Eric Meredith is the editor at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, and of its magazine, Artonview. He studied art and cultural theory at Griffith University, graduating with honours, before undertaking postgraduate studies in writing, editing and publishing at UQ. He’s been a designer and had a brief stint as a media analyst while volunteering his time to the Publishing department at the Queensland Art Gallery. Full-time work followed, and he was there for five years before joining the National Gallery in 2007. This month, Eric provides an intriguing insight into the world of writing, editing and publishing at one of Australia’s premier cultural institutions.
Q: What kinds of tasks tend to be on your ‘to-do’ list as an editor at the National Gallery of Australia?
A: On a daily basis, people’s names appear most commonly on the to-do list. Follow up with so and so, email this or that person, call whatshername. Communication is key. I work with curators, conservators, writers, designers, photographers and managers in all areas at the NGA, including executive, to develop content and messaging and see through some complex projects. Beyond the gallery, it’s independent writers, academics, colleagues at other institutions, artists and their dealers, collectors (on occasion) and advertisers (for our magazine). Add public enquiries and the ‘grammatical advice hotline’ to that list and you can see how much of my time goes into communication. It’s so important because it builds relationships, which, from the business side, helps smooth processes when we have horrifying deadlines to meet and equally horrifying demands of those who help us achieve them.
Scheduling, and rescheduling, is a constant. Budgets. Content planning. Keeping an eye on programming. Booking or ordering photography. The list goes on. Writing. Information gathering. In terms of editing, though, I run the gamut of jobs. Most of my time is spent on substantive work but I also copyedit and proofread, as I’ve largely been the sole editor at the NGA since I began in 2007 – the victim of funding cuts and a policy of natural attrition. So, my to-do list is always long and complex. I’ll be working on four or five (sometimes more) projects at a time, all at various stages of production, plus a host of smaller jobs. Then there’s the many unforeseen interruptions to the list.
Q: What do you love about the work you do and what are some of the challenging aspects?
A: The work is hard and complex. Few of our content providers are trained writers so the editorial process can be quite involved. The knowledge and ideas are there. My job is to help communicate them effectively and to make them relatable to the lives of our readers. The latter is my big focus at the moment, especially as I’ve recently had the opportunity to rethink our quarterly magazine, Artonview, from top to bottom. The process has involved many people, internally and externally, not least of which are our readers. The Director calls it an ‘evolution’. I concede to that idea but also think of it as a dialogue, a conversation that runs from one issue of the magazine to the next. For an editor, the reward comes from the positive feedback that your writers receive, which trickles back to you. Good editorial work goes unnoticed. Actually, I think Roslyn Petelin said something of the sort during my time at UQ.
I believe art of any time and place has an important role in society. It tells us about ourselves and it can be brutally honest in its reflections. It’s a role, though, that constantly has to fight to demonstrate its relevance in this day and age. Historically, leaders saw how art strengthened the fabric of society. Today, not so much. What I love about the work I do is that I’m part of that fight, along with a host of other exceptional people working in other areas of the sector. The people are what make it, for me. The people you work with and the people you reach.
Q: Are there certain skills that are particularly important for an editor working in an art museum or gallery environment compared to in other industry sectors?
A: As I’ve already mentioned, you can expect to work on all aspects of the publishing process. Perhaps fifteen or twenty years ago, the various editorial roles were still more clearly defined in cultural institutions. Not anymore. Certainly not in Australia. Not with the annual cuts to public funding. That’s one big difference to other industry sectors. Another, less bleak, difference is that arts publishing isn’t solely about written content. It’s visual, too. There’s an important play between content and image that needs to be managed carefully. Like any industry, though, you have to know your subject, particularly if you’re going to be working substantively on projects.
Q: What are the key things you’ve taken from your studies at UQ into your professional career?
A: Difficult question. It was so long ago. I guess the biggest thing is an appreciation for different writing structures and audiences, being able to analyse and break down ideas and apply structures to facilitate enjoyable reading experiences and to promote understanding of a subject. That’s probably the broadest lesson from my studies at UQ. Of course, there’s also the nitty gritty of correcting grammar, activating sentences (passive structures are particularly rife in arts writing), checking for coherence and so on. It’s important not to forget the creative process, though. Roslyn always dispensed nuggets of wisdom, too, which I reflect on from time to time. I’m afraid I can’t think of one now, as they come to mind at times of need, but any student of hers will know what I’m talking about.
Q: For students looking to get into a career in editing in an arts environment, what advice would you give them – and are there work experience and interning opportunities in the field?
A: Don’t. I’m being facetious, of course. Although, any fantastic notions about being surrounded by art and artists in a wonderfully creative environment should be left at the door. Like I said, it’s a constant fight. Be prepared for that. And be prepared to volunteer your time. At least, at first. It’s what I did, while working nights as a media analyst. It’ll get you in. Demonstrating your value is then the next big step but, even so, there’s no guarantee of an ongoing position. Volunteering will also give you an idea of whether you can see yourself doing the work on an ongoing basis. So, it works both ways. Good luck. Don’t stop learning. Read, read, read. All sorts. You’ll be surprised how much other genres can inform your area of expertise. And don’t believe the many silly myths about language usage. The UQ course was great for that: debunking those myths, looking deeper.
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