News & Commentary, Visual Arts

Blockbuster mentality claims Castlemaine Art Museum

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Time and tide have caught up with one of regional Victoria’s finest galleries, Castlemaine Art Museum, which will close on August 11 for an estimated two years.

Citing reductions in revenue, maintenance demands, and governance issues, its board has announced an extensive review, supported by Creative Victoria, Mt Alexander Shire council and Regional Development Victoria.

The announcement is causing consternation within this small 10,000-people town, which prides itself on its cultural reputation.

A prestigious and conservative – in all senses of the word – institution during the 38 years under the directorship of Peter Perry, the gallery had tried to reinvent itself in the three years since Jennifer Kalionis, formerly at Adelaide Central Gallery, was appointed director.

In July 2016, the private gallery (run by trustees) was incorporated and appointed a board of directors. Plans were underway to renovate the 1931 art deco building, with Melbourne architect Kerstin Thompson already working on a Business Case and Design.

The museum has a strong collection of Australian art and and history of exhibiting it – but no equivalent potential to invest in blockbuster activity.

Early last year, Emma Busowsky Cox moved from her role as curator with Deakin University Gallery to take up a similar role in Castlemaine.

Signalling a change in attitude, the front wall of the building was used to promote a Ben Quilty exhibition, and for this year’s Castlemaine State Festival, the commissioned work of local sculptor Zoe Amor was replaced with a temporary sculptural installation by Phlippines’ artist Leeroy New.

The rebadged CAM put engagement with the local community high on the priority list, and Kalionis talked about trying to create a more active schedule of programs.

Around her, however, the tourism-led gallery rhetoric was all about “blockbusters” and the calculation of economic benefit to a regional city such as Bendigo.

With a population more than ten times that of Castlemaine, the City of Greater Bendigo has been able to promote its art gallery on the back of costly, beautifully presented and well-subsidised exhibitions that have very simple promotional messages (featuring celebrity names such as Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe).

Director, Karen Quinlan, is, like one of her predecessors at Bendigo Art Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria director Tony Ellwood, a proponent of the all-inclusive approach to art exhibitions, with the undeniable popularity of “world exclusive” shows of fashion design.

Castlemaine Art Museum has a strong collection of Australian art and an enviable history of exhibiting it – but no equivalent potential to invest in this blockbuster activity.

The task of deciding the role and function of an institution such as Castlemaine Art Museum now falls to the part-time and voluntary board, alongside state government agencies and the local council, as well as benefactors and supporters in the community.

The Board says it’s up for the task:  “CAM must focus its resources and activities on developing a sustainable operational and financial model, a strong network of partners and sponsors, and a feasible plan for the upgrading and expansion of the building.”

40 responses to “Blockbuster mentality claims Castlemaine Art Museum

  1. Beautiful old building at the heart of the town housing art worthy of major galleries. So sad for the area…. the gallery was treasured by the local community and a real surprise for visitors with some significant Australian paintings on show there for what was a small entry fee. That all changed. Paintings were hung so you couldn’t see them, the entry fee went sky high and it had the appearance of being all about how clever the curators were – rather than about showing art.

  2. “CAM must focus its resources and activities on developing a sustainable operational and financial model, a strong network of partners and sponsors, and a feasible plan for the upgrading and expansion of the building.” Given the preceding 38 years perhaps sticking with what worked might be better than re-inventing the wheel. When taking over an functioning institution, changing everything is high risk activity.

    1. The report also bangs on about planning, planning, planning, but little doing. And there is no mention of not spending beyond your means, or having ridiculous grandiose ideas and not being able to pay for them. Poor management, waffly reports, all the proverbial. Lets get real shall we.

    2. I have just read this report from top to bottom. It is 55 pages of weasel words and absolute, meaningless tosh. How much did this cost??

