A day in the life… of a country curator

Ugly marble nude.

Peter Schipperheyn, _Paura dell intima (Fear of intimacy)_, Carrara marble (Italy), 2.4m x 1.56m x 680mm, c.1987. Purchased in 1988 with funds donated by the Moree Cultural Art Foundation.


I know that most work places are a hive of activity – people running back and forth, meetings in progress, phones ringing, emails flying, printers emitting that acrid ‘breakdown imminent’ smell.

Well, my office isn’t like that – quite the opposite in fact. I work in a regional art gallery, housed in a beautiful 1911 Federation ‘free-classical’ building. The large light filled rooms with their art covered walls are predominantly silent. Visitors whisper to each other, parents shush their children and school kids giggle behind their hands at the huge marble nude in the upstairs gallery. I’m not sure who decreed that art galleries and libraries must remain bastions of silent contemplation; I’d love to discuss an interesting painting, a challenging piece of contemporary art, or for that matter, the huge marble nude in the upstairs gallery with anyone with willing to listen.

As it relates to galleries, the unwritten silence clause is entirely misleading. The quiet seems to have created the public opinion that a curator’s job is to ‘sit and look at paintings’. Ahhh, if only …

In reality my day is taken up with a string of meetings, emails, budgets and proposals. Not so very different from any professional, except the budgets are inevitably dwindling and the proposals are increasingly ambitious. Knowing the fashionable allure of an ‘arts’ career I have tried to distil my day into one word that will make my job – my life – seem glamorous and exciting, but really it amounts to one thing: planning. Planning the next exhibition, grant application, exhibition opening, education activity, research paper, acquisition, artist residency, board meeting, grant acquittal, sponsorship proposal, touring exhibition, fundraiser, magazine article, marketing campaign …

As it relates to galleries, the unwritten silence clause is entirely misleading.

Oh, and that’s not to mention the imperative to ensure that each of the above can be described with one of the following buzz words: Innovative. Influential. Pivotal. Seminal. Ground-breaking.

Admittedly, I am periodically overwhelmed by the inevitable stress on my micro team of two, but the challenge is addictive. And therein lies the crux of the matter. I love my job. I have to pinch myself when I look forward to spending my Sundays working on a three year strategic plan that’s due in a month. The action prompted by that plan will engage people from all walks of life in cultural endeavours that inspire and educate. And that is exciting, pivotal, influential even. Beyond the ‘quiet’ exhibitions in the gallery itself, we produce an array of programs that embrace disadvantaged youths, people living with disabilities, drought effected farmers and their families, plus a host of artists struggling to have their practice recognised.

And in Moree where we have some of the worst crime statistics in NSW, that could truly make a child’s life better.[1] So in three years’ time when I use my weekend to work through the paperwork to acquit this plan, I know the results will inspire me to do it all over again.

Perhaps in that time I can introduce some noise into the gallery.

[1] Rachel Olding, “NSW’s new crime capital: Moree”, Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Sep 2014.


Meet Vivien Thompson, aka Country Curator, the enthusiastic new Director of Moree Plains Gallery. Vivien hails from Brisbane and cut her teeth on roles at the National Gallery of Victoria and University of Queensland Art Museum before following her career and heart west. She’ll be bringing you updates over the coming months about country culture and the treasures contained within the Moree Plains Gallery collection, so here’s a taste of what’s to come.

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