WOOLLY WELCOME: Karina Devine is proud to contribute to the Jumpers and Jazz festival after it was introduced 15 years ago.
WOOLLY WELCOME: Karina Devine is proud to contribute to the Jumpers and Jazz festival after it was introduced 15 years ago. Michael Nolan

Then and now: How a city argument started a quirky festival

WHEN Audrey Hoffmann stormed into the council chambers in Warwick with a bag of yarn and threw it across the table, the councillors thought she was mad.

The previous director of the Warwick Art Gallery was determined to heal a community divide and believed she'd come up with the perfect way to do it.

For many months in 2003, the small city of Warwick argued over a multi-million dollar question: What type of trees should line the footpath?

The seemingly small issue incited passionate responses from residents both for and against deciduous trees, with the autumnal beauty and once-yearly leaf drop ultimately scoring the final points.

It was a bitter defeat for those who'd advocated for evergreens and animosity ran rife.

"Improving the streets was a very good idea but the community became so polarised,” Mrs Hoffmann said.

"The arguments just went on and on.”

At the same time, Mrs Hoffmann had council on her back, urging her to find a way to boost visitor numbers to the gallery.

One day, as the former director mused on the predicament, her gaze turned to the newly planted, leafless trees.

"I thought that in these cold winters we have to keep those little trees warm,” she said.

"We had to wrap them up!”

The first ever tree jumper for jumpers and jazz knitted by audrey hoffman
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: The first Warwick tree jumper, knitted by founder Audrey Hoffmann. Audrey Hoffmann

By decorating the trees in wool, Mrs Hoffmann hoped to end the tree debate, create a public exhibition of art that would draw visitors to the gallery and appeal to the graziers that sat on council at the time.

When Mrs Hoffmann went door to door along Palmerin St asking businesses for money to support her idea, the owners and managers scoffed at her outrageous proposal.

"The community wasn't ready to accept it,” Mrs Hoffmann said.

"It was a very conservative town and to have such a radical idea come in, it wasn't very well received.”

Nevertheless, council gave its approval, and with the assistance of the Regional Arts Development Fund and an army of volunteer knitters and musicians, Jumpers and Jazz in July was born.

Mrs Hoffmann never dreamed her small idea would ultimately grow into an internationally recognised festival that offers more than 100 different events, attracts tens of thousands of visitors and injects millions of dollars into the economy each year.

"I'm just thrilled to bits the way it's developed into such a community event,” she said.

"I'm so very proud.”

The crowd cues up at the Warwick Art Gallery on Saturday to take a picture of the Knitchen.Photo Deanna Millard/Warwick Daily News
HEATING UP: The gallery knew they were onto something when the "knitchen” went viral. Deanna Millard

Mrs Hoffmann's successor, Warwick Art Gallery director Karina Devine, said the festival had all the right elements to make it big.

The cooler winter climate, beautiful streetscape and smaller population contributed to J&J's thriving success over the past 15 years, with Ms Devine saying "it may not have worked in any other community”.

"It was quirky enough that people weren't afraid of it,” she said.

"It made everyone feel as though they could be an artist.”

Since 2006, Ms Devine has taken the festival from strength to strength, helping to facilitate projects such as the "Knitchen” in 2014.

The life-sized installation of fabric art transformed the foyer of the Warwick Art Gallery into an incredible crafted kitchen that went viral, propelling Warwick on to the world stage.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think anything could be that successful here,” Ms Devine said.

"The queue was out the door!

"British newspapers were writing about it and we even got invited to an exhibition in New York.”

As J&J evolved, Warwick residents became more and more invested, with a committee of volunteers now heading up the festival organisation.

Mrs Hoffmann said the festival belonged to the community.

WARWICK WONDERS

The question, 'What's the deal with Jumpers and Jazz?' came from Keisha Gorham in Warwick.

As a new resident in the Rose City, Keisha was baffled by the city's annual festival.

If you have a question about Warwick or its people you'd like answered, please email us at edit@warwickdailynews .com.au.