Archives for posts with tag: visual arts


Amy Barrett-Lennard is the artistic director of PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts)  – an institution central to the contemporary art scene in Western Australia that exhibits an inspiring range of contemporary visual, performing and cross-disciplinary arts practices. Prior to her time at PICA, Amy was the Director of the Linden Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne and worked as a Curator in the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery and Goldfields Arts Centre Gallery in Kalgoorlie. She has also worked internationally as the manager of the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Amy talks to arts interview about the development of her career in the arts and what one might do who seeks the same.

Interview by Lydia Bradshaw

How important is the role of travel in establishing a successful career in the arts?

I have obviously travelled around quite a lot throughout my career – which has been great.  I am not sure it is totally necessary though as some people manage to get to senior positions by staying in the one city their whole lives!  I think it just gives you a breadth of experience you wouldn’t have otherwise and extends your network – which is always helpful. Having a thorough and first-hand knowledge of arts practices nationally and/or internationally is also always very desirable.

How big a factor is outside support for a cultural institutions’ prosperity?

Almost all cultural institutions require outside support – their ability to generate income from internal “business” activities is always quite limited and would definitely not sustain ongoing programs.  So outside support then generally comes from the Government in the form of grants and funding and from the private sector in the form of sponsorships, donations and philanthropic grants. With static government funding arts organisations are increasingly relying on the latter.

What experience or initiatives would you recommend to individuals aspiring towards careers in arts management? 

I would highly recommend volunteering, undertaking internships or initiating your own projects.  The first show I ever curated was one that I initiated with a friend and a bunch of artists – did totally without any payment and “afterhours” on top of my day job – and had to raise all the funds for it myself – but it was a great experience and a great start to a career in the arts.

I would also recommend taking on roles that offer a level of autonomy; an opportunity to make a significant difference and that can help you develop leadership skills.  These seem to be the kinds of jobs I have had and clearly have been drawn to. They have been enormously rewarding and have always lead to ever more exciting and challenging positions.

anthony white

Anthony White is an international artist- Australian born and bred, now based in Paris. After graduating from the National Art School in 2003, White has exhibited widely in Europe and Australia and is held in significant private and public collections in Australia, Europe, Asia and the USA. Anthony talks to arts interview about his practice and the sometimes stresses of working as a full time artist.

Interview by Alex Bellemore

Can you tell us a bit about your practice and what you have been working on recently?

My practice is built around the sensuous nature of paint with an awareness of  surface. The paint itself has really been the subject, exploring physicality in order to find form.  The process now is becoming one of reduction and erasure. I’m interested in the idea of psychic automatism that the Surrealists were into. The idea of bridging the gap between the unconscious mind and the conscious one and how that relates to the integrity of the mark.

Currently I’m working on a body of work for exhibition in Hong Kong early next year at The Cat St Gallery, Hong Kong as well as a group show called Signal 8 during August in Hong Kong.

What do you think are the broad stress factors for artists?

I think the biggest stress is probably about time management, money and organisation. I think artists in general can have a hard time being responsive towards a deadline and finishing things. Questioning how much of that day job do you work and how much time in the studio tends to make you very, very busy. If your lucky enough to be making art fulltime then its difficult to get the work out there globally, without stretching yourself financially.

Can you tell us about when you first moved from Australia to Paris, what were the stress factors of moving and finding yourself in a new ‘art scene’?

Meeting people in the art world can be difficult with a language barrier. I have also hired a translator for special projects in the past, which helps a lot.

Do you have any specific coping mechanisms when you are stressed?

I find myself in nature a lot, that’s really important. Also I find doing something else totally unrelated for a while until you come up with the answer you need. Sometimes you need to forget about things. I also tend to write copious amounts of lists.

Do you find it difficult to balance your work and lifestyle?

Yes it’s incredibly difficult to find a balance, but I love what I do so it doesn’t really feel like work. I never turn off- I’m always thinking about art.

I think it’s energetic and exciting when something new develops in your art practice. The constant renewal of ideas is the stuff that makes your art alive and can encourage/nurture yourself as an artist when things get tough

What do you do to relax? Is it easy for you to ‘switch off’ from your practice to do this?

No it’s not easy to switch off at all. I find it difficult but I think it is important for creative renewal .In the past I was a professional chef and since I’ve been making art fulltime, I’m finding time to spend in the kitchen at home, making things that I wouldn’t normally have the time for. This lets me wind down a bit.


