Vivien Clyne graduated from UQ with a Bachelor of Arts (Art History and French) before completing a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne. She spent two years at the National Gallery of Victoria interning with the curator of South and South East Asian Art. She also interned at QAGOMA and the Queensland Maritime Museum and volunteered with UQ Art Museum prior to being appointed as curatorial assistant. Vivien then ventured south again, where she worked at Tamworth Regional Gallery as a Museum Officer before joining Moree Plains Gallery as Director in 2014. We asked Vivien about her experiences in gallery management in a regional setting and her advice for students seeking a similar future.
Q: You worked in a number of large, metropolitan-based art institutions prior to taking on your current role at Moree Plains Gallery. What are the key differences you have observed in working in a regional setting?
A: For me the key difference is the vastly reduced number of staff. With only four staff (three permanent and one casual) we are all required to perform a range of tasks outside the usual scope of our roles. For example, in addition to developing exhibitions, our curator performs duties often assigned to a collection manager, registrar and shop manager. The increased workload is certainly a challenge for our staff but the benefit of such a small team is a flexible working environment, free of red tape. Each staff member has a broad range of knowledge about all aspects of the Gallery’s operations, which provides great experience for those just starting in the gallery sector.
Q: Does being regionally based influence your approach to program planning, and does engagement occur more spontaneously in smaller, more closely-knit communities?
A: Yes and no. We naturally have a closer relationship with our audience. Many long-time residents of the Shire have a deep feeling of ownership of the Gallery but it’s our responsibility to maintain that relationship. Just receiving an invitation in the mail won’t get people to travel the 50kms or more into town for an opening on a Friday night. They need to hear in advance that something exciting is happening and know that they can share the occasion with their friends and family. Word of mouth is certainly our key marketing strategy.
Q: What tasks fall to you as Director of Moree Plains Gallery and what skills do you need to do your job well?
A: As the Director I oversee the running of all aspects of the Gallery but my primary focus is audience development and fundraising. I work with our staff to develop a diverse program that will interest our audience while challenging their views, which can be quite conservative. Our program needs to be relevant to the broader arts sector but also popular with the community.
I don’t like the word ‘popular’ but it has become increasingly important as we look to private fundraising and sponsorship. Like all regional galleries (and the arts in general), we are facing pressure to diversify our funding model into the future. I work extensively with the Gallery’s Board of Directors to manage the organisation’s finances. Much of my role revolves around grant applications, sponsorship deals and marketing.
To do my job well, it is important for me to recognise exactly what I don’t know. In the year or so I have been in this role I have identified people I can work with to fill the gaps in my own knowledge. This includes knowing the individual skills of each of my staff and Board, as well as building relationships with key members of the community. Diplomacy is vital!
Q: What advice would you give graduates interested in a career in museum or gallery management?
A: Don’t limit your job search to one side of the Great Dividing Range. Regional galleries offer great experience and on-the-job training rarely available in metropolitan areas. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work hard at relationships. Word of mouth will land you a great role one day.
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