Art Galleries Outside Cities



Cities provide a rich field to explore the Arts, and the visual arts in particular. They are the homes of State art museums, fancy and not-so-fancy commercial galleries and interesting arts co-operatives.

Regional artists exist throughout the country and are both diffuse and concentrated. They are no less talented or worthy of advocacy, in comparison to their city ‘cousins’. Some are also fortunate to be well-represented in cities.

Government-run regional galleries, aside, there are a plethora of endeavours run by individuals, couples or groups of people in regional areas that act to advocate for local artists and support local culture through the visual arts. Their support often extends to investing their own cash and much time to do this. It often relies on people of goodwill, including volunteers and a small cohort of local art-buyers to keep things going. For those with extended and hard-won networks, there are regular or sometimes-buyers from outside of the local region as well.

The variety of galleries in our own region of Northern Rivers is pretty startling. There are commercial galleries like us, who have a regular exhibition programme and specialise in local artists. There are craft and art galleries, community-run enterprises, arts collectives and galleries run by sole artists. We all do something a little different, but we are all not in it for the money! That’s for sure!!

But then, we do need to at least be able to financially secure for what we do for local arts - eventually.

No matter what model of art gallery is being executed, a business plan is a must. This may be an evolving document, but it should clearly articulate what you are doing and why. We dislike the nomenclature, but a “vision” or “mission” statement accompanied by a rationale is very helpful.

Some idea of local opportunities and constraints (the SWOT analysis) is also helpful. It begins to tease out what may distinguish the gallery - how it offers something different to “competitors”. We tend to think of this as how we contribute to diversity and maybe also quality, in certain genres of the visual arts.

From this comes an understanding of aims to achieve the “vision” or “mission” of the endeavour and what objectives there are to fulfil those aims, acknowledging issues raised in the SWOT. This starts expanding into day-to-day objectives like presentation, cleaning away cobwebs and dust (a challenge out here in The Channon) and the way people are greeted when they enter the gallery. There are the more global issues too, like workplace health and safety, insurances, artist selection criteria and providing provenance documentation for sold works that live beyond the gallery and acknowledge the artist’s extended life as a creative force and perhaps also as a commodity (icky term, but it DOES happen).

Every gallery needs some sort of criteria for selection of the artwork that they exhibit - even community or co-operative ones. It is important to reputation and the general assessment of quality of the arts of a region as well.

There are a host of strategies and actions that need to take place to realise objectives. Some are more obvious and some take a bit of knowledge, advice or trial and error. Marketing is an example of the latter examples, and it can include blogs, social media and advertising - and all sorts of permutations and combinations.

It all sounds huge, but really, it’s just sitting back and thinking things through a bit - and documenting it, no matter how rudimentary. It’s amazing how it can expand upon a few revisits, a little more thinking and perhaps the odd glass of wine!

No matter how we might all advocate for the arts via our galleries, we all need a sense of what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we actually will do it. It’s not all about being hard-nosed business people. We all want great things for our artists though, and the visual arts in these beautiful places outside of cities.

Networks are very important too, and we are very fortunate to have links and some very close ones with local government, commercial and community arts advocates and galleries. Some of our artists, too, proffer some pretty insightful advice for which we are truly grateful.

Regional galleries play a significant role both locally and nationally. They are an interface between the local and its cultural exponents and creators. They are also be a window on regional artistic endeavours, and hopefully excellence, to the world!

We are still working on this. Advice is welcome! Likewise, we are up for conversations and sharing of knowledge and experience with others.

There is so much that regional arts practice, individuals and endeavours, can offer this nation and beyond. Cities are great, but they are just a part of the whole - not the whole, itself! Just ask some of the buyers of our art who come from the city!

Risk and Respite

company-secretaryAnd now, another ‘word’ from the Company Secretary.
(Image: “The Company Secretary”, Lindsay Hunt)

Many people wonder and ask us what we do and indeed, why we do it.
What we mainly understand about the question is “Why are you doing this?”
After many months, we realise that the unpacking of this question falls into a few discreet camps.

At the outset, many well meaning folk, metaphorically have put their arms around us and asked:
“Why are you opening a fine art gallery, in the middle of winter (2011), in the middle of a recession, and in the middle of nowhere?”.

Valid questions indeed.

The simple, and possibly naive answer, is simply: “because we believe in what we are doing”. We sincerely wish to provide a venue where artists can demonstrate their gifts and where appreciative collectors will support them.

Happily, many supportive folk agree; and we thank them effusively.

And to our delight, we have experienced a dizzying array of talent. Where seven or eight months ago, we were scratching our heads to find artists, we now have to politely decline some approaches.

