Border Mail Column Wednesday 2 February 2011
Growing up in the outer western suburbs of Sydney and later in large regional towns the visual arts weren’t a great part of my early life.
I’m sure we had some prints on the wall as well as the family photo gallery, but from memory we didn’t visit art galleries; popping into the local gallery to look at an exhibition wasn’t something families like ours did and on weekends we were busy with other pursuits like sport, ballet, music or visiting relatives.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens and at university that I started to mix with people who had grown up with art as an integral part of their world; many of them were from the city and perhaps had more access to this world.
Evidence of my lack of knowledge in this area even caused me some embarrassment.
One busy Friday night at the restaurant I worked at in Bathurst one of the guests sat down and played the piano in a definitely non melodic manner. This began to intrude on the dining experience of other guests.
I asked the owner if we should ask him to stop playing.
‘No,’ said the boss in an affronted manner. ‘That’s Brett Whiteley.’
‘Who’s Brett Whiteley?’ I replied.
I’m now much more familiar with Mr Whiteley’s work and relieved he didn’t change courses and keep on with the piano.
But, in the late seventies in the regions attitudes to the arts, especially to the visual arts, were changing and there was more recognition of the importance of art to a community.
There was investment in cultural facilities including galleries and museums; local government wasn’t just about roads, rubbish and new sporting venues.
Predictably there were the naysayers: surely only the well off were interested in going to galleries to view works that some believed their child could do better.
I don’t have any statistics to back up that last statement, but there now are stats available which clearly show that galleries and museums are spaces for all.
Over the past two years Museums and Galleries New South Wales has been surveying people who visit not only the galleries in the metropolitan area but also those in the regions including Albury.
The study found that people who visit galleries are very representative of their respective populations: they were from every income group, every age group and every level of education; in the case of regional galleries half live in the local government area in which their gallery is located.
In terms of income four out of ten people had an income of less than $40,000 a year, while only two out of the ten earned more than $80,000 a year clearly illustrating that a visit to the gallery isn’t exclusively a pastime of those with a higher income.
It also emerged that people don’t mind going to a gallery alone, find it’s a safe place to be and having enjoyed the experience return.
Visitation doesn’t necessarily depend on the exhibition, although the recent Goya and the current Archibald exhibitions at the Albury gallery do bring in the crowds.
It’s a coup to have works by the finalists and the winner of the Archibald, one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious art prizes at the gallery.
I took some time out yesterday to view it and literally came face to face with some of our best known personalities interpreted in a range of styles by some of our greatest artistic talent.
My visit confirmed the study’s findings: Going to the gallery is a terrific experience.