How to build a national profile

Building a profile is important in the Australian art scene. We spoke with six leading regional arts organisations to find out how it’s done.
How to build a national profile

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Breaking the regional mould is a challenge of perception only. Think national and reach out through partnerships and you can put your arts organisation on the map.

That was the advice from six regional arts organisations that successfully bridged the relationship with local communities and established new interest from broader fields.

Turning themselves into destinations has had real benefits and offered the opportunity to showcase their regions, while casting local talent into the national spotlight.

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We spoke with them to find out more about the strategies and different approach these galleries and council areas have developed to build that national visibility.

Expand your reach with a loans program

Renown for having the most significant collection of art outside of a state or national gallery in Australia, the Newcastle Art Gallery has built a profile through its extensive loans program.

The program sees the gallery lending their works regionally, nationally and even internationally, and with over 6,500 works in the collection that demand to borrow by other institutions is year long.

‘The national gallery have actually borrowed our works to exhibit them in England at the Royal Academy for 200 Years of Australian Art. Our work was the example of colonial art,’ said Newcastle Art Gallery Manager, Lauretta Morton.

‘The beauty about that is we have a huge audience outside of our region who are looking at our works,’ she added. ‘The program definitely puts our collection on the national stage.’

Having this trove to draw from has not only allowed the Gallery to reach a wider audience, but also allows them to draw from the existing collection to curate exhibitions.

Morton told ArtsHub that the upcoming Black White & Restive engages Newcastle in an important ongoing national conversation that explores engagements between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.

‘We tend to always augment shows with works from our collection. It’s a way of showing our own city’s regional collection, while also getting it out there on a national stage,’ said Morton.

Read: Why inclusive programming is key

Develop strong partnerships

Building creative partnerships with other arts organisations is fundamental to the strategy behind the success of Mildura Arts Centre. Among those are long relationships with Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Theatre Company.

‘You’re not being disadvantaged by living here, you are getting the same experience that you can get in the city but you are getting it in your own backyard,’ said Antonette Zema, Arts and Culture Development Manager at Mildura Arts Centre.

Zema told ArtsHub that partnerships are a big part of raising your profile and branding, both regionally and nationally. She said they allow regional arts institutions to be sustainable by getting different audiences through the doors.

Home to a performing arts theatre, an art gallery, Rio Vista Historic House, and a sculpture park spread out across the expansive lawn, the Mildura Arts Centre is known for providing access to contemporary arts programming to the region.

‘The other biggest thing is thinking out of the box, by partnering with different organisations and seeing what is possible. (By doing so) you are continuing to drive new projects you are working with in the arts. It’s about allowing those programs to develop and to allow for new pathways,’ Zema advised.

Read: Gateway for the arts in North West Victoria

Hold an art prize

Prizes are not all headlines, bling and paparazzi reserved for the big cities.

Holding an annual art prize can broaden visibility and establish new connections, which is highly attractive to those located regionally.

Prizes not only support emerging artists and a next generation of cultural appreciation but have larger benefits for the community and the gallery itself.

For Robert Fenton, the 2015 winner of the Sunshine Coast Art Prize, winning the award gave him a sense of relief and has allowed him to work on his own artist practice.

The Sunshine Coast Art Prize offers a $25,000 award and a two week artist residency, attracting submissions from across the country. As one of the largest regional art awards in Australia it occupies a unique position that provides much needed support and connections for emerging artists.

 ‘I think regional galleries give a bit more leniency to unknown artists,’ said Fenton.

As an acquisitive prize it also allows the regional collection to grow, drawing from a larger pool of local and national artists alike and to establish a significant collection of art for the future.

‘It’s great to be in collections, to get your work out into (public) collections, not just in the private sector. It’s nice to have my name associated with other prominent artists in collections,’ said Fenton.

Read: Artistic careers boosted by $25,000 Art Prize and residency

Contemporary programming

Richard Perram, Director of Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), believes that when it comes to creating a profile, high quality arts programming is key.

