Collection as Nexus: Community, Culture, Connections

John Coburn, Sacred site, 1987, screenprint. Image courtesy of the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

Wagga Wagga Art Gallery is the home of the Margaret Carnegie Print Collection, which holds over fifteen hundred original works by Australian artists. For the past three years this collection has been used as a nexus for education and engagement programs, making connections through printmaking.

These broad ranging programs have built upon and expanded successive iterations of outreach initiatives that have used printmaking to involve community and cultural perspectives. The success of these programs has also been founded upon partnerships across multiple institutions, particularly between the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), and the Arts Unit of the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities.

One of the programs, Ngulagambilanha: be returning home, has used artworks by Indigenous artists H J Wedge, Tommy McRae, and Lorraine Connelly-Northey from the AGNSW collection, and, from the Margaret Carnegie Print Collection, Wiradjuri artist Roy Kennedy’s prints My original mission – Darlington Point and Booligal weigh station. These etchings have been used as a catalyst for students to explore techniques and ideas at the on-site workshops at Wagga Wagga, which also drew heavily upon the AGNSW education kit Home: Aboriginal art from New South Wales.

Kennedy also participated in a video-excursion from the AGNSW during this program. Kennedy provided a particularly strong focus as he grew up on Police Paddock Mission during the Depression, then moved away when his mission closed in 1941. His work draws on ‘his mother’s stories and his own experience … documenting a life of dislocation and deprivation, from the Depression years up until the abolition, in 1940, of the notorious Aborigines Protection Board that managed the missions in New South Wales.’[1]

Roy Kennedy, My original mission – Darlington Point, undated, etching. Image courtesy of Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.

Another education program KaPOW! (Kids and Print Outreach Workshops) has featured a broad range of prints from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, including G. W. Bot, Jock Clutterbuck, John Coburn, Rona Green, Treahna Hamm, Arone Raymond Meeks, and Judy Watson. These works have provided models for different printmaking techniques which were then integrated into participatory workshops. For example, John Coburn’s Sacred site screenprint was used to model the reduction relief printmaking process.[2]

This expansive suite of programs has generated a synergistic flow of energy, creativity and expertise across a broad range of regional, remote and rural communities. The Gallery itself has provided a welcoming environment to bring together local Indigenous representatives, specialist print educators, curatorial staff across multiple disciplines, and learners of all ages. In addition, the development of complementary outreach programs has brought the Gallery out of the institutional framework and into the wider region – significantly encouraging participation from community groups lacking previous experience of arts-focused education activities.

Engagement programs such as KaPOW! and Ngulagambilanha demonstrate how the use of well-established collections can provide an innovative and rich means of reaching out into communities, as well as extending the traditional exhibition focus of galleries. Many different programs can be initiated and structured around these collections, relating to cultural contexts, art making and appreciating. Such programs also enable the development of strong connections between the art gallery and its collections, and the community not just within the artistic sphere but well beyond. In turn, this provides opportunities to open up a greater discourse around cultural practices, community engagement and artistic practice in reference to collections.

 

Gulbalanha: know and understand each other is the culmination of the second utilisation of the partnership between AGNSW, The Arts Unit and WWAG. On display at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery from 17 September to 20 November 2016.

 

References

[1] Hetti Perkins in Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2014

[2] Linda Elliott, ‘Catalysing Collections’, Imprint Vol. 48 No. 3, 2013.

Linda Elliott is Curator Education and Public Programs at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery.