sit in on council meetings and access time with MPs, which legitimises their issues in these spaces.
In triumphant recent news, the EVIE project won another year of funding after Ailie and her colleague Cherie Brandon spoke to federal MPs Tanya Plibersek and Susan Templeman as part of the Women Of Macquarie online town hall meeting on Tuesday, 22 June. EVIE also received a recent formal evaluation, which proved that the program is very successful but needs more time to grow.
More local backing for the cause of gender equality was encouraged by the Enough Is Enough rally, which occurred in Katoomba on Saturday, 5 June, in a call to permanently end violence against women, and violence in and towards the First Nations community. It was attended by Susan Templeman, Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill and many members of EVIE, among others.
Evie says other campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, protests against One Nation’s ‘Trans Erasure Bill’ and Brittany Higgins’ accusations of rape in federal parliament, have also informed and influenced EVIE.
The project is currently considering the actions they can take to improve our community for young people, and have also opened their membership to include young men. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect how Art Space and EVIE is delivered, but Ailie is still hopeful for the future of these projects.
The Blue Mountains Women’s Health and Resource Centre is active on Facebook and maintains a website at www.bmwhrc.org. Ailie Banks is active on Facebook, Instagram and her website, www.abanksillustration.com. There are also Instagram accounts for EVIE and Art Space.
Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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