    3. How is this meaningless tosh – the following identified issues at the time of the report being prepared raise some very serious concerns about past governance and employment practice that had to be addressed – 4 page constitution and a 16 member committee!!!!!!!:

      – Size of Committee: there is currently a Committee of 16 – much larger than is normal for an independent arts organisation
      – Recruitment and skills of Committee: the recent addition of new professional skills to the Committee, along with the appointment of a new Director, reflects a change in momentum for CAGHM
      – Backlog of systems development: there has been an informality to CAGHM’s policies, procedures and asset management processes which has left the organisation lagging behind current best practice, and created a backlog of work for Director andCommittee
      – Vision: there is a need to ensure a clear, common vision for the future of CAGHM owned by both internal and external stakeholders
      – Inadequate staffing, and over-dependence upon Director: the Director is working unreasonably long hours to compensate for the lack of human resources in the organisation currently. This relates partly to unfilled posts but also the need to enhance overall staffing levels to fulfil the potential of CAGHM
      – Several interviewees expressed the view that there had been some previous lapses in governance practices, and a history of limited planning and control
      – Incorporation and the Stoneman Foundation: the terms of the late Stuart Stoneman’s will bar the Foundation he established from donating to CAGHM if it becomes an incorporated body
      – Constitution: Although it is unincorporated CAGHM has a basic set of rules (a Constitution) which describe categories of membership and the procedures for appointing the Committee and Officers of the Committee. At less than four pages this document is far less detailed than is normal for the Constitution of an association or company, and provides less guidance and clarity than is necessary to ensure that the organisation is governed in a manner consistent with current expectations, including those mandated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission
      – Low level of financial commitment from and engagement with Shire Council: Mount Alexander contributes less than 10% of CAGHM income. Other regional galleries typically receive 60%+ of income from their local government, and often with a higher financial turnover. Historically, there has been poor engagement between CAGHM and the Council, although this is changing
      – High dependence upon State Government: Creative Victoria’s funding as a percentage of total income averages approx. 14% across Victorian regional galleries. A few galleries in rural towns many hours from Melbourne receive up to 25%, but only Castlemaine receives more than 30%. In 2013/14 Castlemaine received approx. 37% of its income from Creative Victoria. This is considered an unsustainable position

  3. I was on my bucket list and I visited today because of its uncertain future, not mine. The building is awesome in itself and as for the paintings, the impressionists that it contains are brilliant. I do not think it needs to be re-invented, its own history and contents hold far more than many small regional galleries. Without it becoming a flag for the women’s movement, the women who supported its creation and the works by little known women it houses could easily be celebrated as an exhibition in itself. Lovely gallery, this closure should not be happening.

  4. I remember this gallery with affection & awe. It should remain open to the public whatever the cost. How can a community lose such a valuable asset? Come on Goldfields shire, keep this gallery available to locals & tourists to the area. DO NOT LET IT GO!!

    1. It is Mt Alexander Shire and the Shire has had a long history of being rather hands off with regard to the gallery as CAM is “independent.”
      What happens in the future is very uncertain though.

  5. If what I’ve been told is correct, the biggest mistake in hindsight was the decision to incorporate in 2016, as ( I learned today ) the trust which handles what had previously been the major bequest, can’t donate to a corporate body.

    1. Make a Cy Pres application and vary the trust deed – easy. Engage PILCH who would provide the legal services for free. Kalionis – are you listening???

  6. This smacks far more of appalling governance by a poor board than an issue with not having blockbuster shows. Lets hope the local community find out the truth

  7. All that glitters is not gold….. Kalionis should hang her head in shame. She was the empress’ new clothes The board got what they deserved.

    1. That is just so wrong – Jennifer was the change agent engaged by the Board and she in the neck.
      The Board could not support her anymore or indeed the other staff.
      You are barking up the wrong tree.

    2. That comment should be retracted. Jennifer was not supported by a functional board. Programming was not the issue – good governance, planning and foresight was!

  8. I am deeply dismayed at the news of the troubles besetting the CAM. I’ve never lived in Castlemaine but, over the course of a long life, I’ve visited quite a number of times when I lived in Victoria and after moving to South Australia. Since first discovering the quality of the CAM’s holdings I’ve never been to the city without spending time in the Gallery. Many of the paintings remind us of the network of historical links into the cultural life of Victoria and Melbourne in particular over the past 150 years, and the closure will do much to sever or obscure those links.
    Castlemaine today has a well-earned reputation as a magnet for people interested in intellectual, cultural and artistic pursuits. Fostering that and making it central to the region’s ‘brand’ should be seen as integral to the region’s economic and social future. CAM ranks high among Australia’s regional galleries and museums.
    If governance problems have had anything to do with this lamentable decision then I can only suggest that an experienced and powerful figure with experience in banging heads together and restoring momentum to cherished institutions as they stare down the barrel be engaged asap.