Gaffa is an artist-run initiative committed to providing an accessible creative space for emerging artists in Sydney. With its accessible CBD location, situated in a beautiful heritage listed building, Gaffa’s business is all about promoting and nurturing cross-platform collaboration, collectivity and cohesion within the contemporary art community. Since moving into its current location, Gaffa has expanded into a complex of gallery, studios, workshops and a retail arcade. Gaffa’s initiative director, Kelly Robson talks to arts interview about the Gaffa journey.

Interview by Iris SiYi Shen

Can you tell us about yourself and the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

I am one of the founding directors of Gaffa so have now been in this role for coming up to 7 years. My only formal education is in the visual arts, for which I have a Masters Degree. Gaffa is first and foremost, about access. For artists and designers this is access to space, access to networks, equipment, support and an infra-structure. For our patrons, its access to a welcoming environment which the public doesn’t often get to be a part of. They can become part of our community, come to exhibitions, social events, attend workshops and open studio days and support us by buying exhibition pieces and retail items. They can enjoy a genuine experience that isn’t homogenized or franchised, which in our current location of the CBD, is pretty hard to come by.

Tell us about Gaffa’s journey, starting as a small gallery in Surry Hills to becoming an established Artist Run Initiative (ARI) that dabbles across the art, fashion and design fields. Can you articulate Gaffa’s growth as an ARI?

Gaffa was established at a time when many artist spaces were in flux. Between 2004 and 2006 a number of spaces closed down (Kilo Gallery, Space 3, Imperial Slacks, Quadrivium, Gallery 156) just to name a few. In fact one of the first spaces I was involved with, ‘The Wedding Circle’ in Chippendale was closed down by council after only a year of being open with the reason being cited as a “place of unlawful assembly”. However the closure, and also general climate of instability in the ARI community is what motivated me to comply with council requirements and red-tape in all endeavors since then, (as much as possible) to avoid disappointments down the track.

For this month, the theme for arts interview is collaboration; can you tell us what collaboration means to the Gaffa Creative Precinct?

Collaboration means everything to Gaffa. If not directly on projects, then through developing a supportive community and frame-work through which people can feel comfortable trying, testing and refining their ideas. Having numerous projects, exhibitions, launches and artists upstairs in the studios at any one time creates a certain dynamic in the building. Frequently, when people walk through our doors for the first time, they comment on the energy in the building. They can feel the excitement and the intent. Creative networks are collaborative by necessity, it is critical to pool resources, to support each others projects and to create strength in numbers in general.

Currently Gaffa is home to a handful of fashion labels and homeware stores, what do you think about the dynamics of these retail spaces in relation to the gallery spaces and artist studios upstairs?

Having the crossover of activities in the building is critical to what we do. Our store, cafe and arcade work well on the ground level as they serve as a welcoming ‘entry’ point for random passersby. It is a familiar and easily accessible environment. Once they have entered, they realise there is much more going on inside and are hopefully hooked! Since moving to what is a much larger building we have adopted the phrase ‘Creative Precinct’ and the fact that you can meet with our artists and designers, have a coffee while you browse, see art works and also purchase quality design work on the ground floor all works together to create an almost physically felt dynamic and energy. Something often commented on by our patrons.

 What are the challenges Gaffa faces as a Creative Precinct?

I guess first and foremost is the obvious, which is being disciplined enough to sustain our infra-structure. Everyone who works here is a practicing artist, yet the tasks that need to be done each day are so diverse. Everyone here learns everything on the go! But that’s also the great thing about here. People who come on board can choose what skill-set they want to develop and then really run with it. The second is also obvious, which is making sure that we choose to spend the money that we manage to make on things that will increase our longevity.

John A Douglas

John A. Douglas, Strange Land Vol 1 – The Miner, HD 720p video still, 2010.

Courtesy the artist and Chalk Horse gallery, Sydney.

John A. Douglas is an intermedia artist who works in digital and analogue photomedia and video installation. John has been involved in the arts since being in a punk band in the 70’s. His formal visual art studies began in the mid 90’s and continued until he received a Master of Fine Arts from COFA in 2008. However, John dates his classification as an artist to the date of his first solo show, in 2005. Since then he has exhibited regularly and widely, nationally and internationally. He has been a finalist in major art prizes, received prestigious grants and was featured on ABC’s Artscape.

