Andrew Clark, Deputy Director, Programming and Corporate Services, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)

Andrew Clark is the Deputy Director, Programming and Corporate Services at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Clark joined the gallery in 1989 and has worked towards and witnessed QAGOMA’s continuous growth in audience numbers and its importance as an international institution. Clark talks to arts interview about audiences and diversity.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

 QAGOMA has become well known for being an audience-focused institution. How important is audience engagement for the success of contemporary art institutions?

Successful -but also meaningful -audience engagement is at the core of our role. In the last two decades, art museums have undergone enormous shifts in the ways they consider their roles and the potential role of museums in people’s everyday lives. Even more than our desire to do this – our audiences have demanded that we change. There have been many theories, dissertations and critiques as to the nature of this shift, but essentially, it can be summed up quite simply: in the twenty-first century, museums are no longer primarily about objects, they are for people.

What are the most important considerations in your role when developing public programming?

There are a few key considerations: Art, artists, museum and audience. We see the role of the gallery to put audiences in touch with artists and their ideas – to take on different roles for different audiences. The art museum today must have multiple voices and work on various platforms to engage their audiences.

We try and extend audience engagement as far as it can go, constantly thinking about ways to innovate. The overarching philosophy of the gallery’s Children’s Art Centre, for example, is that ‘art is for everyone’, but this notion drives all of our programming, for visitors young and old.

Increasingly, art museums are becoming aware they can  extend their role into the social realm, offering new ways for people to meet one another and have a meaningful experience in the museum while also simply enjoying a good time.  ‘Up Late’ Friday night opening events incorporate live contemporary music, talks and a bar into the exhibition-viewing experience, while theGOMA Talks evening discussions include social media into live events that tackle contemporary topics beyond the arts. Both of these enable a broader engagement with our audiences, and provide interactive opportunities that respond to audiences’ interests and address the competitive market of social interaction that museums now operate within and must acknowledge.

How do you rank the importance of attracting local audiences compared with attracting outer state or international audiences?

All audiences – local, regional, national, international and even virtual – are crucial to the life of the art museum. We are trying to not only attract visitation to the gallery and boost cultural tourism, but also offer ways for those who cannot be here in Brisbane. We are increasingly webcasting our public programs (lectures, discussions and talks) online so that people who can’t make it to the gallery can still experience the program live. We also run a very successful touring program of Children’s Art Centre activities, which is developed specifically for children and families in regional and remote Queensland. This is a very rewarding program that aims to extend the gallery into the home and the community more broadly, and aims to make art a part of the whole community of Queensland, beyond Brisbane. As I mentioned earlier, we have many stakeholders, but we are the state gallery and take our responsibility to the people of Queensland very seriously.

What are the broad diversity considerations and goals for QAGOMA?

Audience diversity is extremely important and we are always looking for new avenues to develop stronger connections with audiences. We do this by providing an incredible array of programs and events including our Toddler Tuesday, New Wave Teens and My Gen 50+ programs to involve the young, the old, and everyone in between. We also undertake a number of initiatives to engage with those who have a disability or impairment, such as our Auslan-interpreted tours. It’s vital we seek avenues to broaden the cultural diversity of our audiences.  Exhibitions like the Asia Pacific Triennial are key to this.

Since the date of this interview, Andrew Clark has taken up a new position as the Deputy Director at the National Gallery of Victoria