  9. It is an excellent gallery. I love visiting it.
    Surely the local government councillors can step in and ensure its continuation.
    It should have heritage status.

  10. Let’s hope the locals get their beautiful gallery back It is an important cultural institution that should not be shut down or degraded

  11. The Bendigo Advertiser report dated 28 July 2017 indicates that the inmates appear to be running the asylum. “If the Castlemaine Art Museum had asked for financial support or expert advice, it may never have needed to close its doors, residents and arts leaders have said. The Public Gallery Association of Victoria were not consulted either and efforts by its president, Sue Roff, to contact board directors had so far gone unanswered.
    Ms Roff said she was disappointed by the board’s choice, saying her peak body was made up of experienced professionals who could have offered advice. Karen Quinlan, who has overseen the renaissance of Bendigo Art Gallery, is a member of the PGAV board of management, as are the directors of regional galleries in Gippsland, Ararat and Benalla.
    Castlemaine Art Museum chairwoman Jan Savage said she made no secret of the gallery’s asset-rich, cash-poor status in annual reports and monthly newsletters. While discussions between stakeholders occurred throughout 2017, she said the board chose not to go public for fear it would affect employee morale.
    Interestingly CAM held 3 exhibitions in 2016, 9 in 2015, 2014 & 2013, with 8 in 2012 and 10 in 2011. Less is not more!
    The Mt Alexander Shire Mayor Cr Sharon Telford is quoted as being ‘saddened’, but stopped short of offering to rescue it (CAM). Given the value of the collection it would seem appropriate that the State Minister for the Arts investigate.

  12. This is terrible news. The Castlemaine gallery, with its glorious regular offerings (Clarice Beckett, Penleigh Boyd, Rupert Bunny), its innovative program of exhibitions – the recent needlework one was bold and brilliant – and its timely schedules devoted to the work of female Australian artists (such as Ame Bale) has made it one of the finest regional galleries in the country. Is it not too late to keep open the doors of this National Treasure?
    Tom Ryan & Debi Enker
    Windsor, Victoria

  13. There are many unanswered questions. At this stage demonising any individuals and even the present Board are unhelpful. Members of CAM hope to get more information and answers at a meeting this Wednesday. Until then gossip, innuendo, etc are at best unhelpful and, at worst, damaging and could lead to a greater rift between the local community and the Board. Castlemaine residents have formed an organisation, Save Our Castlemaine Art Museum, SOCAM, and are agitating and working as a group to ensure the viability of the Gallery.

  14. Witch hunting and pointing fingers will do little towards finding a viable sustainable solution that supports both contemporary and traditional ideas. Art has to engage with current context if it wants to stay relevant.

    1. Finding who is responsible for this mess and defining who exactly is reponsible for fixing the mess is THE only thing to do.
      Art per se will not solve the problem.
      The government should step in and appoint someone who knows what to do ….. oh wait, the current director might be that person.
      The CAM will have to survive as the other options are just way too ugly.
      The Board has shown their inability to manage the place and have yet to reveal their capability and capacity to save the place.
      The Board has to go.

  15. I have a personal interest in CAM. And while no longer a resident of the town, I encouraged any of my aquaintances to visit the CAM. None came away disappointed. It is a true gem. I worry this, especially after the Mayor’s comments, that this may a sign that apathy may have a strong hold in the town. The Bendigo Advertiser said it was a tragedy. No it isn’t. It is a disgrace, surely this situation was coming for a while, am the board, director, the community, local and regional governments should have acted.

  16. In addition to this, I had planned to donate a number of significant historical and cultural items to the CAM. Not now. I had thought it would have been a safe repository that would endure. I shall make other plans.

  17. Having exhumed a number of aspects of this disgrace including talking with RDV, I have come to the opinion that the Board of CAM should go.
    I have no confidence in the them at all. The way this has been managed is pitiful. The Board that employed the current director and curator is completely not the Board that announced the closure.
    I believe there is an effort to be rid of them both.
    Why else close the place? Just how is the CAM to implement whatever “matter plan” is being cooked up without staff?
    And efforts by the Board to explain the situation have been hollow and totally not reassuring.
    The Board has exposed itself as inept – the board needs to step aside.
    I would hope that when RDV and Creative Vic step in as they will – the place is too important to lose – there will be a condition on the money, the Board must go and an administrator appointed to work with the community and stakeholders to get CAM back on a sustainable track.

