Art Gallery of Ballarat director Louise Tegart has responded to accusations the gallery has "mothballed" significant artworks, only for them to be sold off in the future.
I am writing in response to an opinion piece titled 'Diversification of art collection too costly', which was published on January 4 in relation to the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
This is the third piece by this author about the gallery that has contained factual errors as well as unsubstantiated speculation about the gallery's strategies and practices. The claims in this most recent article put the reputation of the Art Gallery of Ballarat, its board and staff at stake.
The piece asserts 'significant artworks - many mothballed in recent times - will be sold off down the track without consultation to make way for more dubious purchases'.
The Art Gallery of Ballarat holds the oldest, largest and most significant regional collection of Australian art and has been built over more than 138 years through donation, purchase and fundraising.
It is the gallery's moral responsibility to the many artists and donors to ensure that as many of these artworks are displayed and rotated as possible.
HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS OPINION PIECE.
We have not 'mothballed' artworks - as well as ensuring that we keep the permanent collection display fresh, we run an active outward loan program with more than 100 artworks each year featuring in significant exhibitions in national, state and regional galleries, which is a noteworthy recognition for Ballarat and the strength of the collection.
Some works which had been on regular display for many years have been taken down recently for much needed conservation treatment in preparation for upcoming exhibitions. For example, later this year, our outstanding collection of Australian Impressionist works will be shown in the exhibition Beating about the bush.
IN OTHER NEWS:
The acquisition and deaccession processes of public galleries are opaque and for good reason - the large number of policies, procedures and approvals ensure artworks are not acquired or disposed of on a whim or to any one individual's taste. The opinion piece's reference to overseas galleries recently selling off works is correct, however in reality there is only a handful of galleries that have done this, to significant criticism from the international gallery industry.
As a trained gallery professional with more than 27 years' public gallery experience and as President of the Public Galleries Association of Victoria and a member of the National Cultural Heritage Committee, I am personally committed to ensuring the Art Gallery of Ballarat maintains the highest international standards of collection development and management and upholds the highest ethical standards.
Deaccessioning remains an ongoing ethical conundrum for galleries as we all struggle with storage and display constraints, but it is no way a means of swapping out one artist's work for another. The gallery has a written collection development strategy focused on covering the history of Australian art since colonisation as well as filling gaps where key artists are not represented. These are ambitious goals and difficult to achieve, given the sheer number of artists producing exceptional work.
The opinion piece acknowledges the importance of ensuring various perspectives that have not been heard or represented previously should be in public collections. Along aiming to include those voices, we are also actively building on our collection strengths such as works on paper, ceramics and works by Ballarat artists. If our equitable approach to collecting with a focus on excellence is deemed 'virtue signalling', then we are all for it.
The assertion that fundraising is critical to future success is correct. The gallery building and collection have been developed through the generous support of generations of donors from the Ballarat community and beyond. Trust is fundamental to fundraising success - fear-mongering undermines this trust and is likely to cause reputational damage.
The assertion that the gallery has no capacity to broaden the representation in the collection except by deaccessioning works or diverting our focus from 'wider organisational needs' is ill-informed - none of the gallery's operational funds go towards artwork acquisitions and funds are kept and managed separately. Both are reported publicly.
The statement audiences were 'on the slide in the months before COVID hit back through the doors' is without foundation. In fact, the opposite is the case, and our surveys show much of our audience is comprised of first-time visitors.
The gallery operates under a strategic plan, which is freely available on the gallery website, and which has a stated goal 'to engage and grow our audiences and to deepen our relationships with diverse communities'.
The gallery also has a large number of internal plans, strategies and policies generated through extensive consultation, such as an Audience Development plan which directly looks at the impact of COVID on operations.
The 'carefully calibrated organisational strategies' which are called for in the opinion piece are already in place to guide the gallery into the future and to help the Ballarat community make the most of the remarkable cultural asset it has built since 1884. Diversification is critical to the future of the gallery - which is why we are working tirelessly through exhibitions, public programs, loans, education programs, social media, fundraising, collection development and outreach to not only retain our existing audience but also to reach those who may not regularly visit.
If COVID has taught us anything, it is that change is constant and cultural organisations must adapt and provide experiences for as broad an audience as possible, both on site and online. We continue to work by the Gallery's motto which was established in 1884 - 'Not for self but for all' - an inclusive statement if ever there was one.
We absolutely welcome dialogue and debate about the gallery, but not spurious claims and opinions that are not based on fact.
I invite everybody, including the opinion piece's author, to visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
Things are always changing including viewpoints and approaches to the collection. The gallery is free, open seven days a week, and most importantly, it belongs to you
- Louise Tegart, Director
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