JADE IRVINE reflects on the role of national museums and galleries in regional and rural Australia.
There are plenty of jokes about the state being left off maps of Australia, momentarily forgotten. What happens when lutruwita/Tasmania is figuratively, put back on the map?
Maybe I’m being too cynical about my home state, and it’s all about perspective. Housing crisis or a housing boom, at least people want to be here!
In thinking about regionality, I have lived in lutruwita/Tasmania my whole life. I grew up in Glenorchy, a city in Hobart’s northern suburbs. The city is a five-minute drive from Berriedale, the home of Mona – the Museum of Old and New Art. Right across the road from Mona is the Granada Tavern, a pub I have visited many times with my family and slurped many raspberry lemonades. The dining room consists of relatively dark furnishings which make Keno screens glow more intensely.
With Mona just across the road from my childhood haunts – I have been presented with an opportunity to reflect on the role of regionality in accessing the arts. Sure, there’s the phenomenon of the “Mona effect”, but has the museum led to substantial cultural, meaningful, and economic changes within the local community?
I have spent the past year thinking about the role of museums and galleries, and one of the most pressing concerns has been of access. What are the changes we want to see in the next couple of years? How can we promote inclusion and equity in the arts? What is the role of art in bringing about these cultural shifts?
I remember the story of David Walsh putting chocolate bars in the letterboxes of Berriedale residents. The idea was that some of these bars contained a “golden ticket”, which included a free ticket to a ritzy Mona opening. It’s a gesture, sure, and it’s fun. But what are the flow on effects of residents in this area feeling like this gallery is a space for them? A place where they belong?
Having close access to art works has allowed me to develop my viewing habits. It felt amazing to visit a Hokusai print and to enter a Kusama infinity room right on my doorstep. I would visit exhibitions multiple times because of how easy it was to get there. I remember one morning when my Nan and I went to visit James Turrell’s Armana skyspace. Not only was it free to visit, but it was five minutes away and a beautiful work to visit together.
The recent unveiling of the Revive National Cultural Policy has instilled me with a great deal of optimism in looking to the next five years. The trouble isn’t with regionality, the trouble with the arts is broader systemic issues which result in a lack of access and inclusion. I hope the prioritisation and support for the arts continues in coming years, and that people from regional and rural Australia are part of these conversations.
According to the National Gallery of Australia’s Statement of Intent, approximately 65% of visitors to the National Gallery are from interstate. What are the symbolic and logistical implications of holding a national collection in the first place? What about the issues pertaining to diversity, equity, centring First Nations voices, and providing adequate and meaningful representation? What does consultation look like, and how can it be enacted in a way that isn’t mostly extractive?
In thinking about the next 40 years, we need to find ways to support people to access the gallery, and to connect with the collection.
Travelling exhibitions to regional and rural Australia are important in building the inclusive arts engagement we need. Decentralisation of the collection is also encouraging. 1058 pieces were loaned in 2021–2022. I’m excited to see how these figures change with the announcement of the National Gallery’s new sharing the collection initiative. We’ll have to see how it works, but it seems to be on the right track.
Instead of the national collection, I’m calling it the national connection. Why else should we bother to keep it around? A historical record is one thing, but to engage with it provides something more meaningful. Imagine the sense of joy in knowing these cultural artefacts exist, and that others can continue to experience them too.
The arts are fundamentally human, and we should be reminded of that on every occasion we engage with art. It’s matter of reciprocity. I hope that the voices of people from regional areas are heard in national conversations and decision-making processes. We’re on the map. It’s a priority.