ArtBank are making visual art accessible in a new way

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ArtBank are making visual art accessible in a new way


ArtBank’s mission since 1980 has been to make Australian contemporary visual art accessible in ways other art establishments don’t. With the opening of their new location at Collingwood, their special Open House event is an opportunity for people to orientate their way through the collection.

“Just imagine,” says Director Tony Stephens, “Instead of going to the NGV and looking at paintings on the wall or artwork in a room, you can go through a door and you’re in the collection store, where they keep all the paintings. You can pull out the racks and decide what you want to look at and what you don’t. You can see paintings by people you know and right next to it is something by someone you’ve never heard of. To walk this journey is quite self-directed but also full of unexpected outcomes.”

What’s on offer to visitors is a very hands-on experience. “Very immersive,” Stephens says. “The racking system is a big steel structure that pulls out from each side into the centre hallway. You can be there and have a rack out and someone’s pulled a rack out behind you and before you know it you’re in a room of art that is ever-shifting, ever-moving.”

Artbank have established an effective way to open the idea of contemporary and visual art to the general public. Of course, it’s not the only way to approach such an idea, but this event will aim to breakdown perceived barriers about art and have people engage with works. “Art doesn’t have to be viewed in a temple of the arts, like a gallery or an industry space, it doesn’t have to be all quiet and revered, it can actually be something alive and fun that can move and is unexpected. By allowing people into our collection store we’re making a statement about how things can be different and about how you as the audience can have as much say in that as the institution does.”

The collection housed by Artbank is extensive, with over 10,000 works, many of which are loaned out to other establishments around the globe. While there won’t be any new works making their debut on the opening evening, Stephens says in a sense some works will be debuted as they’ll be viewed for the first time by many. “You may or may not have heard of a piece,” says Stephens. “The collection is being debuted in Melbourne for the first time, that’s probably the best way to look at it.”

With the special opportunity for the public to access the best of contemporary art comes a special opportunity for artists to create work with Artbank’s Studio Program. This scheme may also help change an artist’s perceptions of the art industry, too. “One of our core missions is to support artists,” Stephens says. “We all know the way the property market is going and the diminishing opportunities for artists to inhabit the inner city – we wanted to create a space that was very much about artists creating work.

“But not just artists, it could be curators or academics or people working in the visual arts or design fields that needed space, for a time of their choosing. It’s not a traditional studio programme, we’ll do an open call and ask how long and when they need [the space] then we’re going to try and create a jigsaw puzzle across a 12 or 24 month period where we can fit in as many people as possible and meet as many needs as possible. We’re going to pay them a bursary to be there, to support them financially and physically and hopefully for a number of them, engage them in what we do.

“If we show a new model of something that hasn’t been tried, maybe it’ll be the catalyst for change in the industry more broadly. Importantly, what we really want to change is the perception in the broader community and have them feel this sense of ownership over this type of artwork – the visual arts – because it really is a reflection of what’s going on out in broader society. It’s not separate from it, it’s really connected to it, so hopefully we can shift perceptions all around.”