It is obvious, the local community is greatly attached to the Gallery at Stewart Street. I have been asked countless times why it needs to move. The saying goes, “if I had a dollar for every time I was asked.” The answer is quite simple. Undeniably, the Stewart Street Gallery is a striking building with outstanding features such as the vaulted ceiling, but it is severely lacking in the most practical aspects for an art gallery.
When receiving one recent exhibition, Play On: The Art of Sport / Ten Years of the Basil Sellars Art Prize, two of the crates did not fit through the door. To make matters worse it was raining. Unpacking crates on the street is not a good look at the best of times and is simply out of the question in the rain.
Stewart Street has no loading bay on the street frontage, let alone attached to the building. Delivery vehicles hope that there is an empty space out the front or risk a fine by parking in the bus zone. There are no amenities in the building and patrons are asked to use the public toilets outside. There is no storage and the entrance would be non-compliant by today’s standards. Unseen by patrons, is the cramped office environment that is either sweltering in summer or freezing in winter.
When I worked at the Gallery in 2009, a feasibility study was being undertaken for an extension. This was not the first study. Vast improvements have been made to the building, but not to the extent to resolve some of the fundamental requirements for a regional gallery.
The move to the paranaple arts centre in Rooke Street is a giant leap forward. Not only does it address the shortcomings of Stewart Street (access, climate control, storage, public amenities, etc.) it also results in significant gains in exhibition space – which is really all the patron should be concerned with. The patron does not want to know about loading bays…
Stewart Street has approximately 140 square metres of floor space and with the built alcoves out of ‘temporary’ walls, has approximately 70 running metres of running wall space. The new Gallery will have just on 300 square metres of floorspace and approximately 116 running metres of wall space.
In addition is a 60 square metre room we are calling the Creative Space. It is a serviceable space to conduct workshops, hold meetings or use an exhibition space if necessary.
I have the pleasure of wearing a hardhat and safety vest to undertake a fortnightly site-visit. It makes an arts and culture guy feel rather manly. Each time I visit the construction site I get a better sense for the space. Last week the walls were lined. Soon it will be painted throughout. Then the carpet, joinery and finishing touches.
We will open on Friday 2 November with the opening of Tidal: City of Devonport Art Award. I cannot think of a more appropriate exhibition. Tidal is a highlight of our calendar that brings some of the most interesting contemporary work from throughout Australia to public view in Devonport.
The exhibition responds to the theme of tidal coastal living, characteristic of our region. We will also be opening with an exhibition from our Robinson Collection. Our Curator Erin Wilson has been working diligently to collate a series of fascinating oral histories in relation to images from the Robinson Collection.
In Your Words: The Robinson Project contains over 100,000 photographic negatives capturing the social and commercial life in the region during the 20th century. It has opened this extensive collection to members of the Devonport community, who have explored the archive, selected negatives that resonate with them, and recorded oral histories elicited by these photographs.
In Your Words exhibition will bring together thirty photographs selected by nine members of the Devonport community, presented alongside oral history excerpts, both text and audio, through which they share their memories and stories of the region, in their own words.
I am looking forward to the move. It will bring together staff from our Gallery, Theatre and Visitor Information Centre into the one building and operation. It will result in a team of people capable of delivering unknown potential. The possibilities for the future look very exciting.
~ Geoffrey Dobson, Convention & Arts Director