After unprecedented flooding in February 2022 devastated the Northern Rivers, local artist Holly Ahern is using fundraising efforts to bring Lismore’s CBD back to life through public and community art.

Holly describes herself as a multidisciplinary artist with an interest in textiles, painting, and large-scale sculptural works. She and her partner Eden Crawford-Harriman are the creative minds behind the ‘In the Heart’ sculpture which resides in the Lismore CBD.  

Following severe flooding in Lismore, images of the two hands holding a red heart above floodwaters went viral and Holly suddenly found herself in the limelight.  

“It was so beautiful that the community supported our sculpture as a symbol of hope during the collective journey of this horrible situation,” said Holly. 

The flood events in February and March caused many artists in the Northern Rivers to lose both their homes and their studios. While Holly and Eden were no exception – losing ten years’ worth of work when their studio at Elevator ARI in Lismore’s CBD flooded – they decided they wanted to help. Holly used the In the Heart sculpture as inspiration for a t-shirt design that read ‘We are still here. Lismore, NSW’ and featured the sculpture hands holding the You Are Here heart above flood waters. They started a fundraiser selling the t-shirts to raise money for local flood-affected artists.  

“We were expecting to make a small amount of funds that could be transferred directly into the campaigns of affected artists within the region. But within 48 hours, we had raised $20,000, and had to quickly halt any more sales from our site. We weren’t sure if we had the capacity to organise that many orders while recovering from the flood ourselves.”  

“Fifteen hundred people shared a tile of the fundraiser on Instagram. It was mind-blowing that people were wanting to purchase our t-shirt for fundraising efforts.” 

With the support of Arts Northern Rivers, the money will be used to pay flood-affected artists to facilitate a small-scale community event with the hopes of populating Lismore’s CBD with local artists’ works in 2023.   

“I think to be able to reactivate the CBD through an event like this will be really reaffirming of the importance of art and artists within our community,” Holly said.  

Holly studied the Bachelor of Art and Design and the Bachelor of Arts with Honours at Southern Cross University. She originally spent a few years studying Forensic Science but realised that the arts industry was where she needed to be.  

“Studying art was a good testing ground. I wanted to be involved in each of the studios and refrained from choosing a singular discipline during my undergraduate degree,” Holly said. “Focusing on multidisciplinary modes of production assisted in the development of my practice.” 

Holly is now optimistic that the outpouring of love for the In the Heart sculpture will change community attitudes towards public art.  

“I’m hoping that our work has really changed people’s views on public art. The Northern Rivers has experienced a bad run with public artworks in previous years, including Byron Bay’s ‘disco dong’ that was removed within months of its installation. Our sculpture is something that was instantly able to be engaged with. You can walk up to it, you can touch it, it’s not going anywhere. So, I’m hoping that this helps to set the precedent and creates more openness towards public art in our region's future.” 

Since the In the Heart sculpture, Holly and Eden have developed a major project with Regional Futures that aims to connect regional artists with leaders on sustainability. The project, ‘Is This A Sign?’, involves creating a map of dormant structures around the Northern Rivers and activating them with insights that respond to the theme ‘what does the future look like for your region?’. 

Alongside this project, Holly is the marketing and social media manager for Elevator Artist Run Initiative (ARI), which was inundated by 14 metres of floodwaters.  

Following 4 months of clean-up efforts and the work over 100 volunteers, Elevator ARI has now reopened with new exhibitions and programs, including workshops facilitated by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia based in Sydney.  

“We have become this epicentre for cultural arts programming in Lismore,” said Holly. “Being able to open again with experimental art exhibitions and diverse community events has really shifted the understanding of how important regionally based Artist Run Initiatives are.”

The Southern Cross University Alumni Network

linkedIn icon

Expand your alumni network and connect with Southern Cross University on LinkedIn

Connect on LinkedIn

Stay Connected icon

Subscribe to our weekly Stay Connected newsletter for the latest news and events

Subscribe to newsletter

graduate mortarboard

Stay connected with the alumni network at Southern Cross University

Update your details

Alumni Impact Award recipients

Portrait of Matthew Hoare

Alumnus of the Year

Matthew Hoare

Matthew Hoare’s life-long love of surfing is helping his fellow Australian defence force veterans to find peace. An exercise physiologist and co-founder of the Association of Veteran Surfers (AVS), Matthew is all too aware of the high incidence of mental health issues and suicide among veterans, with AVS striving to be a point understanding, collaboration, enjoyment and, hopefully, progress.

Learn more and connect

Portrait of Said Rafie

International Alumnus of the Year

Said Achmad Kabiru Rafiie

When the Indonesian province of Aceh was hit by a devastating tsunami in 2004, Said, originally from the region, had to do something. After joining Southern Cross to study an MBA, he returned to his hometown in Aceh and launched the Moringa project. Through this initiative, students and local people are becoming entrepreneurs thanks to a local resource: the moringa tree.

Learn more and connect

Portrait of Lizz Wells

Early Career Alumnus of the Year

Lizz Wells

Since joining global security and aerospace prime Lockheed Martin Australia in 2018, Lizz has supported delivery of a variety of programs, including a portable tactical air defence radar system; portable cabins that provide secure workspaces for ADF personnel supporting F-35 operations; and maintenance and training for the F-35, a fifth-generation supersonic stealth fighter jet.

Learn more and connect

Portrait of Vanessa Latham

Community Impact Award

Vanessa Latham

Vanessa Latham is the Mental Health Manager at the Royal Flying Doctor Service - Southern Eastern Section. Vanessa’s role is based around supporting people living with extreme adverse conditions due to lifestyle impacts, geographical isolation, and individual vulnerabilities.

Learn more and connect