Last night I went to the first ever AGDA Regional After Hours in Ballarat. This event was put on by Matt Brown, the Regional Councillor with AGDA VIC along with support from myself, the Business and Design Councillor for AGDA VIC, who happens to live in Ballarat and Greg Branson, the Victorian Rep for AGDA National, who had trained up from the big city for the event. 

The purpose of AGDA’s ‘After Hours’ events is to have a regular, super casual catch up after work with fellow designers. It’s about meeting new people who share some kind of professional interest and building new relationships and connections - this is networking 101 - except everyone has a beer and a name tag. 

Meetups like this, especially a new one, can be hard to get off the ground (I should know, I’ve tried). Even when people RVSP these days it certainly doesn’t mean they’ll attend on the night. We had two things working in our favour last night - Matt Brown had basically gone into every design studio in Ballarat and invited people in person and secondly, the rain had stopped, which is a cause for celebration.

We were hoping to get about 20 people if everyone who said they’d show up did so I was massively impressed when I looked around the room at 7ish to see about 35 people clustered around in groups, chatting away. Matt’s leg work and a clear night has paid off and we were in the middle of putting on a really great event!

The most impressive outcome of the evening was highlighting the incredible diversity and creative talent that Ballarat has on offer. There were graphic designers, digital artists, printers, educators, big studios, solopreneurs, veterans and newbies. There were definitely more men than women which is something I’ll have to work on but the mix of industry was fantastic. 

What I enjoyed the most was everyone's reaction to there being so many people. A few people I spoke to mentioned they tend to deal with their direct suppliers and clients and that's about it - there hasn’t been a need to expand further. Being able to put names to businesses that I’ve walked past 1000 times and seeing how many independent designers are killing it in 3350 was awesome. It felt like everyone was enjoying watching the depth and breath of their local industry grow before their eyes! 

There had never been an event like this in Ballarat before (as far as I know) and there was this awesome vibe of walking into a room and finding your people. My joke about choosing a typeface for the name stickers I printed went down a treat because I was telling it to a bunch of designers! On a side note here, I can’t recommend name tags enough - they’re the best entry to a conversation - you can just walk up to a complete stranger and say “Hi Jess” - bang, connection made!

The Regional After Hours was a great snapshot of the calibre of incredible work that comes out of Ballarat, and regional towns in general. COVID has completely changed the working landscape presenting opportunities for people to move their careers away from major centres and take advantage of the benefits from living regionally such as a slower pace of life, fresh air and connecting with community. 

With last night's success we’re excited about bringing Regional After Hours to Ballarat on the second Thursday of every month. Judging by the vibe last night I can only assume these events will get more popular because Ballarat needs a space like this. Designers, creatives and creators of all walks of life love talking shop, we love sharing and we all benefit from strengthening the connections within the industry. See you next time.

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