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Curator of everything. A portrait of a regional gallery owner and his team.

BY Marcus Johnson / VCA Graduate | 04-Aug-2017
Lavish openings, fine champagne, well-informed and wealthy buyers pushing their credit cards at you. As they say, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. I wish, at times, that was my job.
Lavish openings, fine champagne, well-informed and wealthy buyers pushing their credit cards at you. As they say, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.

I wish, at times, that was my job.

My name is Marcus Johnson and I’m the Curator, CEO, CFO, all the other ‘C-Suite’ titles, Social Media Team Leader, Head of Events and PR, Head of Sanitation and organiser of staff rosters. I am very familiar with the term ‘one-man show’.

My gallery in Fyansford, just out of Geelong, is called UBU Gallery. It’s my passion project and is supported by my other job. And my partner, her family and my friends. As well as the other loopy dreamers that have bought into resurrecting an old paper mill and turning it into an arts precinct. One day, it might make money. But for now, it’s all about keeping the doors open.

I’ve been reading about the white knights that are riding into town to save the Castlemaine Art Museum and thought I’d throw in a quick article. Volker Janssen kindly pointed me to the YAJA website with a link to presenting a response using AV media. That would be nice, but it’s Friday and I’ve given the AV Production team the day off. So I’ll stick to image and text.

I haven’t been to Castlemaine Art Museum but it sounds like it’s worth saving. If they have the connections to bring Graham to town to meet the locals, they deserve support. Just the logistics involved in shipping a big, weird looking Patricia Piccinini sculpture from one location to another are immense. There’s also a pic of Jan Savage, the Board’s Chair. Jan looks tired and I bet she is. I heard her on 774 yesterday and she would be running like crazy to feed the current media frenzy. She looks smart enough to know that her fifteen minutes of fame needs to grab as many potential art lovers and potential advocates as possible.

Because that $300k won’t last long.

Think about the ‘Meet Graham’ show. Think about the specialist transportation, the manpower and machinery required to move it, the staff that need to make sure it’s set up just so, the time it takes to put together a catalogue and pump out all the social media posts, tweets and Insta’s. Think about the amount of people Graham needs to pull through the door from a small local community and how much merch they might buy. Think about the electricity bill, the accountants’ fees, the insurance and the ongoing costs of running a large building. And the many pairs of white gloves.

Running a gallery can be expensive. Even a small one like ours. Running a gallery at a profit is difficult. From our point of view, the art sales aren’t yet covering costs as we are still starting out. Maybe we’ll always be starting out.

But that’s OK. I’m not having a whinge. The reason I wanted to do this was for things that weren’t about money. To engage myself with non-commercial pursuits, to be able to enjoy the many aspects of being in a beautiful heritage precinct, to help get something remarkable off the ground, to have a series of surprising conversations with artists and maybe even do a bit of art myself, to invite parents and kids into the space to learn about art, have the occasional party and perhaps even become a venue that adds to the community by way of showing local artists and challenging others to think outside their usual boundaries. We’re creating (and curating) experiences and you’d think it’s hard to put a dollar value on that.

But in fact, some clever people have. A Boston Consulting Group study commissioned by the Victorian government says a lack of promotion for the state's arts and cultural offerings and a failure to provide an overarching cultural guide for tourists is holding back cultural tourism to the state. According to the BCG study, cultural tourism and creative industries contributed around $23 billion to the state economy.

It’s time the State Government supported places like Castlemaine Art Museum. The arts are consistently driving dollars into tourism and adding to the coffers in both financial and non-financial ways. When it gets to the point where money has to come from independent ‘white knights’, that’s unsupportable over the long term. When will the arts get the recognition it deserves?

Soon, I hope. So that regional galleries, big and small, can stay open and keep making worthwhile contributions to our community.