Sector Support and Initiatives
In addition to the national touring program, Museums & Galleries of NSW facilitates artistic output and supports the visual arts through a range of programs developed as part of our Engaging Art program. Through this program we work directly with galleries and their unique communities to grow visitation, participation, enjoyment and engagement, as well as visual arts awareness and opportunities for artists. This also includes the development of a comprehensive suite of resources used by regional and public galleries across the country.
Through our own research and via direct feedback from regional galleries, M&G NSW identified a need to work closely with venues to deliver their priorities in engagement – untapped audiences, First Australians, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Australians and young people – these are essential targets for the strategic vision of galleries across the country, yet they often lack resources and experience to attract and maintain engagement with these groups.
M&G NSW understands the positive impact small to medium sized galleries have on local communities. They inspire their communities and visitors through art, stories and ideas – creating jobs, educational and volunteering opportunities for many ages, as well as community excitement and pride. We recognise that supporting galleries to engage with audiences through our touring exhibitions is vital. These programs provide unique support to the gallery sector, enabling the presentation of Australian artists to a world class standard and assisting with the development of new and broader audiences, as to support long term sustainability. To address the sector’s call for further engagement tools, strategies and digital resources we are devising Cultural Mediation workshops and offerings aligned with our touring exhibitions, but accessible and applicable more broadly.
From 2019, M&G NSW has been investigating the practice of Cultural Mediation with the aim to equip gallery and museum staff with the tools to implement this engagement strategy across the sector, and ultimately deepen the interest and participation of existing audiences, whilst also creating unique pathways to develop new audiences.
The term ‘cultural mediation’ first developed in the 1980s in Europe and North America. Initially associated with the transfer or transmission of knowledge, it has since become known more as an act of forming relationships of mutual exchange between the visiting public, artists, works, objects and the institutions charged with the collection, preservation, interpretation or presentation of cultural objects and material. Today cultural mediation is widespread across continental Europe. France, in particular, has incorporated it into their tertiary studies and mediators are used in large institutions like Palais de Tokyo and the Pompidou Centre.
At the Palais de Tokyo, for example, the role of a Cultural Mediator diverges from those of an invigilator, a gallery host or even an educator. Blue sky thinking is encouraged in their approach to art – there is no right or wrong or any discourse or practice that is meant to be ‘passed on’. That said, the mediators are given ample tools in order to feel enabled to have this experience with visitors.
Cultural Mediation will form an integral part of M&G NSW’s touring package moving forward. All Exhibition Information Packs will now include a training folder that will hold information, links, further reading and suggestions to equip gallery staff, guides and volunteers with knowledge that will help train them as cultural mediators, whilst also providing additional resources for education and front of house teams. Our Exhibition Information Packs accompany every touring show and include artwork lists, promotional details, installation guides, and education resources, among other useful details to aid with a successful exhibition. This new aspect will involve asking artists and curators to compile stories, reading lists, interviews, television episodes, movies, excursion suggestions, and other threads of information that have informed their practices, and may form interest areas for the staff to research, watch and learn from. This could also include helping galleries find specialists with unique interests to speak to staff and audiences, as well as seeking experiences outside the gallery to transport the ideas within an exhibition into the environment surrounding a community. When appropriate, M&G NSW will contract individuals to support the creation of these training folders, including cultural advisers and relevant historians.
On Monday 26 August 2019, M&G NSW in partnership with Artspace presented a trial workshop on the practice of cultural mediation. The presenters included Marion Buchloh-Kollerbohm, Head of Cultural Mediation at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France); Mel O’Callaghan, contemporary Australian artist; Lee Casey, Head of Communications and Engagement, and Ellie Michaelides, Learning & Engagement Coordinator, Science Gallery Melbourne, University of Melbourne; and Emily Sullivan, Curator, Kaldor Public Art Projects.
Among the many take-home messages from the event, cultural mediation is about deepening the engagement of audiences at a peer-to-peer level through personal opinions being shared, knowledge being transferred and audiences with specific needs (such as those living with disability, at-risk youth, and migrant communities) being offered a tailored pathway. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from participants that this is something the sector wants to engage with further. With the outcomes of this day in mind, M&G NSW is planning to host further Cultural Mediation workshops aligned with the Mel O’Callaghan Centre of the Centre tour in 2021.
