How does an Art Museum plan for the future while also delivering multiple projects in the here and now? It takes a flexible approach, a red-hot gannt chart and a super-organised Project Manager. This month we talk to one of those people who keeps all the balls in the air – Gordon Craig has worked at UQ Art Museum since 2008 and is the Museum’s Project Manager.
Prior to joining the Art Museum, Gordon completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Photography) at QCA, a Bachelor of Arts (Art History) at UQ and a Master of Arts (Research) at QUT. Gordon considers studying under great artists like Marian Drew and meeting Henri Chopin, a legend of concrete poetry, as highlights of his time at QCA, while at UQ learning about Art History from Nancy Underhill, with her vast knowledge and quirky anecdotes, was particularly memorable. As for QUT, after writing a 20,000-word thesis he believes any writing project now seems manageable!
Q: Describe for us what an average day as Project Manager at UQ Art Museum looks like.
A: There doesn’t seem to be an average day! I look after long-term planning, program scheduling, balancing resources across our activities, working with our designer on exhibition material, liaising with other institutions and with artists and curators, preparing contracts, the list goes on. A couple of weeks ago I found myself discussing the logistics of an exhibition opening function that was a few days away, preparing a submission to a private foundation seeking a substantial grant, and contacting major international institutions in an effort to secure loans for a key exhibition in 2018. Meanwhile, we were making the final amendments to our next exhibition catalogue before it was sent to print. Then I found myself revising financial forecasts for the rest of the year.
Q: What are the most important skills you need to be successful in your role?
A: Patience. Understanding. And the ability to see the big picture or the long view. Many of us are focussed on our immediate projects, but I’m also always trying to look beyond, to what we have on the horizon for the coming months and years. Tunnel vision can be very useful in bedding down the minute details of a project, which is often the case with curators working on an exhibition, but within the organisation we need to balance this against all of our other activities to keep our momentum and flow. Time doesn’t stand still so we need to keep ourselves on track, and manage our wants and needs across our program. Ideally, we would have unlimited finances, staffing and resources, but we don’t. That’s where I come in, to reach an appropriate balance of resources across our projects for them to be realised as best as we can possibly manage, and on schedule.
Q: Are there tricky or challenging aspects to this kind of work? And are there aspects you really enjoy?
A: Competing interests are a real challenge, and (mostly) satisfying to manage. I can be concurrently working with UQ’s Legal Office on contracts, discussing possible future projects with artists, and finalising our next publication. People in the arts tend to be very passionate about their work, and part of my role is to assist in delivering any given project without dropping the ball on other activities.
Another aspect of my role is the ongoing interactions with a wide variety of people, which is also (mostly) enjoyable! One particular project, which rolls around every two years, is the National Self-Portrait Prize, the 6th iteration of which will be on display in November. The invited artists all have their own ways of working, and some require more attention than others. Then we have ongoing interactions with the curator/s for each Prize (we have co-curators for NSPP17) as well as other people such as the invited judge. We never know what we are going to receive until a couple of months before the exhibition, nor which work will win – within our staff we always have a guess at picking the winner, and we always get it wrong!
Q: Can you recall a project you managed that was particularly memorable and share why?
A: There have been many, but a couple stand out. Working with the Russian collective AES+F was a little surreal – I sat through a five-hour download from an FTP site for us to create a 30-metre wide decal that ran across the Museum’s front windows. The combined file was so large that the printer’s computer kept crashing when trying to load it.
Delivering the exhibition and publication Peter Hennessey: Making it real was particularly satisfying. Peter is very hands-on and we worked closely with him to reassemble several of his iconic large sculptures; I assisted with some controlled explosions (!) for a new artwork for the exhibition; and we created an award-winning catalogue (thank you AAANZ).
We have also just completed a beautiful publication for our forthcoming exhibition Still in my mind: Gurindji location, experience and visuality, which we have developed in partnership with UNSW Galleries and Karungkarni Art and Culture Aboriginal Corporation. It’s an important project that looks back at the story of the Gurindji people, in particular Vincent Lingiari and the Wave Hill Walk-Off in 1966, which began the Aboriginal Land Rights Movement in Australia. The exhibition opens at UNSW Galleries on 5 May and will be at the UQ Art Museum from 12 August, before a lengthy Australian tour.
Q: What’s great about working at UQ Art Museum?
A: Where to begin? Working with a great team and having opportunities to work with significant Australian and international artists – not to mention working on one of Australia’s most beautiful campuses, at a university that is very invested in its art museum.
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