John A. Douglas was selected to discuss the topic of should the arts act like a business to offer an individual practioners perspective. John extended our idea about what it means to be a professional artist and the role that ‘business’ can play in an artist’s career.

Interview by Eliza Muldoon

As a professional artist, do you consider yourself to be a small business?

It’s a complex question, more than yes or no.

I consider myself a self-employed artist, a sole-trader. But, I’m not a traditional business, profit and money is not the motive for creating my work. So, I’m really a not-for-profit sole-trader. I’m just interested in being able to support my practice and I’m content to make a living through other arts-related work.

What business skills have you learnt that have served you well as an artist?

One of the first things that I did upon graduation was to seek advice from an accountant, to learn how to use an ABN and to work out how to offset my costs of creating work. I think that was really critical in my career development.

Also, working out how to transfer my arts skills to gain an income. For example, using my video skills; I’m currently responsible for providing all the video content for Hazelhurst Gallery’s YouTube channel, I’ve produced and filmed artist talks, I’ve done video technical consultancy work, I’ve advised on how to exhibit high definition work in galleries and how to exhibit multi-channel works, I’ve taught workshops and courses, and almost every week someone calls to ask me to help develop or document works. I’m soon to be Adam Norton’s astronaut cameraman in AWFULLY WONDERFUL: Science Fiction in Contemporary Art.

Actually, that’s all about relationships as well. It’s really important to develop and foster as many relationships in the art world as you can.

Has your value of the business side of the arts changed as you’ve developed as an artist?

One area I’ve changed is that I’ve become willing to invest more money into my projects. I take more risks with that. My last project actually cost more than double what I was funded. I was able to make some sales, but I still haven’t quite covered my costs. It’s a little precarious. I don’t want to go bankrupt, but I am more willing to max out credit cards and borrow money. It’s almost like your funding some kind of addiction, a gambling addiction. But, I think the key to balancing the risk is being meticulous with keeping tax records and expenses and to keep communicating with your accountant about what can be claimed as a legitimate expense.

Do you think artists ought to act like a business?

I couldn’t imagine not behaving like a business. It wouldn’t make sense to me not to have proper account keeping records, not to take the advice of an accountant.

What happens if you haven’t crossed all your ‘T’s and dotted your ‘I’s? I’ve heard some real disaster stories about people that don’t keep good records, you can get into so much trouble. It is boring and tedious, but if you don’t do it weighs on you. I allocate an entire week to work it out each year. I do delay it, but I still do it. Each year I submit about six spreadsheets and diaries. Since 2002 I’ve probably written about 300 invoices for arts work, non-arts work, sub-contracting, for grants and for art sales. It might be tempting not include all your income, but you have to. Don’t do cash in hand. You have to invoice everyone for everything. The risks are too great.

It’s about getting the system to work for you, but you also have to work with it.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s about being able to make the work that I want to make. To make a contribution to Australian culture- I have a running joke that this is all in service to the Art Gods (my partner calls it the ‘Art Monster’).

Should the arts act like a business? Reference material that may further interest you:

craig walsh

This week renowned Australian digital media artist Craig Walsh talks to arts interview about the impact of diversity on his two year touring artist residency ‘Craig Walsh: Digital Odyssey, a Museum of Contemporary Art touring project’.

Interview by Vanessa Anthea Macris 

How does the technology you utilise in your work help connect with diverse audiences?

I think that technology or tools are always secondary to the concepts that you explore. Having said that, what made a huge difference with Digital Odyssey was the ability to create work digitally and then be able to share it with the community. For example, if we created video projection pieces or documentation of video projection work that we collaborated on with the community, we could actually provide copies of the work to everyone involved. The digital medium allows for sharing and I think that was very practical because it enabled the community to work with it further or utilise it in other ways. Quite often technology can be misused, but in our application it was used really successfully.

Can you give an example of the community you have worked with that went on to use the digital work you created?

