A lot of things have been changing at the New England Regional Art Museum over the past year. We caught up with Robert Heather, Art Museum Director to find out more about what has been going on and what we can expect to see in 2018.
We hear there has been a lot of change at the art museum. What has been happening?
It has been an extremely busy year here at NERAM, with a variety of exhibitions and events throughout 2017 which have appealed to a wide range of audiences across the community. These have ranged from the works of local artists like Hilary Pollock, through to a major retrospective exhibition of paintings by Elisabeth Cummings, one of Australia’s most important living artists. There have also been talks, tours, performances, concerts, dinners and a whole range of community activities.
The main change has been the work done to the exterior of the building, which we have completely replaced with Kingspan cladding, which has given the whole facility a sleek new contemporary look. The cladding has also improved the thermal performance of our building, leading to smaller power bills.
What do you see as the highlights of 2017 at NERAM?
We had so many great exhibitions and events, but the one which really stood out for me was the Black Gully Festival in November and the performance by the Yanaya ensemble. The festival was fantastic; we see it as an important way to activate community ownership and involvement in the whole site. It was great to see a wide cross section of people visiting the site, wandering around, eating at the stalls, enjoying the music and taking part in the activities. I think the whole community is hungry for the Black Gully to be made more accessible as a public parklands, and we have been lobbying the Council to come up with a masterplan for the whole site.
The real highlight though, was the Yanaya performance on the main stage by David Leha (Radical Son) and a group of young indigenous men and women from across the region. This has been a project that NERAM has been working on with Beyond Empathy all year. The final event was just amazing – a polished hour-long performance that used indigenous language as a starting point and ranged between soul, hip-hop and country music, with all the participants demonstrating incredible talent and skill.
You recently attended the NSW Business Chamber Awards in Sydney as a finalist. Why is the art museum winning business awards?
Unlike most regional galleries, which are local government facilities, the New England Regional Art Museum Ltd is a small not-for-profit business which must raise its own revenue and income. We also look closely at reducing our costs, and we originally entered our “Sustainable NERAM” program into the Armidale Business Chamber awards to promote awareness of what we have been doing to be more financially and environmentally sustainable. We won the “Excellence in Sustainability” category and then went on to the regional and finally the state awards, where we were a finalist.
Our “Sustainable NERAM” program pulls together the work we have been doing to improve our facilities and processes, including replacing lights with LED lighting systems, installing solar panels on the roof, recladding the building exterior and tinting windows, but is much more as well. These activities have re-energised NERAM’s supporters and become a source of community pride, made the building much more attractive and created opportunities for us to reposition ourselves as one of the best regional arts facilities in the state.
What exactly is different and what changes will visitors see when they come to look at the art?
The first thing you will notice is that the art museum looks brand new, thanks to our new exterior cladding – the whole building looks better. Then when you come in, the exhibitions are looking better with our new LED lighting system, which enables us to control light levels within the spaces.
In early 2018 we will be opening our new permanent exhibition, HINTON: Treasures of Australian art which will be a “salon hang” of over 100 paintings from the nationally significant Howard Hinton Collection, which will always be on display so you can bring visitors to see them, as well as get to know your own favourite artworks better. We want this to be a destination exhibition that people travel to Armidale to see and discover.
What can we expect during 2018 at NERAM?
We have a great range of exhibitions lined up for 2018, with something for everyone. We kick off the year with the gorgeous paintings of Lucy Culliton and a new series of Print Room exhibitions, showcasing the work of printmaking artists from around the country. We will have some of Australia’s leading artists responding to the centenary of WWI in the exhibition In their Footsteps, as well as leading contemporary indigenous artists responding to our region’s history in Myall Creek and beyond.
A big group of local photographers have responded to the region’s landscape and community in Terry Cooke’s crowd-funded book and exhibition New England High Country, while painters Colin Isaacs, Rita Winiger and Christine Porter explore local subjects and Walcha based ceramic artist Myfanwy Gulliver’s quirky sculptures are sure to be a hit later in the year.
How can we get involved in NERAM?
The best way is always to come in and see what we have on display, dine in our café and buy a great gift at the NERAM Shop. If you like what you see, we would love for you to sign up for our e-newsletter, like us on Facebook or become a member of the Friends of NERAM, so you can find out what we are doing and what is on at the art museum. If you are interested in getting more involved, it is easy to make a donation to the NERAM Foundation, Adopt-an-Artwork or become a volunteer. There are lots of ways that you can support us and we are happy to talk to you about all of them.