Much to our, and sometimes, our patrons’ surprise, we deliver shows that are far from primarily commercial, especially in this region. Denise N. Rall’s recent sumptuous costume/textile exhibition, Ross McMaster’s confronting paintings, and others, have challenged what a gallery in northern NSW is about and can be.
Lest you misunderstand us, we do have a extensive array of “accessible” works that continue to delight our customers locally, interstate, and overseas.

Finally, it was with some distress and surprise that some parties approached us recently, with more than a modicum of shauenfreuder, regarding the imminent (but happily, not realised) closure of an important gallery in the region.

The implicit argument went something like: “Won’t that be good? Now folks will go to you!”

No, and no again.

The art world relies on mindshare.
Especially here.
The more activity, more galleries, artists and government spruking regarding what we all do, the better.
If one of us dies; we all die a little death.
We emphatically want people to come to this region and savour the profound talent that exists here. We must all pull together!

The popular mythology and rhetoric goes:
We live in the most artistically rich region in Australia.

We most likely do.

So, let us actually shout this to all on the planet, share our collective (small) victories and appreciate and support endeavours that provide a platform for an arts community to not only survive, but flourish!

We’ll be in it!

Live long and prosper.

"I could do that"

company-secretary
(Image: “The Company Secretary”, Lindsay Hunt)

So, yet again, a new year is upon us!

As I recover from the “Christ Mass”/ Hanukkah / Sun God period of excessive excess and self-congratulation, my alcohol addled mind wanders to things of greater import.

Just the other day, a certain person of indeterminate gender and age, sashayed in with an attitude that betrayed their mindset and indignantly announced that: “I could paint that”, quickly followed by the confident assertion that “It’s not worth XXX dollars”, as he/she swiftly and dismissively turned to walk away rather resplendent in their confident assertion.

It was something that I had witnessed many times, over many years, in many galleries.

It is that poignant yet depressing moment where folk who simply do not understand art and indeed artists - who are happy to reveal their ignorance and indeed, arrogance. In equal measure, if I am permitted to say.

Please compare and contrast the dizzying elation of the knowing person entering the gallery recently who with both confidence and conviction walked into the space and within short measure, confidently selected seven pieces that were to be dispatched to their overseas premises. Or indeed, the lovely fellow who wandered in after perusing our website, spent 90 minutes agonising over the two pieces, (from a selection of four), and confidently walked away with two! (That which will invariably enrich his life for years to come … see my previous posts ...).

Tonight, a dear friend of mine Facetimed me (look it up – Google is your friend!), and relayed his exploits in Paris and its multitude of galleries and museums. I somehow doubt that most Europeans would have the temerity and breathtaking ignorance to proclaim that both:

“I could do that” and even the more disrespectful, “ It’s not worth X dollars”.

The fundamental issue is this...

Art, its progenitors and practitioners are to be accorded the respect and understanding that any specialist should receive.

How would one approach the empty canvas or page; the blob of clay; the pieces of glass; the glob of molten-something to produce an original outcome ... something with meaning ... a sub-text ... a visual gag ... a visual angst ... a visual beauty? How?

I cannot believe that the same folk would dare to assert that they could practice law / architecture / dance (insert discipline of your choice) with the same dismissive regard that they happily and flippantly disregard Artists. Art is something that is rare, precious, and transformative.

We may be wage slaves in jobs we despise, yet endure because we have to. We may be executives with position and power with a financial recompense to make most of us blush. We may be unemployed, on the boundaries of society ... but we all take succour, hope and inspiration from those who articulate the beauty and desperation that we may not be able to articulate.

These are the Artists who we admire ... and simply cannot be.

I raise my glass to them.

We raise our glasses to them!

To the detractors; the imitators and the disingenuous, we do wish them well - but we also wish them knowledge, insight, expression and dexterity to produce their own art - something to be proud of and something to share with others.

That would be a wondrous and beautiful thing.

Live long and prosper …


The Erudite Stephen Fry on the Engagement with Art

"In an increasingly infantilised world where so much seems to be split into good or bad, correct or incorrect, acceptable or unacceptable,

where complex ideas are chopped up for public consumption like food chopped up for a child,

where so much is hygienic, attainable, safe, sugared, assimilable, digestible, pasteurised, homogenised and sanitised,

in such a world our appetite has never been greater for the complex, the ambiguous, the challenging, the untamed, the sharp, the peculiar, the surprising, the dangerous, the dirty, the difficult, the untameable, the elusive, the unsafe and the unknowable.

In other words, for art.

And to confront it, all we need do is to forget ourselves and our embarrassments and find a way to engage face to face.

When we are in the galleries, we can all be Oscar (Wilde), we can all raise our eyes to a canvas and encounter it fearlessly, with humour and grace and zest and not a trace of embarrassment.

It is the adventure of a lifetime and there are few better places in the world in which to embark on such an adventure than here, where art and artists rule."

Stephen Fry, Speech given at the a dinner for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 8th June, 2010.