Winning hearts and minds

Art education programs are an integral element in gallery visitation and community engagement. Successful education programs paired with thoughtfully curated exhibitions can counteract problematic perceptions of art institutions as being the rightful home to society’s cultural elite, and open up galleries as a centre for community collaboration and engagement.

Innovative education programs create inclusive spaces for diverse and multi-generational community interaction. They democratise and demystify art. They assist visitors to make their own individual and personal connections with art.   

If visitors, patrons and local communities are to feel as invested in their local gallery as they are to their favourite football team, a vibrant sense of community or public ownership needs to be encouraged. Visitors will only cheer and champion art institutions if exhibitions and associated programs are accessible and relevant. A good education program provides all this and more for those who want and expect interactivity and participation.

Easier said than done. Multiple ingredients go into successful art education programs and with diverse audiences to cater for, and small budgets to operate with, designing a dynamic one can be a challenge. But a growing number of Sydney metropolitan galleries, both public and private, successfully deliver tailored and innovative programs encouraging engagement and participation. Here’s a bit of a round up to whet your appetite for what’s on offer.

Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, located in southern Sydney, designs exhibitions and programs to intersect with their studio program, school workshops and weekend master classes. Kate Milner, Education & Public Programs Coordinator at Hazelhurst believes that effective education and public programming “includes a range of programs for the public from young to old so there is something for everyone”.

Hazelhurst offers some of the best on an ongoing basis. ‘Art Engage’, is a free art appreciation and making program for people with dementia, and ‘At Night’ is anevening exhibition event targeted at the area’s youth. Milner emphasises that “many of the programs involve ‘hands-on’ art making for each audience to add deeper engagement, fun and meaning to the visit”.

Visitors will only cheer and champion art institutions if exhibitions and associated programs are accessible and relevant.

Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) also has a broad portfolio of education and public program catering for primary and secondary students, students with special needs, community group Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, families and emerging artists. Learning and education programs appear front and centre on many of MCA’s online and digital platforms.    

Georgia Close, Manager of Student and Teacher Engagement at MCA highlights that the MCA “makes sure our programs are playful and hands-on. We like to take unexpected starting points to spark creative ideas and new ways of thinking.” MCA supports teachers by providing professional development programs, practical ideas and student resources to take back to the classroom.

The education program at White Rabbit Gallery in Chippendale, who specialise in contemporary Chinese art, is headed up by Phyllis Rowlinson a secondary school teacher with over 30 years’ experience. She has implemented ‘living brochures’ a model where floor staff or invigilators provide highly detailed explanations on the political, historical and artistic context of the work to give audiences a deeper understanding.  

White Rabbit also runs a monthly open Book Club in the gallery’s library space, providing participants an opportunity to discuss selected novels, memoirs, historical accounts, and current-affairs books related to China and its art.

These galleries understand their audience, community and visitors needs well and are able to shape education programs to make their spaces accessible and inclusive. Get along and partake of one today!


Meet Paula Perugini Kelly; gallery professional, art educator and culture enthusiast.

We call her PaulaPK and she’s one of our Roving Reporters. She’ll be giving us her insights every month in M&Gazine as she takes a look into both well-known art hubs and hidden gems. You can find her on Twitter at @PaulaPerugini 


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