The art of reinvention


National Public Galleries Summit

5th National Public Galleries Conference Bendigo

140 delegates from all states and territories assembled to hear Karen Quinlan, Director, Bendigo Art Gallery and current President of Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV), set the scene for three days of enthusiastic discussion and collegial debate around future directions of the public gallery sector. 

The opening Keynote by artist Patrick Pound foreshadowed an exciting program. Titled To collect or to curate is to gather your thoughts through things, Pound described a practice that commenced several years ago when he began putting together collections of found things that, despite their differences, might be understood to hold references to a single idea. One of these ‘collections’ or artworks, titled The Gallery of Air, featured hundreds of things that contained an ‘idea of air’ – for example, an old asthma inhaler, or a photo of a man battling a stiff breeze, you get the idea.

Tony Ellwood, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria,  delivered a rapid fire and energetic Keynote on the decision making and resourcing around project components that drove his hugely successful Melbourne Now exhibition (which included Pound’s The Gallery of Air). He discussed his support for artists and the commissioning of new work, the importance of properly resourcing and imagining ways to engage with children and families, and the range of carefully targeted publications, delivered across platforms.    


... the PGAV Board has been considering the need for a distinct national advocacy body for the public gallery sector. This need has grown out of a perceived disaffection with the support provided by Museums Australia (MA) to the public gallery sector.

Appropriately, both Pound and Ellwood’s talks illustrated not only their professional practice but also the dynamics of the conference itself – a collection of gallery professionals, of ideas about art and exhibitions, discussions about rethinking leadership, the reinvention of advocacy and challenges of our representative roles. These themes pervaded the forum Future Directions for the Public Gallery Sector facilitated by Karen Quinlan on day two of the summit that sparked a debate about representation and collaboration at a national level.

For some time, the PGAV Board has been considering the need for a distinct national advocacy body for the public gallery sector. This need has grown out of a perceived disaffection with the support provided by Museums Australia (MA) to the public gallery sector and PGAV initiated research that draws a significant distinction to the work public art galleries do when compared to collection focussed museums. While arguments about this proposition can blaze away, there is no doubt that public perceptions (and audience interest) see each as different entities.

After the conference MA released a statement flagging their support for a robust discussion with the public galleries sector about how best the interests of that group are served. MA recognises that Australia’s public galleries operate with a very high degree of professionalism, audience engagement and curatorial excellence, and in some key operational aspects differ from the wider museum community. See the attached statement.

Despite their limited resources, PGAV delivered a focussed, challenging and enjoyable summit in the remarkable architecture and historical presence of Bendigo.   

Michael Rolfe


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