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Art Gallery in danger of going backwards claims artist

Broken Hill City Council is in “danger of shooting itself in the foot” with its plans for the Art Gallery and Museum, says the centre’s most recent artist-in-residence who also says concentrating simply on local art may well lead to “an inbred thing eventually”.

Nigel Helyer recently left the Gallery after an extended period as its artist-in-residence and he says the sudden resignations of a swathe of senior artistic staff and management, and Council’s plans to put more emphasis on local art, is a worrying sign.

Mayor Tom Kennedy said, following the resignations, the council would be looking for a manager for the centre, rather than someone necessarily with a pure art background. The plan is to showcase more local art.

A passionate advocate of the arts and the ability of local and regional communities to access all art, Mr Helyer says he is concerned for the local art scene and young artists in the region.

‘The city administration has totally shot itself in the foot and it’s thrown the baby out with the bathwater,” he says.

“I think they are just going backwards.

“Blake and Hester [previous manager and curator at the gallery and museum], I found to be incredibly energetic, very smart and incredibly supportive.

“They were taking the gallery somewhere really interesting, and I think what’s happened is a bit of a tragedy as it’ll set the gallery back a long, long way.

“It’s not just the loss of these people, it’s the fact that the gallery, in terms of a cultural sense, will be regarded as being kind of backward and ultra-conservative.

“They want to enshrine a sense of nostalgia for the past and a kind of stereotypical attitude towards the culture, which is completely an unrealistic one in the main gallery of the city.

“I’m sure they may have a collection of historical works, which I believe the gallery would have shown anyway on a rotational basis.

“But, you know, a city can’t live by eating its own history, it’s just not how life works.

“A lot of people I spoke to while I was visiting had come from somewhere else to re-establish themselves.

“I think change, that kind of change and knowledge from outside, is a really vital thing.

“I think the administration’s idea of cutting out, cutting away the kind of external influences and focusing on only local artists is just a kind of form of xenophobia.”

Mr Helyer says he is acutely worried about the impact of seeing less outside art – as opposed to local art – could have on aspiring local artists.

“A lot of artistic education has been dialled down drastically in New South Wales and I don’t think the Broken Hill TAFE is even teaching art any longer.

“So where do young people living here go to find anything new?

“If a young person wanted to follow a career in the arts what would they feed from?

“What would they be given?

“What would be shown in the gallery that only wants to show local artists and historical stuff, which is pretty heavily stereotyped anyway.

“There is no pathway for a young person to develop, apart from watching videos or going online, which isn’t a real substitute for an actual engagement with art.

“The function of a regional gallery is to bring art to a population and allow that art to circulate.

“I just think this notion of this overbearing control of a cultural institution is pretty much like restricting the freedom of the press.

“It [control over the art gallery] should be at arm’s length. It’s not money owned by the council, it’s ratepayers and taxpayers’ money. It’s the community that pays for it ultimately. And their representatives need to be much more aware of community needs.

“It seems that it was just a kind of completely autocratic decision by a group of people who don’t really know what they’re dealing with.

“They just want to present an image of the town, which is already being presented by everybody else anyway. So why more of the same?” Mr Helyer says.

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