Rachel Arndt, M&G NSW’s Gallery Programs and Touring Exhibitions Manager, has delivered numerous talks to the sector, reflecting on how Cultural Mediation can operate from an Australian perspective with a regional gallery focus. These have included talks at the GLAMSLAM 2020 at the University of Technology [March 2020]; Art Association of Australia & New Zealand (AAANZ) Conference [December 2019]; and M&G QLD State Conference in Cairns [September 2019]. Further plans to introduce this engagement strategy to the sector more broadly in 2021 include speaking at the Regional Public Galleries NSW Conference 2021 and creating workshops and digital resources aligned with the Just Not Australian tour and the Mel O’Callaghan Centre of the Centre tour in partnership with the Faculty of Arts and Social Science’s Museums and Heritage Studies program at the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland.
It seems there is a need in the sector to improve or explore a new role that can interact with audiences in a more meaningful way
– Cultural Mediation in Practice workshop participant
The video below presents a snapshot of the informative talks and practical guidance delivered at this workshop. For more information on Cultural Mediation, including future workshops, partnerships, and our ongoing commitment to this audience engagement tool, please see here.
PARTICIPATION – ART & COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS
The 2021 touring program includes participatory elements that will involve community interaction, practical learning opportunities, professional development, and new tools for connecting with audiences.
Mel O’Callaghan Centre of the Centre
Utilising sculpture and film, Mel O’Callaghan’s Centre of the Centre explores breath in response to extreme environments. The film reveals life within hydrothermal vents in the depths of the ocean using the submersible Alvin with the support of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Extremophiles living between fierce heat and intense cold, as well as organisms whose only function is breathing, are revealed in this mesmerising film. The sculptural work, taking the form of large curved sheets of glass will be activated by performers trained in the breathing techniques that can lead to altered states of consciousness, an extremity of the human condition. These performers will include a trained expert in this area who has worked with Mel O’Callaghan that M&G NSW will send to each venue to educate interested people within the local community. These performers will lead visitors through cyclical breathing, either through active participation or observation.
Eugenia Lim The Ambassador – Performance
The People’s Currency is a participatory performance work by Eugenia Lim, and will form a part of her touring exhibition The Ambassador. Dressed as a gold Mao-suited ‘ambassador’, Lim will inhabit a factory printing counterfeit currency of her own design at each of the exhibition venues. The public is invited to enter into short-term ‘employment’ on the factory floor. In exchange for basic menial work, they will be remunerated with the counterfeit money. This durational performance will occur over one weekend at each venue where possible, with health restriction taken into consideration. The staff of each venue are encouraged to become employment officers, which involves assisting Lim as the Ambassador, and learning a specially choreographed calisthenics routine that they will perform with the public. Both gallery staff and visitors are able to actively participate in and evaluate the impacts of global capitalism, labour markets and what it means to be a global consumer.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Void Education Symposium
Featuring works by 14 contemporary First Nations artists across sculpture, painting, photography and video, Void offers insights into what can be found in unknown spaces, time and landscapes. Years in development, Void is curated by Wiradjuri woman Emily McDaniel in conjunction with UTS Gallery and Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), and will tour to 8 locations across Australia between 2019 and 2021. To launch the exhibition’s tour, educators from the hosting venues in Canberra, Wagga Waggga, Geraldton, Bendigo, Newcastle, Murwillumbah and Mackay were invited to Bathurst for the Void Education Symposium. They were also joined by volunteer guides from BRAG and other gallery workers from the Central West NSW region.
The symposium program began with a Welcome to Country from Wiradyuri Elders Mallyan Uncle Brian Grant, Dinawan Dyirribang Uncle Bill Allen Jr, Yanhadarrambal Uncle Jade Flynn and Wirribee Aunty Leanna Carr-Smith. Activities then included a tour of the exhibition led by curator Emily McDaniel; an overview of the Void Education and Learning Resource developed by Alice McAuliffe, Amy Bambach, Stella McDonald and Annie-renae Winters; a discussion on cultural protocols from Wiradyuri Elders and Traditional Owners from Gunhigal Mayiny Wiradyuri Dyilang Enterprise and staff at Charles Sturt University; and a reflective yarning circle. These activities focused on developing and promoting appropriate talking points, activities and curriculum connections around the themes of Void and the aspects of Aboriginal culture the artworks speak to.
It was also a rare opportunity to meet the curator and professional staff involved in touring exhibitions of this calibre. The whole event was so well-planned and enjoyable. Thanks so much.
– Void Education Symposium attendee
After the symposium, public programming for the opening of Void commenced with a panel talk moderated by BRAG director Sarah Gurich and featuring artist Jonathan Jones, curator Emily McDaniel, UTS Gallery curator Stella McDonald and M&G NSW’s Gallery Programs & Touring Exhibitions Manager Rachel Arndt. A smoking ceremony was then held by Wiradjuri Elders, which was followed by speeches. The show was officially opened by M&G NSW’s Aboriginal Programs Manager Steve Miller.
The following day, some of the symposium attendees were taken on a tour of Bathurst with Elders Dinawan Dyirribang Uncle Bill Allen Jr and Wirribee Aunty Leanna Carr-Smith. The tour included significant places throughout the Bathurst town as well as atop Wahluu (Mt Panorama).
Just Not Australian digital resources
Gallery educators, front-of-house staff and volunteers actively engage their communities through public programming, enabling safe spaces for discussion, creativity and enquiry for all visitors. Public galleries have requested training on sensitive topics, particularly when debates and questions arise from audiences surrounding culturally diverse perspectives and histories. Aligned with our touring exhibition Just Not Australian, M&G NSW is answering this call with a training program that will equip staff and volunteers to connect with the themes in the show and ultimately be able to translate this information to suit the perspectives and locality of their unique audiences.
For example, Tweed Regional Gallery aim to “reach more deeply into the culturally diverse community that is not always visible in [their] audience” and Blue Mountains Cultural Centre hope to engage “people that suffer hardship and social injustice”.
Planned and already developed outputs include:
- Video profiling Girramay and Kuku Yalanji artist Tony Albert
- Curator video featuring Talia Linz
- A dialogue between seventh-generation Australian Muslim artist Abdul Abdullah and Scottish-born artist Joan Ross on visual tool can disarm sensitive topics surrounding Australian histories
- Audience interaction training in non-verbal communication from a behaviour specialist
- A podcast series of artist talks addressing how contemporary art can be used for cross-cultural discourses
- A Cultural Mediation resource complete with content created by academic Aneshka Mora
- An online forum for gallery staff from different venues to share experiences and ideas
- A youth education kit
[the program would be] providing a safe space for sometimes challenging ideas
– Wollongong Art Gallery
ONLINE FORUMS – CONNECTING TOUR VENUES NATIONALLY
M&G NSW has started to create and host exhibition specific online forums for the staff of our touring exhibition venues to discuss the lessons learned from their audience development and engagement programs, as well as ways to unpack the themes and content of exhibitions. The first online forum has been introduced with the Void tour, launched at the Void Education Symposium at Bathurst Regional Art Gallery in December 2019.
ENGAGING ART INITIATIVE
The Engaging Art Initiative delivered public program activities and marketing strategies for touring exhibitions Soft Core, and Montages: The Full Cut 1999–2015. M&G NSW worked with four host galleries across Australia and an advisory panel of experts in identifying and developing audience engagement strategies relevant to and in collaboration with the communities at each geographic location. In addition to an intensive two-day workshop with the exhibition curators, industry specialists and host venues we have also provided media and promotional support and resources for host venue staff to engage and further connect their community with contemporary art and ideas. Long term outcomes will be achieved for galleries and communities as they further develop capacity and skills whilst delivering new programs and activities, creating pilot initiatives to develop into the future.
The range of participants was fantastic, questions posed could be challenging (great! – I love challenging!) and the support was wonderful. I really enjoyed learning about what happens at other galleries as we are a little isolated in the west! This type of structure where there is sharing with industry professionals as well as staff from regional galleries is perfect.
