Avant has Left the Building

Sad. It made me a tad sad. It was a small thing really, a tiny fragment of my life – but I’ll will miss, nonetheless, the small pleasures it provided. They informed me greatly; introduced me to artists, photographers and were the perfect letter fillers, suitable for short messages to all the wonderful souls on my mailing lists. I knew where they were located in and around the city of Hobart and if in their vicinity, I would visit and select handfuls. But now this minor delight of an activity has been taken away from me, yet another victim of the digital age and funding cuts to the arts.

The idea came to Pat Mackie on her travels last century. She saw something similar during her time in Copenhagen and figured it could work in Oz too. She set up her business around the notion in 1992. And Australia was ready for it as our appreciation of the arts had matured to be the equal of any other western society, even if our governments often had more pressing needs than helping foster artistic talent.

Over the years people like me have savoured the free post-cards Ms Mackie’s company had produced. They were to be found in stands all around our major burbs. For some time they were excellent in getting names out there that otherwise would not have had the same exposure. The cards weren’t solely devoted to the arts; they promoted other products as well, but they were a great advertisement for painters, camerasnappers and our magnificent land, sea and cityscapes. Avant cards gave exposure to the up-and-comers yet to achieve mainstream acceptance or outlets, as well as advertising exhibitions and literary events. The entrepreneur’s idea ended up creating 20,000 campaigns and distributing 250 million post cards. Ms Mackie proudly tells the story of an aunt who wrote weekly letters to her nephew, topping them up with these cards. Said nephew had been battling his ice addiction but he eventually became clean. When the aunt finally visited him he proudly displayed, to her his bedroom, the walls of which were completely covered with the Avant product she had sent him over the duration. He said contemplating his walls focused his mind away from his craving for the substance.

Now I am a wall plasterer from way back so I can relate to the above story, even if my infatuation with the product was/is much smaller in its positive consequence. One of the locations for my collecting was the Moonah Arts Centre and it was there I picked up ‘Elvis Has Left the Building’. Until I closely examined this card I had no idea that it would mark the end of an era. It was Avant’s swan-song.

There is an up-side though. The National Library of Australia is in talks with Pat Mackie to house the complete collection of Avant cards, every lovely issue. Also, another positive is that, because of my penchant for taking handfuls of the freebies, it has left me with a treasure trove that will last me for a few more years of contemplating and researching what strikes my eye – as well as letter filling.

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