UQ Art Museum is the best place on campus to have a challenging, provocative and timely conversation about art and ideas, and our Senior Education Manager is one of our key conversation starters. The appointment of Dr Holly Arden to this position in 2016 is helping us achieve our mission to make art intrinsic to teaching and learning, University-wide. And we’re in great company – a number of world-leading university art museums have recognised this critical innovation in education practice, making similar appointments. This month we caught up with Holly to find out more about her role, why she’s passionate about this work, and some of the exciting plans on the horizon for education at UQ Art Museum in 2017.
Q: Holly, can you tell us a bit about your career to date?
A: Well, it actually all started here at UQ with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Journalism and Honours in Art History. After graduating, I worked as a freelance arts writer and editor and in a variety of curatorial and creative producer roles, most recently at Federation Square in Melbourne, where I learned a lot about art in the public realm. While pursuing my PhD I lectured and tutored in Art History, Curatorship and Design at Monash University and at RMIT.
Q: What does a Senior Education Manager in a university art museum context do?
A: Bringing art and creativity together with UQ’s broad teaching and research disciplines is key to the role. It sees me constantly questioning: How can the UQ Art Museum catalyse creativity, critical thinking and practice across the University, whether it’s in Art History, or more broadly in Political Science, Law or Midwifery? How can the Art Museum help equip our students with tools to assist them in whatever career path they follow? On a day-to-day level, I contribute to the team developing the Art Museum’s annual exhibition program, and try to find answers to my questions along the way.
I also oversee the development of our academic and public programs and manage the Art Museum’s offerings of student employment, which includes internships and volunteer opportunities. In addition, I meet with UQ course convenors to ensure The Alumni Friends of UQ Collection Study Room is front of mind – teaching staff from any discipline can bring students into the space during semester to work closely with UQ’s art collection.
Q: What excites you about this work at UQ?
A: At UQ I get to work with some of the best minds in the world – many of whom are also some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met – about what they do. Recently we had a lively, heated public event in the Art Museum and it was filled with UQ students, academics and members of the public from very different walks of life. One of my colleagues often says that our Art Museum can be a ‘safe space for unsafe ideas’ – a public space in the true sense of the term. These ideas makes me want to get out of bed in the morning.
Q: You’re teaching a Visual Arts Curating and Writing course in 2017 – can you tell us about the class and the opportunities these students will have?
A: UQ Art History has offered this course for some years now but the level of hands-on experience available to students has amplified since the Art Museum became the primary teaching space. The aim with this course is for students to get as much practical, industry-based knowledge as possible while being introduced to key concepts and practices in the field of curating.
Q: What incentives are there for a student studying a discipline unrelated to art to get among the activity at UQ Art Museum in 2017?
A: I firmly believe that engaging with art, even if you think you know nothing about it, is one of the most meaningful things human beings can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re studying geography, physics or economics, art has the ability to make you see and feel things you might not otherwise. How can this not make you better at what you do?
We have a bunch of programs running throughout the year aimed at bringing in different student and academic audiences from around the campus and beyond – even the most nervous ones!
Q: You’ve just been awarded your PhD in Art History and Theory. How does it relate to your work at the Art Museum?
A: At its core, my work at the Art Museum tries to improve and increase the ways we engage our various publics with art. My PhD research relates to this. It examines the concept of ‘the public’ for art. The idea of the public (or publics, really) has become even more critical to galleries and museums, particularly over the last two decades in the wake of funding cuts to the arts, among other reasons.
I’m fascinated by how contemporary artists and galleries alike navigate the terrain between artworks and the public. The idea of the contemporary public is actually very different to what this term designated in the early modern era, where it represented the bourgeois class and typically excluded women. Although somewhat sceptical, I’m hopeful that the public can now mean ‘anyone’ and ‘everyone’ and that this promise, so to speak, offers contemporary artists and galleries enormous potential for working with people. Call me utopian!
UQ Art Museum has an extensive rolling public program. Subscribe to our e-news to keep informed about upcoming events or check the website. UQ teaching staff interested in using the Alumni Friends of UQ Collection Study Room, contact the Art Museum to find out more.