– Alia Parker, Wanneroo Library and Cultural Centre, WA.
The tour of Tracey Moffatt and Gary Hillberg’s Montages: The Final Cut was fantastically timed given Tracey Moffatt’s participation in the 2017 Venice Biennale, giving BRAG audiences access to work by one of Australia’s pre-eminent artists. The focus on developing and strengthening new audiences through the Engaging Art Program also allowed BRAG to continue to develop relationships with local schools with a focus on creating meaningful engagement and tangible outcomes for students.
– Sarah Gurich, Director, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, NSW.
NATIONAL EXHIBITION REGISTER
The National Touring Initiative (NTI) saw M&G NSW partner with other NETS agencies around the country to develop and deliver People Like Us, a very popular but technologically challenging exhibition requiring M&G NSW to provide professional development support for many of the venues involved, leading to long term upskilling outcomes. Also as part of this project M&G NSW has developed the highly successful exhibition sourcing platform the National Exhibition Register (NER), which showcases exhibitions available to tour from Australian artists and galleries extending the life, visibility and reach of Australian artists’ and curators’ work and providing a valuable resource for venues to access exhibitions which they would not usually be able to curate or source themselves. In 2018, 6,087 users accessed the site from every State and Territory as well as internationally with 22,699 page views. Regional and metropolitan galleries and venues frequently use the free service to source and list touring exhibitions featuring predominantly Australian artists in both solo and group exhibitions.
The National Touring Initiative is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its principal arts funding body, and by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.
The NETS Australia network is composed of seven independent arts organisations from each state and territory with a unified dedication to the presentation, promotion and support of contemporary arts, craft and design to metropolitan and regional audiences across the country.
The NETS Australia network comprises Artback NT, Art on the Move WA, Contemporary Art Tasmania, Country Arts SA, Museums & Galleries of NSW, Museums & Galleries Queensland, and NETS Victoria, and is supported by the Australia Council and state and territory funding bodies.
To support the People Like Us touring exhibition, which travelled to 15 galleries from 2016 to 2019, each venue and NETS agency were invited to take part in a professional development and training workshop at the start of the tour familiarising them with the exhibition, artists and technology. They also received free access to 3D exhibition design software Ortelia Curator to tailor the exhibition to their space. M&G NSW has continued this partnership with Ortelia Interactive, using their software to support the installation and planning of touring exhibition across the country, as well as partnering with them and Wezit France, to deliver a one day introductory workshop on digital engagement at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2019. The workshop gave examples of various digital engagement tools and technologies available and explored ways to manage digital projects, from writing a brief for a developer to devising a budget.
The ideas and discussions that came out of this workshop highlighted a lack of locally relevant guidelines in the area of digital engagement. As a result we are pleased to release three new resources as part of our Engaging Art audience development initiative. They can be used together or separately to develop, implement and resource your next digital project.
- Design Approaches to Digital Projects – A Beginners Guide – Written by Ségolène Valençot, International Projects Manager for digital companyWezit, France, this is a guide to help you brainstorm, research and develop a digital or transmedia project for your museum or gallery.
- Digital Engagement: Connecting with your audience – Written by Lazaros Kastanis, Director at Ortelia Interactive Services, Australia, this is a guide to implementing a digital project, and is intended for anyone planning to use digital technologies to enhance the galley or museum experience using external resources/contractors.
- Digital suppliers list for museums and galleries – This resource is a handy list of suppliers to start you on your journey into expanding reach through digital tools.
M&G NSW plans to continue partnering with technology providers targeting the museum and gallery sector throughout 2021 and beyond, particularly as the desire and necessity for digital engagement are increasing and diversifying with the changing nature of how we work and are entertained online.
In consultation with the sector and experts Engaging Art is also developing a suite of practical resources that supports audience engagement. The resources listed below range from guidance on publicity and PR questions, actively attracting young people to your organisation, conducting audience research, and designing meaningful cultural experiences through public programming.
Museums & Galleries of NSW has also produced a list of resources available on our website to guide galleries with knowledge and problem shooting suggestions for a range of issues, that galleries are often seeking advice on, including setting up projectors and using media players.
Engaging Art has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.