Last week Sarah Rhodes and I attended the Fourth National Public Galleries Summit Raise Your Voice organised by Museum and Gallery Services, Queensland in partnership with industry bodies from Australia and New Zealand. I understand that recordings from the sessions will become available online soon on the M&GSQ website – which is a great move. In conversation with some of the attendees and through listening to the presentations on regional projects it became clear that leadership in the galleries sector is thriving, particularly at a regional level. Leadership can be an individual, it can often take just one person to make a difference, leadership can also be a group of driven practitioners. The galleries sector in Queensland are demonstrating the power of collaboration and this cohesiveness is reflected in part in the development of a travelling exhibition – Twelve Degrees of Latitude.
An initiative of Museum and Gallery Services Queensland, this landmark exhibition was launched at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville as a part of the Summit and celebrations for Queensland’s 150th year. Curated by Bettina MacAulay and Brett Adlington it features artworks from 27 regional and university galleries across Queensland. The power of shared interest, the careful planning and problem solving is fuelled by the shared enthusiasm of the participants in making it happen; in the exhibition itself, its travelling programme and the array of artworks. The gallery visitors who take in the exhibition and attend gallery events and/or educational programmes will draw all kinds of value from this: art for art’s sake, art as a means of accessing history, art representing the diverse gallery collections, art as a stimulus for creativity, galleries as cultural spaces, etc.
A Summit workshop I attended was run by Lisa Sassella from the National Gallery of Victoria. Lisa talked about the market segmentation of visitors and participants in gallery exhibitions and events and shared her knowledge of the NGV’s audience. What was fabulous about this session was the openness and interest Lisa showed in sharing information and in talking about her understanding of the breakdown of a gallery audience (the NGV’s that is) and how that may, or may not, differ to that of a museum, or another gallery. CAN hopes to profile Lisa at some point – Lisa’s an active and interested practitioner in the galleries sector and in her own way a leader in her field. This is what I mean about leadership coming in many forms and clusters in the field; by development officers, outreach coordinators, curators and marketing managers… and that’s just those that work in or allied to public access galleries. Leadership may be professionally related, that is, exploring new concepts or theories, or phenomena in a domain… or… it may be about stimulating social change and/or breaking with convention or patterns of the past.
On the afternoon session of day two chaired by David Cranswick from d/Lux/MediaArts, four new media artists talked about their works and what challenges and issues arise from working in galleries and being new media artists. All of the artists talked about taking risks with their work and how important it was to leave themselves open to their own discovery processes and to work in collaboration with galleries when they were installing their works. These artists were frank about their concerns about relinquishing care and control of their artworks and how their artworks were experienced. Mari Velonaki talked about a work of hers that required people to eat apples in front of an art work and how much to her surprise exhibition goers didn’t eat the apples but took them away instead. I wondered why that might have been and mused that perhaps the long held traditions of “NO FOOD” in galleries might have been one reason – and – that there are good reasons not to eat apples or, in the case of Stella Brennan, take a spa, in traditional gallery spaces but that doesn’t mean you can’t break with convention and take a few risks.
Leadership is about sticking your neck(s) out, taking risks and seeing what happens. What I came away from the Summit with was a very good understanding that the gallery sector has an incredible level of talent and expertise in visual literacy and I look forward to seeing that energy and enthusiasm reflected in more gallery collections going up online.