JUST how Ballarat sees the role of its art gallery is up for debate in light of recent decisions regarding the suitability of our city hosting large international exhibitions.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat has stamped itself as a leading regional institution for Australian art and has proved itself beyond doubt as a major tourism and economic driver for the city.
But there are leaders in our community who believe the gallery should be focused more on exhibitions which have broad appeal from a marketing point of view.
What can be achieved by hosting exhibitions such as the Grace Kelly clothing collection in Bendigo is that the flow on impacts on being able to attract massive patronage from outside a city. This not only has significant financial benefits but also can do wonders for the reputation of a centre. Bendigo Art Gallery has made a name for itself in hosting populist exhibitions and is reaping the rewards in terms of state government support.
That doesn’t mean the model is perfect. But given the competitive nature of Victoria’s regional centres, it has people asking questions about our city’s policy and direction.
The benefits of following the Bendigo model, on the surface, are legitimate. But what impact would it have on the Art Gallery of Ballarat?
Taking on large-scale international exhibitions does not come cheap. Going down this path could reduce the capacity to build on the amazing collection which the gallery already holds. It could sully the message about our gallery being a regional leader in fine art.
A further question is whether the gallery is best placed to host such exhibitions? Indeed space is limited.
One of the problems our city has is the lack of suitable spaces to host large-scale exhibitions or events. Alternatives could include the Mining Exchange or, dare we say, the Civic Hall site. It’s possible the Sporting and Entertainment precinct proposed for the Eureka Stadium site could include suitable space.
Should we try and make the Art Gallery of Ballarat something it is not, or should we instead concentrate on developing a new area which attracts visitors?
The debate is crucial to our tourism and economic direction and until we work out what we want as a city, our regional competitors will continue to outdo us – and that’s something no-one will be happy to accept.