Plans for a new $31 million gallery precinct in the Rockhampton City centre are keeping the days full and interesting for Rockhampton Art Gallery Director and UQ graduate Bianca Acimovic. We asked Bianca about her pathway to this position, her thoughts on regional opportunities and her advice for anyone starting out in their arts career.
Q: You’ve held some really interesting roles throughout your career – can you tell us how these experiences prepared you to lead an organisation?
A: I have been very fortunate to have great mentors, and much of this draws from my time at UQ, studying a Master of Museums Studies; Ross Searle, the then Director of UQ Art Museum; and Professor Amareswar Galla. I first met Ross Searle in 2006, when I was completing my final six months of a Bachelor Visual Arts, Fine Arts (BAVAFA) at University of Southern Queensland (USQ). I majored in Gallery Studies and Ross Searle was the Gallery Studies lecturer for the semester.
As I got closer to completing my Bachelor’s degree, I was looking to where it might take me. Throughout my time at USQ, I held an internship with the Public Art Agency, Queensland Government, and volunteered at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery. Just as I started seeking employment in the sector, the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), which was scheduled to open in late 2017, began recruiting entry-level jobs, and I secured a position.
It was through Ross that I applied and was accepted to UQ’s Master of Museum Studies, and again, through his recommendation, took up a casual front-of-house role at UQ Art Museum. A year later, while studying at UQ and working at GOMA, I took up the role of Exhibitions and Collections Officer for the then Bundaberg Arts Centre (now Bundaberg Regional Galleries). Regional Queensland is very dear to my heart. I grew up in Far North Queensland and only moved away from the region because I was not able to pursue my education and career there.
During 2007 and 2008, major changes were happening in regional Queensland with the rollout of mandatory local government reforms and the amalgamation of local councils. At the same time I was preparing my Master’s dissertation, which through field research, reviewed and recommended the Processes and Effects of Local Government Reform on Regional Galleries. Studying under the supervision of Prof. Amareswar Galla, we held roundtables in Toowoomba (Cobb+Co Museum), Hervey Bay (Hervey Bay Regional Gallery) and Bundaberg (Bundaberg Regional Galleries). This was a really formative time for me, and prompted me to consider the opportunities for regional galleries and their adaptability, and to engage broadly with a number of them.
I’ve held a range of appointments since then, leading teams through both easy and hard times. I always find that I draw on the broad experiences I have gained from a diversity of roles. One of the things I became aware of when working in some of the State’s largest galleries, employing the largest number of people, was acknowledging the entire team contribution. I was always humbled by the Directors who said hello, particularly those who knew staff members’ names, no matter what position they held. I’ve kept this memory with me – the feeling of being recognised, of being acknowledged. No one can deliver a gallery program single-handedly; it takes a team, and everyone contributes to success.
Q: What role did your study and work experiences at UQ play in helping prepare you for your future?
A: My study was vital, not only for the knowledge, which can never be discounted, but also for the industry relevance. My time at USQ and UQ prepared me for industry expectations. In both my undergraduate and postgraduate studies I undertook internships and industry research; these opportunities enabled me to apply my theoretical knowledge to practical situations. They informed my learning by adjusting my expectations of real-work environments, and enabled me to have a seamless transition between education and employment. My study also supported the development of meaningful and relevant industry contacts.
Q: For students and recent graduates looking to break into the industry, what would your advice be in relation to regional opportunities?
A: Be willing to look regional. My experience has shown that amazing opportunities are found in the regions. Working in regional galleries can also give you access to a greater diversity of tasks. Through my regional appointments, I’ve got to know areas of regional Australia. I treat this as some would treat a holiday – just a lot longer than a holiday!
Q: Can you tell us about the tasks that dominate your time as Director of Rockhampton Art Gallery and what skills you need to do your job well?
A: I would love to give you a romantic view of the Director’s role; however, the day-to-day reality is not as romantic as some may think. Gallery directors are similar to directors of any business, only we work in a not-for-profit sector that is increasingly being required to generate income and self-sustain.
Communication dominates my role. From working with the team to ensure my expectations are clear and providing the direction they need to succeed in their roles, to communicating to the public online and in-person. In the cultural sector we are often required to advocate publicly and promote broadly, but it’s frequently to longstanding audiences. If galleries are going to find relevance in the leisure time of our community and visitors, we need to push beyond our traditional audiences and we need to deepen our impact and reach. In my role, I believe you need to have skills in communication, and you need to be relatable, and to relate at all levels (including business, community and political). You also need to personify the institutional brand, as people see you and the institution as one.
Q: There are big plans afoot for Rockhampton Art Gallery – what excites you most about the possibilities?
A: I have been able to witness the shift and growth in cultural tourism in Victoria and Queensland, resulting in the transformation and increased relevance of regional towns and cities. In all of my positions I continue to ask: ‘How can regional areas become even more relevant?’ It’s clear that arts and culture is one of three driving factors, with education and health the others. Preparing and fostering arts and culture in regional town and cities for growth is exciting. When you think of Rockhampton in 2018, arts and culture may not necessarily be front of mind. The challenge I have set for myself, and for my team, is that arts and culture could be front of mind when you think of Rockhampton. What if, when you think of Rockhampton, you thought:
‘Wow that River Festival!’
‘Did you see that exhibition?’
‘As a creative practitioner, Central Queensland provides the most opportunities.’
The direction we are heading in Rockhampton will be game changing for Queensland, and the industry and audiences will reap the rewards.
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