The new director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) has announced a bold new direction for the state gallery.
- In recent years the gallery has had falling visitor numbers and donations
- New director Colin Walker plans to use social media to entice the public
- The gallery will highlight Indigenous art and artists in its redesign
Colin Walker wants to transform the historic institution into a broadcast media organisation, drawing in visitors looking for the perfect backdrop for their selfies.
Mr Walker recently took over from Stefano Carboni, who departed after a decade as at the helm of the state gallery.
While Mr Carboni came to Perth from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and spearheaded blockbuster exhibitions from Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol, he left the gallery with falling visitor numbers and declining donations.
To turn those numbers around, Mr Walker has plans to turn the gallery into a “broadcast sort of media company that also has a venue”.
“I want to bring a sense of theatricality,” he told ABC Radio Perth.
“We can use light, sound and drama, and create small and large spaces that can take people who don’t come to the gallery on an experiential journey.”
‘We can create rock stars’
Mr Walker’s approach will involve creating film content from the gallery’s exhibitions to use for “brand development, social media, storytelling, and artist discussions”.
He has already made improvements to the lighting systems, to display the art with social media in mind.
“We’ll create all these different entry points — not just for younger people, because they are really comfortable with technology and engaging in culture in all kinds of ways,” he said.
“But I want people to play with [the content] in some way as well.
This playfulness will stand in contrast to the brutalist architecture of the gallery building in central Perth, which he said feels foreboding to potential visitors.
He will also rearrange the Indigenous art collection, making big changes to the entrance and ground floor of the building to highlight homegrown artists.
“Tourists really want to understand the Aboriginal story of this place and for me it’s about the welcome.”
Uncertain year for the gallery
Mr Walker’s recent appointment follows a rudderless year for the Art Gallery of WA after the departure of Stefano Carboni last June.
The arts bureaucrat was initially seconded from the state’s Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries as an interim leader but was appointed full time to the role after a global search.
That recruitment process came under criticism when it was revealed the salary range being offered closer to that of a regional gallery rather than a large metropolitan institution.
Shelagh Magadza, executive director WA Chamber of Arts and Culture said this type of saving from the state government has drastically impacted the state’s cultural life.
“I would hope that any strategic vision for these organisations encompasses both the business and creative leadership needed to move them forward,” she said.
Responding to concerns that bureaucrats do not have real-world experience, Mr Walker said he has the contacts and team around him to effectively manage the gallery’s transformation.
“I never expected to be in the arts, it’s quite hilarious in some ways that a bureaucrat is running our state gallery, but what every head of every organisation does is bring really good people in to cover their weaknesses and you work together as a team to get the best results possible,” he said.
“An art gallery is an incredible physical space.
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