Digital Odyssey started off in Murray Bridge, South Australia in February 2010. We worked closely with a group there, who were collecting oral histories from the local new migrant community. Through the process we developed a few projects and one of them was the ‘Home Project’. It was a video portraiture project/assemblage installation relating to the notion of home and what home means to individuals. The installation took place in the local op-shop in town. Following on from the realisation of the work, the concept was taken on by the local oral history group and they applied for grants to get computers and cameras so that they could continue on with the home project. Indeed, the group was able to utilise all the content that we had already developed for the installation while we were there. This way, there was the continuation of the concept, but also I suppose, the skills were shared for e.g. animation techniques that we used. This is just one example of how there was a follow on from the production of a collaborative work, and then how the community took and extended on it.

The Digital Odyssey project really celebrates the diversity of the landscape and population. By responding directly to the environment, was your creative output enhanced or limited?

The way that Digital Odyssey project formed meant that we actually had quite a tight schedule. From the initial project we developed a couple of proposals, which were to be taken as a formal and conceptual structure to each of the communities, but then input from the community actually formed those works to be quite specific and localised. The process was more about developing concepts and a dialogue between these concepts and locations, which became really interesting and important. When we talked to members of the community as part of the Home Project about their notion of home, they obviously responded very differently depending on a location. Responses from people living in Winton, North Queensland compared to Cairns, Ballarat or Hobart are very different. The project in many ways gave individuals in these communities expression through the artwork about their own situation as well as the situation of the community. So it does celebrate diversity, but it celebrates within a context, which is accessible to everyone from every community. This is what is most interesting about these projects; many of them took place in every community and there were different responses based around similar concepts. To me, that shows how diverse these communities are, and I think you only really experience or understand that through doing a project like this and spending large amounts of time in regional Australia.

Can you describe some highlights of the Digital Odyssey project? Did you encounter any elements within your work that seem to guarantee success in terms of the audience engagement?

The project was all consuming and so it is not always easy to identify the benefits or successful elements. We are still going through the vast amount of work that was generated; we created 16 new projects over 18 months. This is a huge body of work and we are still documenting it. Now is the time to distil it, have a look at it and see what it is. A publication will be formed where we can really analyse what took place. For me personally, the opportunity to take this sort of work to regional Australia to develop projects and collaborate closely with regional communities was a really grounding experience. It links me with a sense of place as I perhaps was feeling a little disconnected with the Contemporary art world. It has been a great benefit to me and my practice, and helped me look at what is relative to this continent. Creating work that is relative to Australia, engaging and collaborating with remote communities was a major strength of the project. Other highlights of the project include mentorships with young regional artists, master classes and of course the public outcomes, which affect the broader community. Overall, I feel as though it is an effective model for having a major impact and influence on the communities that we spent time with.

Further reading on arts and diversity:


Denise Montgomery is the founder and president of CultureThrive, a consulting practice focusing on organisational development, program development and implementation, audience development, and communications for arts and cultural organisations. Denise presented a terrific keynote address about audience diversity as part of the 2010 OzCo marketing summit, specifically citing her experience as the Director of Communications & Marketing at the MCA San Diego, as a case study for how museums can broaden audiences. Here she chats to arts interview about diversity.

 Interview by Krista Huebner

What has led MCASD to look at audience diversity as a major strategic objective? And when you talk about ‘diversity’, what are you referring to specifically?

For the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)—and for me as a practitioner—diversity is about the audience being a reflection of the community we are serving. Because MCASD’s audiences were not as ethnically diverse as the region in which the museum is located, ethnic diversity was our primary focus. MCASD had been a “lily white” organisation in a posh enclave of San Diego, and the organisation successfully redefined itself in the context of California’s high cultural diversity and San Diego’s close proximity to Mexico. [San Diego is 17 miles from Mexico and the San Ysidro border crossing, which is the busiest international border crossing in the world.]

What are some of the practices you implemented in your time at MCASD in order to achieve this strategic objective?

Since the early 1990s, MCASD has been engaged in a series of artistic and institutional initiatives to expand Latino and other diverse audiences and to embrace the bicultural, bilingual community served by the Museum. This has involved a large number of exhibitions, programs, and partnerships and has been woven throughout all aspects of the Museum as a priority. Three major steps to achieving greater ethnic diversity were opening an additional location in downtown San Diego, becoming a bilingual institution through text panels, publications, many visitor services staff, and a substantial commitment to ethnically diverse exhibitions and programming. In other words, this has not been “the Frida Kahlo Syndrome”, where there is a major exhibition and outreach to a targeted audience, but that audience never hears from the organisation again.

