I have taken an interest in, as Mathew Keim (2013) describes it, the ‘transformative potential of craft’ as a result of conducting field research on creative forms of repair at two galleries hosting the exhibition of my previous project Object Therapy. These are Noosa Regional Gallery and Design Tasmania. These galleries and their communities of users and designers  have enthusiastically taken up the spirit of the research, understanding that creative forms of repair are different from ‘business as usual’ design and craft. Some have taken inspiration from its challenge, some have found it fulfils a desire to care for others or the environment, and some have found it strangely familiar –a new twist on existing forms of ‘make-do’ and bush-craft culture.

My co-investigator Nik Rubenis and I will be writing up this research in the coming months. In the meantime I have come to the conclusion that regional galleries can and do play an important role in creating cultural shifts that might transition Australia to a more sustainable and less resource/energy intense society.

Which leads me to ask: what kinds of galleries are best suited to propel such transitions, and how many of them are there?

The first part of the question can be answered basically by noting some of the characteristics of Noosa Regional Gallery and Design Tasmania:

  • they are in regional areas*,
  • they are well connected with their communities of practitioners and audience/clientele,
  • they exhibit national and state touring exhibitions,
  • they are small-to-medium sized organisations that foster the industries of visual arts, craft and design, and
  • they are able to scales across a method or means of sustainable practice to their communities

In other words, they mediate and engage in the production and consumption of material objects and culture. Loosely speaking, I would say these are these are key attributes required to make a change to material culture, use and consumerism in regional Australia.

Actually, the regional aspect by itself is not that important, because metro galleries too can and should play a part in sustainable transitions, so to answer the second part of the question I also consider those metro galleries and organisations, like the Australian Design Centre and JamFactory Craft and Design, that engage with regional galleries as hosts and partners of touring shows, though their number is relatively smaller.

Firstly, Margaret Rich writing for the National Museum of Australia in 2011, noted the number of regional galleries rose from 29 in 1971 to 52 in 1995, indicating an upwards trajectory to the present. This corresponds to the figure from the National Touring Survey Report, that included 95 galleries Australia-wide, including metro galleries, not including those organisations contacted that didn’t respond to the survey.  In 2017, NAVA identified 254 galleries as a key number of small to medium visual arts organisations in each state and territory for their 2017 SM2 economics report, though this includes some kinds of galleries that fall outside the criteria I propose above, namely, service organisations and Artist Run Initiatives (ARIs). Removing these obtains a figure of around 156 to 170 galleries Australia-wide (NAVA, 2017: 37). Wanting to check that figure and potentially exclude other organisations and galleries that fall outside my criteria, I did a quick count of galleries using state-based sources, taking care to exclude larger state- or national-level organisations, as well as ARIs, technology and history museums, and galleries specialising in one particular artist, movement or genre (such as indigenous art galleries), but keeping some galleries (such as timber craft galleries), that are intrinsically connected to design or craft based material culture.

My sources were:

This comes to a total of around 170 to 200 Australia wide, so roughly, but perhaps slightly larger, than the equivalent number calculated by NAVA. For a small country, population-wise, I think this means there is great potential and lots of scope for working with these kinds of galleries and organisations for local and sustainable transitions in material culture, production, consumption and use.

References:

  • Kiem, M., (2011) “Theorising a transformative agenda for craft”, craft + design enquiry, vol. 3.
  • National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), Rod Campbell, Cameron Murray, Sam Brennan, Jordie Pettit (2017) S2M: The economics of Australia’s small-to-medium visual arts sector, NAVA: https://visualarts.net.au/media/uploads/files/S2M_Report_NAVA2017_singlepages_1.pdf
  • Rich, M (2011) “Regional Museums”, in Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), 2011, Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia, published online at nma.gov.au/research/understandingmuseums/

* Design Tasmania is, as it sounds, a state-level gallery, but is based in Launceston which is a regional area according to the Modified Monash Model (MMM2) used to define organisations applicable for Regional Arts funding.

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