WYNDHAM ART GALLERY – A DECADE OF AMAZING ART
In November 2011 I had the privilege of being employed by the City of Wyndham as the first curator at Wyndham Art Gallery, a three-day-a-week position for which I am eternally grateful.
My first impression of the space was of something between a toilet block and a train station waiting room. This was largely to do with the horrible lino on the floor and the odd shape of the upstairs space. It was certainly not a glamourous gallery to be programming, but I had a sense of freedom because nobody, not even the residents (of which I was one), expected very much. It was certainly not any competition for the Melbourne galleries. This meant that it could be anything, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to be a part of creating what it would become.
I was invited to do the Christmas decorations in the foyer of the Wyndham Cultural Centre that first year and decided to create something that would prompt consideration of our carbon footprint during the Christmas season. It became known as – The Black Christmas Tree – a large pine tree painted black and a display of what I considered elegant decorations throughout the foyer. It was the biggest and perhaps most significant controversy associated with the gallery, headlining the front page of the local newspaper with Offended by Colour. This prompted me to consider what would be the background agenda of future programming at the gallery. My intention became about how to entice the community to learn about one another and discover new ways of looking at the world, using art to both challenge and delight. Thankfully this was also in alignment with Wyndham City Council’s plan.
I have to thank all the artists, both local and abroad, who supported me in this quest and helped to develop the reputation of the gallery, which has far exceeded my first impressions.
In 2015 the gallery program had expanded its remit beyond one person three days a week and demanded another part-time curator. Wyndham Art Gallery was very lucky to entice my friend and colleague Maree Clarke to come on board. Maree’s First Nations ways of knowing and being influenced me and infiltrated the gallery’s programming, and together we were able to produce some of my favourite exhibitions over the following five years. Maree’s now-famous ability as an artist to ‘super-size’ her cultural belongings was evident beforehand in her super-sizing of our ideas.
One example was her commitment to organising thirty people from different language groups to read the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the opening of the RACE 2016 exhibition, in thirty different mother tongues. The short timeline to organise this made it unthinkable at first, but in the end we did it and produced one of the most moving and memorable openings we have had.
Maree and I brainstormed naturally, collaborating and curated intuitively, a rare but fortunately not totally unique experience as I have now discovered working with Maree’s replacement, Olivia Poloni. In 2019 Maree left Wyndham Art Gallery to pursue her flourishing and dynamic art career.
We have been supported by many wonderful people in council, many of whom have now left, such as CEO Kelly Grigsby, Jamie Smith, David Fitzsimmons and Bec Cole; today, we acknowledge the fabulous Tegan Lang and Donna Aston. We have always been enabled by a forward-thinking council, willing to take risks and provide a platform for the voices that make up our community.
Wyndham Art Gallery is about to expand its footprint with the development of the Wyndham Cultural Centre. It is a moment worth considering: what it will take for all galleries to open their doors, hearts and minds to include all people at all levels of power, enabling a cultural life that enriches us all, one in which everyone can see themselves reflected back?
A world where ‘mainstream’ is no longer just ‘whitestream’.