I love the statement “Seek to build relationships, not transactions.” The targeted outreach must be looked at as an entry point for relationship building, where it is conveyed to the audience that they are welcome at all times and that the organisation hopes they will return, and that there are many programs potentially of interest. I championed sustained outreach and recognition that diverse audiences are most likely cultural omnivores, with diverse arts and entertainment diets. It is a mistake to assume that audiences are strictly interested in programming that is of their ethnic heritage, although that programming can be a gateway and an important part of the programmatic mix.

Because Diversity itself is such a broad topic, how did you define what success meant to you? i.e. what sorts of metrics did you use to determine whether you’d become “more diverse” as a Museum?

MCASD looked at the ethnic composition of Museum attendees in the galleries as well as programs. One program that has been very successful for young adult audience development—and that young adult audience has been very diverse—is TNT (Thursday Night Thing). Music is a major lure to this evening event, and the Museum regularly programs a diverse line-up of bands and artist talks. Yes, cocktails are served, but people also really check out the art and listen to the artist talks. TNT regularly attracts 1,000+ people, and the multicultural arts and entertainment line-up is integral to this program.

MCASD evolved from attracting virtually no Latino audience to having steady, double-digit percentage Latino attendance for many years running. In an increasingly diverse society, multicultural audience development is important regardless of proximity to border. MCASD as an organisation deserves great credit for making and sustaining a long-term commitment to multicultural audience development. The long-term commitment is essential – this is not just about spikes in attendance.

What are other effective approaches to multicultural audience development?

Research shows that family programming results in organisations twice as likely to draw multicultural audience. Many ethnically diverse families are looking for multigenerational activities. When I spoke in Melbourne also in 2010, a number of people in the audience said it was this point about family programming that really turned on some light bulbs for them.

Another approach that can be effective is to building on a well-known and beloved holiday within a culture and to create programming around it. The Denver Art Museum and Denver Public Library have partnered with the Mexican Consulate and other organisations in a very successful annual Dia del Nino celebration that draws more than 5,000 people each year. This strategy can increase people’s comfort level in coming to a venue for the first time because there is familiarity with the holiday. It also signals “You are Welcome Here”.

You worked as the Director of the city of Denver’s cultural office, how did the issue of diversity shape your work there and the creation of Create Denver?

Working in the public sector I was especially cognisant of how the arts can create pathways to understanding among ethnically diverse groups of people. I was also very focused on access. I love that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes people’s right to experience arts and culture, and I felt it was part of my responsibility working in City government to try to give all people in the community opportunities to experience the arts in their lives.

I worked to have the City-organised programs reflect the community and Denver’s unique cultural heritage. We introduced a Five Points Jazz concert that has grown into a major annual event each spring that is a celebration of Denver’s jazz heritage, and we launched a Latino Rhythms Concert that has become a favourite annual tradition in the community. I also increased the diversity of the appointees on the City’s Commission on Cultural Affairs and of the staff of the Office of Cultural Affairs.

Further reading on diversity and the arts:

eva arts interview

Portfolio Careers, a fancy term for ‘multiple jobs’, are a growing trend, as for whatever reasons, more and more people take on various roles in their professional lives and also combine them with personal commitments. Nicky McWilliam currently has the ultimate Portfolio Career. She is a director of Eva Breuer Art Dealer in Sydney, her late mother’s gallery in Woollahra, runs a small mediation practice with another lawyer, is at the tail end of a PhD in law set for completion in the next two months, and has three teenage children, a husband and two dogs.

Here arts interview discusses with Nicky the ways in which such disparate, yet equally significant positions are juggled, and most importantly, how she maintains her own personal well-being in such demanding roles.

Interview by Vi Girgis

Given your multiple priorities, how do you manage your time between your various roles to ensure all goals are met?

I think everyone has multiple commitments and priorities and everyone leads busy lives with whatever they are doing. I sort of fell into these multiple roles – it was not really by design, however I enjoy every bit of what I do and am excited by all the opportunities. So even though it is hard work, it is fulfilling and interesting. These multiple roles are also very new for me so I am learning every day and taking it all week by week. Normally on Sunday nights I sit down and work out what I have to do for the whole week with work, family and study. The gallery is not open on Mondays so I have a day to get organised with mediation and other stuff. I try to start work at the gallery during the week at about 7:45am or as early as I can in the morning and work there until about midday. I do mediation practice work in the afternoon. I try to share out the load, if possible, at the gallery, but only when I know that I can follow up. At the moment my Uni work is at the wire, as it is due in September, so I am feeling a lot of pressure with that. Due to this, I am reducing my work load with my mediation and delegating as much as I can at the gallery. At the gallery I have a fantastic team of people, and we try to have weekly meetings so that we can all share the load.