‘I think Bathurst as a regional gallery has a very good profile in the arts community because of the work we do. Our primary aim is to generate excellent exhibitions whether they are by local or international artists. If as a result of that the organisation generates a national profile, the more the better!’ he said.

Fortunately, curating cutting edge contemporary exhibitions not only sees the local community supported, but also brings national audiences to the gallery.

‘We target things that will have people coming in all the time. When we exhibited the Russian art collective AES+F’s video work The Feast of Trimalchio that had only been seen at the Biennale many years previously, it generated because of its innovative content a profile not only in Bathurst but also in the Sydney media.’

BRAG has also developed a strong profile by curating touring contemporary exhibitions that have had a national reach. The touring show Baubles, Bangles and Beads - a survey of contemporary Australian jewellery - travelled to seventeen venues across the country, while the May Lane Street Art Project was seen by over 146,000 people around Australia.

‘You do it by creating good exhibitions and people hear about them and people see them, but I think your primary responsibility as a regional gallery is to servicing your regional community and to supporting your regional artists, and if you can raise the profile of regional artists not only locally but nationally then I think you have done a good job,’ said Perram.

Read: What is the value of a remote residency?

Don’t take yourself seriously

The redevelopment of Albury Visual Art Gallery into the playful and boundary pushing Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) has seen the regional gallery double the average gallery attendance per year in less than six months. 

The success has proven the validity of Director Jacqui Hemsley’s philosophy: ‘You can be a cutting edge contemporary art gallery, but you don’t have to take yourself that seriously.’

Hemsley told ArtsHub the redevelopment has allowed them to embrace experimentation. Simply, there are no expectations on MAMA to be a certain type of gallery.

To bring new audiences to the gallery the team at MAMA spent months developing a solid strategic plan. ‘Leading up to the opening we engaged a social media consultant, developed a branding strategy and a pre-opening marketing strategy, and hired a publicist,’ said Hemsley. 

‘We are your typical local government public gallery. We don’t have the resources, or sometimes the buy-in with our local government authority to be experimental with our marketing, but they were very keen to make sure that when the gallery opened it met all the expectations,’ she added.

Drawing from these marketing resources and with a significant amount of funding, MAMA found its new name and the value statements that solidified the future direction of the gallery.

‘Exciting, new, engaging, controversial, accessible - all those things,’ said Hemsley.

By not taking themselves seriously the team at MAMA set out to target national audiences, overcoming many of the barriers holding new audiences back from attending regional art galleries.

Read: Major acquisitive prize sets new standard for regional galleries

Host an artist (or six)

Hosting an artist through a residency program can bring new creative energy into your community and showcase the region.

It is a strategy that Creative Gippsland is introducing through their programming for the month of May. Six residencies across Gippsland council areas will see artist establish new connections and build the profile of the arts in the region.

‘That’s what we are about, trying to build a profile of the Gippsland region having a very vibrant art scene. It’s different to the city; regional arts is always different to the city. But it is nonetheless vibrant, nonetheless contemporary,’ said Arts and Culture Coordinator Andrea Court.

The innovative month long program running this May highlights the broad range of artistic practice and activities across the six council areas that make up the wider Gippsland region. To keep it fresh this year, they have expanded on the idea of the artist residency.

‘We have a range of different artists who applied for the residency program and a lot of them are from interstate,’ said Court. These residencies provide a personal and engaged way to raise the profile of regional areas.

Court added: ‘The artists are getting the experience of a new area and this has an impact on their work. Really, the artists in residence are about bringing new blood into the area, working with local groups, and developing new skills.’

The initiative is part of a wider strategy to expand cultural tourism in the area and to develop the regional creative community within Gippsland.

Read: Gippsland artist residencies announced

Brooke Boland

Thursday 31 March, 2016

About the author

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.