At the beginning of April, the Art Gallery of NSW launched its online program entitled Together In Art. Aimed at sharing a daily boost of art with the world, the robust program consists of new commissions, pocket exhibitions, artist projects, innovative performances, behind-the-scenes tours, and workshops for adults and children.
The extensive art program was one of the first to launch and demonstrated the AGNSW’s ability to pivot quickly in response to the new conditions of life under the pandemic. We interviewed Deputy Director and Director of Collections Maud Page for insights into how the Together In Art program has been executed and received.
M&G: The Together In Art series features an impressive array of digital content, which was released almost immediately after the Art Gallery closed its doors to the public. Can you tell us how you went about creating such a strong online offering so quickly?
Maud Page: We firmly believe in the power of art to connect people in difficult times and immediately turned our attention to finding a way to offer meaningful encounters with art online during the temporary closure of the Gallery. The result was the launch of a new online social project, Together In Art, which brings together the diverse and vibrant voices of artists, performers, staff, community partners and the Gallery’s audience.
Prior to the closure of the Gallery, the newly established Together In Art editorial team led by Justin Paton, worked tirelessly to design and deliver an entirely new suite of curated content that responds to the world around us and offers messages of hope and optimism. Together In Art features new commissions, pocket exhibitions, artist projects, innovative performances, talks, interviews, virtual visits to artists’ studios, behind-the-scenes tours, inspiring artmaking workshops and activities for children and adults, and more. It’s really fabulous and has moved us all so much – Ngaiire’s singing brought me to tears.
M&G: The project has involved commissioning artists and performers to create new work. Can you tell us the importance of this and how this process has been during social isolation?
MP: Given the reduced resources and many job losses in the arts sector due to COVID-19, Together In Art aims to support our creative community through inventive online programming alternatives and artist projects. The Gallery is collaborating with artists, musicians, performers and workers in the creative industries to commission new works and develop new paid opportunities. We are thrilled to have already worked with some amazing Australian artists including Ben Quilty, Tony Albert and Nell, and performers including Papua New Guinea-born soul singer Ngaiire, Fijian guitarist Joji Malani, and Sydney singer Sarah Belkner, to create new art that speaks to our time. Some of this content was developed prior to the closure of the Gallery and other pieces of content have been filmed remotely by artists. While remote working isn’t without its challenges, the enthusiasm from the creative community has been incredibly exciting and uplifting.
M&G: Has there been a shift in how the Art Gallery approaches digital content prior to COVID-19 and now?
MP: Unprecedented times call for extraordinary responses. Together In Art is more than a virtual exhibition space, it’s an open platform of imagination, inspiration and creativity that dives into the riches of the Gallery’s collection and responds to the world around us. The project adapts to the challenges of our current climate, taking a deliberately personal and versatile approach in the development of content. Creating Together In Art has been a transformative experience for everyone involved, as we have worked quickly and nimbly to discover new ways of sharing ideas and deepening connections with our digital audience. Together In Art will live online as a time capsule of this moment and exist as a record of the artists and creatives who contributed to this project and the response from our broader public community.
M&G: What advice would you give other galleries and museums trying to create digital content in these times?
MP: Be artist led. Look at the strength in your staff and their connections to the wider artist community. Before creating new digital content, it’s important to know why you are making it and who you are making if for. The success of Together In Art is based on a solid understanding of what our audiences want to see, and how and when they want to see it. Everything we create aims to use the power of art to inspire and uplift at a time when our audience needs it most.
Be artist led. Look at the strength in your staff and their connections to the wider artist community.
M&G: For those checking out Together In Art for the first time, where do you recommend they start?
MP: Together In Art is delivered across various channels, to ensure everyone can access the content in ways that suit them. You can experience Together In Art across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, the Gallery website and the weekly Together In Art e-newsletter, which includes feature stories and a roundup of the week’s highlights. You can explore all Together In Art content in one place, here: artgallery.nsw.gov.au/artboards/together-in-art/
Families are also invited to explore Together In Art Kids, an online project presented with media partner the ABC that is designed to inspire and support children isolated from their friends and community due to COVID-19. Now live with award-winning Del Kathryn Barton as first participating artist, Together In Art Kids invites primary school aged children from around the country to create works to a specific theme – Del’s is ‘inner worlds’. The project was the brainchild of ABC health expert Dr Norman Swan, who was inspired by kids who unprompted began sending him their artworks. Dr Swan, a longstanding member of the Gallery’s Contemporary Collection Benefactors group, launched the project in the Coronacast podcast. Children can explore and submit their artworks today at togetherinart.org/kids.
M&G: What has the response to the Together in Art program been?
MP: We are astounded by the extraordinarily positive response we have received from our community in Australia and partners and colleagues around the world. We’ve even been mentioned in The New York Times! Our audience, staff and broader creative community have embraced Together In Art and Together In Art Kids and we are excited to see where the creative journey takes us in the weeks to come.