How do you balance professional commitments with family commitments, ensuring that you meet the needs of those around you?

I do get engrossed and energised by all my projects, so weekends and evenings are just for my children and husband, if possible. And it also helps me to share what I am doing with my family, so that I am not closing off what I am doing from them. My kids are a little older now – they are fourteen, seventeen and nineteen – and they enjoy hearing about my work, as I do about their things, so we often sit down and have discussions.

What are some steps that you take to ensuring your own personal well-being?

I need my sleep! There are times when I work late at night, or go out late at night, but I do try and get to bed early as much as I can because my day always starts at 6 o’clock. Although it sounds very clichéd and boring, I also try to eliminate anything negative. I really enjoy what I am doing and I try to be positive about work and life. If I feel that there are people who I come into contact with, who are only criticising or being closed and negative, I try to give them space and time – as much as possible; sometimes it is a tough call. If I am feeling stressed (and I often do) – I say to myself, “Take it one step at a time…you will get there!” It is easy to say, I know, but I do try. Of course, my husband is also a great support to me and he is so helpful and always very supportive!

What advice would you give to any future arts practitioners with regard to balancing multiple roles?

I am very new to the art world and I am on a very steep learning curve, but with the gallery, it is multi-faceted. Even though it is such a little gallery and business, there is a lot to be done because we like to ground everything we do in academic scholarship. My mother, Eva Breuer, was very thorough with research and the accuracy of information. She was amazing and she upgraded systems which the gallery still follows. With every painting that comes in, every artist that we are reviewing, we always look at the academic side of things. We look at how it fits into the history of art, how it fits into the Australian spectrum (because we only deal in museum-quality Australian art). Then there is researching and checking provenance and condition reports followed by looking after exhibitions, and meeting and discussing things with artists. Also, there is the practical side of making sure that the exhibitions are hung beautifully, and that paintings being stored are wrapped and looked after really carefully. And of course, we are a normal shopfront, so there is just the normal retail part to it. It is so multi-faceted; you have to treat each of those things as separate. You have to take it slowly, plan very well and be very thorough. In addition, it is important that everyone is working together as a team, and happy, and also that everyone feels recognised for what they are doing.

Interested in further reading on juggling multiple careers?

will deague

Being a design lover and keen marketer I have watched the development of Art Series Hotels with much interest. A company that embodies the idea of collaboration and seems to whole heartedly embrace their artistic partnerships throughout all aspects of their business, I was keen to chat to CEO Will Deague about their collaborative process.

Interview by Krista Huebner

Your collaboration with contemporary artists is very much an intrinsic part of your hotels’ overall identity and brand experience, and in fact is at the core of your business model. What was your inspiration for collaborating with artists?

Our family business is property development and hotels, with most of our experience in more traditional hotel models. When we were looking to develop the sites that the Art Series Hotels sit on, we knew we had the chance to do something completely different. We set out with that goal in mind, and originally had the idea to incorporate more art into the hotels. We were inspired by the popularity of design-led, boutique hotels overseas, like those of Ian Schrager working with Julian Schnabel. From there, our idea of working with art evolved into working with artists to become a completely artist-led hotel.

What challenges did you face working with visual artists? How did you react to these (i.e. what did you do/change/adapt)?

As all artists are NSW based we suffered sometimes from the tyranny of distance, but it was mostly abated by good planning and ensuring clear communication.

Another thing to consider was the art itself. For example, Adam Cullen’s work is really exciting though at times can be controversial; so we had to think about that and if the artists were perhaps more contentious, where they would be placed and how they would be displayed.

Artists work to a different timeline to businesses, so that was something we needed to be considerate of when developing our timelines for each hotel. They also work very differently as a whole. We found that the most important thing for us in working with each artist was being very clear about what we were trying to achieve and how we wanted to work together.

From the outset we used an art consultant who knew both us and the artists very well. He helped facilitate conversations and kept everyone on the same path, whether representing the interests or concerns of the artist to the business, or those of the business back to the artist. Being upfront about the commercial side of things meant that everyone knew how it would work and what was expected.

