State’s landmark gallery has social distancing down to a fine art

When QAGOMA was forced to close its doors to the public late last month, its leaders quickly turned their attention to figuring out how they could best keep Queensland art lovers engaged with the galleries’ collection while they were at home.

Apr 28, 2020, updated May 07, 2020
QAGOMA's curator of Indigenous art Katina Davidson inspects one of Mavis Ngallametta's painting 'Bushfires'.

QAGOMA's curator of Indigenous art Katina Davidson inspects one of Mavis Ngallametta's painting 'Bushfires'.

QAGOMA, comprised of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, attracted more than 1.7 million visitors last year, and although the galleries already had a healthy online presence, team members and curators have been working diligently to create virtual experiences that are as immersive as possible while audiences are unable to physically visit.

As director Chris Saines said in a post to QAGOMA’s website earlier this month: “Looking at opportunities as much as challenges, we are crystallising and fast-tracking projects across our digital platforms … Our commitment to bridging the connection between art, artists and audiences is not remotely undimmed – indeed it’s never been more vital.”

The result is the #HomewithQAGOMA, a collection of online content that builds on recent exhibitions such as Water with video tours and re-purposed digital content drawn from its collection of more than 17,000 works, and archive of talks and interviews with artists.

“We may not be open but we’re still here, and there are plenty of opportunities to engage in lots of different ways,” QAGOMA’s head of public engagement Tamsin Cull told InQueensland.

“We’re really just very fortunate to live in this age where there are these digital platforms we can use to really bring things to life.”

A student participates in one of QAGOMA’s at-home activities. (Photo: Josef Ruckli, QAGOMA)

Cull said the QAGOMA team had been working on a diverse series of programs as part of #AtHomeWithQAGOMA, which will be rolled out over the next month.

“Some of these already are online, for example we’ve got a new kids tour called Planet Protectors, which is a tour of key works in the Water exhibition, it’s a really engaging kids’ tour,” she said.

“We’re also doing a whole suite of what we call our quiet programs for both kids and adults where people can engage in online yoga, meditation and slow-looking programs.

“So there’s a two-part kids yoga video, there’s a meditation series, and there’s also mindfulness yoga and open-eye meditation, all set in the gallery, which we feel like is really on point right now.”

Cull said QAGOMA was also planning on introducing online art courses, including real-time workshops with facilitators via Zoom, and pre-recorded lectures.

“We also have virtual drawing workshops where you can actually participate with a drawing instructor and even if you’ve got no experience, this is totally for you – the idea is people can actually learn to draw with a facilitator and then post their drawings to share with others on our social media, so we’re using a lot of social media to connect with people.”

As a working parent herself, Cull said she was pleased QAGOMA’s website was able to provide content to occupy children that was entertaining as well as culturally enriching.

“I’ve got a three-year-old and a five-and-a-half-year-old, so I know sometimes parents are trying to work and they just want to put something on that is engaging and stimulating and not feel bad about it and there’s plenty on this website.

“There are a few stories like that, where parents can just put those on and the kids can enjoy watching them, but then there are others that provide an opportunity for conversation and dialogue and learning about the artists and their culture.”

QAGOMA’s head of learning Terry Deen, himself a former Queensland art teacher, said the feedback he and his team had received from teachers indicated that they were interested in interacting with engaging and easily accessible content.

“We have a teachers’ advisory group at the gallery and so we sent out an email just saying, what is it that you think that teachers would need most from us and the consistent response was, learn at home content, all in one place,” he told InQueensland.

“It gave us a real sense of purpose to just be able to pool our efforts as a learning team into making that happen and now that we have it we can continue to build on it and add to it. It’s probably the sort of thing that we’ve been wanting to do for a while anyway, but in this situation, we’ve been able to find the time.”

Deen said he had been enjoyed having the opportunity to apply “a really interdisciplinary cross-curriculum kind of lens” to the QAGOMA collection and see how it could be used in other curriculum areas such as national building.

“For instance, there’s a portrait of a former Queensland politician who supported the White Australia Policy, and then there’s [artist] Tony Albert’s Sorry, which is an artwork looking at Kevin Rudd’s apology, so it’s amazing how much art education can contribute to learning about the world and our place in it through a whole range of perspectives.

“I think the thing about art education that’s pivotal  – and we talk about it all the time –  is to think about what it is it that’s unique and fundamental about learning through the art and there are various opinions on that.

“Some that I take as meaningful are the ideas that through art you can be truly expressive and experimental and kind of find your own voice, whether that is a visual language, or a certain sound if you’re a musician but also, in the more academic sense, the idea of the role that process plays in artistic practice.

“So it’s the idea that you can translate transform something from intangible and abstract into tangible and memorable and then maybe flip it back again so you could take something that’s tangible that exists in the world and then, you know, flip it back into something that’s abstract.

“It just shows the strength of not only our collection but the capacity of art to open up ideas into, you know worlds past, present and future and also engaging with these concepts through a range of cultures, so easily.”

Deen said although he did not envy the daily pressures teachers faced, he did miss the “creative exercise of being an art teacher and running an art classroom and working with creative kids”.

“A big part of what I do now is all about advocating for art education in all of its forms and making sure that teachers, whether there are art-trained specialists or primary teachers who are just looking for art resources, that they can be supported and inspired and engaged.”


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