The artists you have worked with (Adam Cullen, John Olsen, Charles Blackman) are all well-known artists in Australian contemporary art. How did you decide which artists to collaborate with?

Our family has been involved with artists and the art world for years as collectors and philanthropists through the Deague Family Art Foundation. About 10 years ago we travelled with 10 artists to William Creek at Lake Eyre to experience the saltpans and work in bush studios. It was an incredible experience, and started a relationship with many of the artists who we are working with today.

The actual location of each hotel also helped us decide which artists to approach. For example, the Chapel Street location is a great fit for John Olsen, the elegant older statesman, while Adam Cullen is an edgy artist who is better matched with the Prahran/Windsor location.

Have there been any unexpected benefits to the partnership/collaboration, either to you personally, professionally or to the wider business?

As a family, we’ve always been so passionate about the art. It’s a great thing to connect people to contemporary art in a new way. People might initially book with us because it’s a great boutique hotel and then walk away with not only a great hotel experience but also a cool art experience under their belt. So the art education aspect of this has been fantastic, and that also translates to staff. Staff is trained about the art and artists, and additionally knows a lot about what’s happening in Melbourne at a cultural level. People are responding to that and we’re noticing that potential staff is seeking us out as an employer of choice. That’s something to be proud of.

What are the 3 key things you would advise other business managers looking to follow a similar collaborative model?

  1. Be open and honest from the start with the artists – what the end product is going to be and how you want to work with them.
  2. Treat artists with respect. Don’t try to capitalise on their work or reputation, and respect their craft and expertise.
  3. Stick to your guns. Stay true to your values and vision. We built a new hotel brand from scratch by staying true to our strategic vision.

Further reading on creative collaboration:

Katy and Kuba

Katy B Plummer and Kuba Dorabialski are Sydney based artists who collaborate both professionally and personally. Currently they are curating Transcendental Freakout, a new online arts publication which works as an evolving exhibition platform for artists and curators (available online via Remote). Katy and Kuba describe Transcendental Freakout as “the crystallisation of a whole bunch of wishful longings and nervous twitches, willful misunderstandings, stubborn demarcations, and grudging acquiesces of a reasonably private part of our relationship”. It is also the first time they have collaborated as artists in their eleven-year relationship. Katy and Kuba took some time to share with us their learnings on creative collaborations.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What inspired the two of you to collaborate in a more formal sense at this point in time?

An old friend of ours, Tsering Frykman-Glen, wanted to start a new online publication called Remote, and, out of the blue, she asked us to curate the first instalment. It was actually funny that she asked us both, not one or the other, because we’d never, strictly speaking, art-collaborated before. We’ve always helped each other and invested a lot in each other’s work, but never taken the collective plunge… in fact, though, most of our individual creative energies in recent years have gone towards keeping ourselves and our two little kids sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. This is, certainly, a kind of collaboration. We’d both been looking longingly in the direction of art making for a while, and this was the nudge we’d been waiting for.

You state on your website, “While they’ve never really collaborated on an art project before, they’ve never really not collaborated before.” How did your working relationship change when you took on a formal collaborative aspect?

The shocking thing to us is that it hasn’t really changed anything. We’ve always worked closely, being each other’s technicians, taskmasters, sounding boards, slave-labour etc., but each always maintained the final say on our own projects, because our aims and processes are actually pretty different. And even though we’ve always known precisely what the other wants and likes in an artwork, we’ve never actually shared our interests. For example, Katy likes High Melodrama and Theatrical Excess while Kuba likes acidic German modernist literature; so there’s little room for overlap. It seemed like actually collaborating would be this vast fraught and uncharted frontier, but… nope. Same-o, same-o. Seamless joy and snuggles. Maybe it’s just that this particular project is one that we’ve been working on for ages without even really knowing that we’ve been working on it. Maybe we’ll come apart on our next try, but this one did pretty much just spring forth, fully formed.

What challenges have you faced throughout the collaboration?

Irritatingly, even in the thick of it, we still have to keep our babies sort-of fed, kind-of clean and more-or-less entertained. And we have a bookshop to run. And we’re by nature quite untidy. You get the picture.

Also, I guess, we’ve been a bit sequestered for the past few years, so we’ve lost touch a bit with our art networks and forgotten how to make these sorts of connections with people. There were also some time-zone issues; the project has been organised from various parts of the world entirely over the internet, so things that should have been quick simple fixes sometimes took an agonizing number of days to settle, just because people would miss or misunderstand each other. But really, the main challenge has been to carve out the space and time to get it all done.

What benefits has the collaboration brought to you as individual artists?

We were both having trouble dragging our heads back into the art thing. The whole baby/bookshop combo is a very compelling reality, and there really is no telling how long it might have taken for us to gather the necessary creative impetus individually. We’re really grateful to Tsering on that particular count.

Katy and Kuba are in a unique, happy position, where art meets life and both gain for them. When asked what advice they could give to those who are contemplating collaboration, they ended with “This collaboration snuck up on us over eleven years, so maybe our advice could be: Only ever collaborate with a life partner.”

Interested in further reading on creative collaborations? Link below:


Russell Storer, alumni of COFA, UNSW, is a Curator of Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery (QAG). He has been working collaboratively to curate exhibitions such as the QAG’s Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) and the ongoing  Singapore Biennale 2011. He was also a visiting curator at Documenta 2, Kasel and Curatorial Comrade for the 2006 Biennale of Sydney. In his previous role with the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Russell curated a number of exhibitions among which was the Situation: Collaborations, collectives and artist networks from Sydney.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What was the experience of working across a geographically dispersed curatorial team for the Singapore Biennale 2011?

Working long-distance is a common situation for biennales today, with curators working from a home base as well as in the host city often in tandem with others. It offers the possibility for new connections and to draw in different networks of knowledge, experience and information. It does of course also present major challenges in terms of time and communication. Fortunately Matthew (Ngui), Trevor (Smith) and I all knew each other and had worked with each other before, so we had an established understanding of each other’s approaches, and we shared points of reference. We communicated regularly via Skype and email and every few months would come together in Singapore or Australia for intensive meetings. We also had a wonderful exhibition manager, Michelle Tan, who could co-ordinate with us and centralise information in Singapore, and we also had an online ‘cloud’ where we could share materials and documents.

For the APT you work with your curatorial team at the QAG as well as external curators. What were the challenges and benefits of working in this kind of collaborative environment?

The benefit of working collaboratively is that you expand your knowledge base and shift the dynamic into a more discursive mode rather than as a singular statement. There are benefits in that approach, but I love the dialogue that takes place and appreciate the multiple perspectives that collaborative curating offers. In some instances, as in APT, external curators are essential if you are working in areas that are unfamiliar or inaccessible to gallery staff, where you cannot proceed without specialised knowledge and on-the-ground contacts. As with any relationship there are negotiations and compromises to be made, which depending on the spirit in which this is done can be very productive or very difficult, but fortunately I’ve only really had positive experiences so far!

What do you look for in a collaborative curator when embarking on such a project?

I think as with any collaboration, you look for the experience and knowledge that people offer, but what is also important is that they are people you can relate to and there is some kind of shared goal in mind. There may be different views on how to get there, and the goal posts may shift, but there needs to be a desire to develop something together that you can both contribute to and learn from.

The upcoming Sydney Biennale for the first time will have a curatorial team rather than an individual. Do you see collaboration between artists, curators and institutions becoming increasingly important?

That is true, although the 2000 Biennale did use a ‘curatorium’ of advisors/curators from around the world to develop the project. Artists and curators have been collaborating for decades, from early 20th-century avant-garde groups to the activist collectives of the 1970s and 1980s to the participatory projects of the 1990s and 2000s. There has been increased attention and historicising of collaborative activity over the past decade, as well as expanding possibilities enabled by technology and new forms of organisation and production. With the enormous emphasis on the individual in society, and with the increased instrumentalisation of culture, the critical possibilities that collaborative work offers in setting up alternative structures and approaches will definitely continue to be significant into the future.

Any lessons learnt from your past collaborations—would you do anything differently the next time?

I see curatorial work as a constant process of learning, with each project teaching you so many new things. There are always aspects you might like to have done differently in hindsight, but that applies to everything in life I think! It’s important with collaborative projects to always be open and flexible while having a clear sense of what you are trying to do. You can bring your experience to each new project, but there are always situations you have never encountered before which makes it exciting and requires you to think in new ways. Collaboration – with other curators, with artists, with audiences – is a significant way of developing these new ways of thinking.