  18. Interesting briefing note ( on the governance structure of the CAM dated 3 May 2015 and especially a brief overview on the Stoneman Foundation “gift” as well as listing CAGHM committee members who were also Trustees of the Stoneman will. The briefing note also contains advice from legal counsel about the Stoneman “gift”. Gift in quotation marks because:

    “I confirm that I am instructed that “the Gallery”, must for a number of reasons, become incorporated. This should not affect the Gallery’s rights under clause 5(3) of the Stoneman will re Duneira.

    “On the other hand it seems to affect the Gallery’s situation under clause 5(2)(d). I do not think that this clause is an error in typing. It seems Stoneman wanted the Gallery to remain unincorporated. It is a very curious and unexplained exclusion. It may be argued that it is
    contrary to public policy. It could be put that it is unfair to the Gallery to have this exclusion because it may force it to remain unincorporated when this is not a proper situation noting that gifts or trusts in wills cannot generally be made to an unincorporated association. Such a body cannot own the gift. It may be that the history of the Gallery contains invalid gifts.

    “The Gallery may have to become incorporated accepting that it may as a result lose gifts under clause 5(2((d) but at the same time reserving the position of challenging this clause in the Supreme Court.”

    1. Chris, your group hug of “inclusiveness” doesn’t pay the bills. Flashy shows and a lack of well curated exhibition programme does not lead to meaningful change nor to long term sustainability. Yes old money and philanthropy helps (the Arts have always depended on this generosity); change must be financed responsibly, something the outgoing Director never understood. Private institutions rely on the generosity of the public of all levels. Talk of inclusivity should preclude no-one; those with or without big bucks to give!

      1. Reg
        You forgot to mention CAM’s Board and its role in all this.
        Any reason for that?
        And I do not think there has been any effort to preclude anyone and in fact there have been efforts from Jennifer to enable inclusion.

    2. Flashy shows Reginald, and a lack of well curated exhibition program!! For the first time in a very, very long time, CAM under the new Director had a curatorial and exhibition vision that was fresh and innovative, reflecting contemporary thinking, forward looking and inclusive – the first exhibition of Aboriginal art in 2015 as an example, but what is even more outstanding, the fact that the gallery had never been a participant of the Castlemaine State Festival until 2015. I remember attending the Festival on several occasions many moons ago and being astonished at the lack of any programming at the gallery.

      I also remember visiting the gallery many times before the most recent Director was appointed – to find volunteers barely awake manning the front desk, tired and worn exhibition labels, very lacklustre exhibition program and the same permanent collection on show making me question the museum standards and practice of the administration at the time – an overall sense of neglect and lack of care. I remember walking into the basement of what at the time was the historical museum and finding display cases unlocked or even open and thinking how easy it would be for somebody to simply walk in and walk out with artworks.

      Under the recent administration, at least there was a sense and a genuine excitement that the institution was moving forward.

        1. The red-rattler of a solid gallery suddenly had an express Kalionis locomotive hitched. The cognoscenti alighted and those others like you, Mr Hosking, jumped aboard. Genuine excitement for the plebeian masses, James? What an exciting ride they have enjoyed! How fabulous to feel included. The rest sat back and awaited the inevitable train-wreck. The board, thankfully, applied the safety brakes.

          One might consider that there is a back story.. A director who might otherwise have pushed for unfair dismissal has resigned rather than was sacked. Significant donors who were in the wings are now “white knights” rather than an also-rans… Well manoeuvred Dr McAuliffe.

          James and Chris, grow up.

  19. Looks like the rank amateurs are muscling in on the rank board of CAM with the major White Knight donor ($250,000 over two years) providing a condition that future donations after 2019 will depend on contributions from Mt Alexander Shire Council.
    If this major donor has any real idea of the make up of MASC they would know there are two red neck local councillors who would prefer to give CAM nothing at all.
    And just who is going to submit the necessary application to council’s budget submission process next year when there are no staff capable of doing it – only Board members …….?
    Also the $50,000 donation by the lessor White Knight has a condition that the line up of the Board presently stay as it is and another that the money is allocated to research on public attitudes to the gallery.
    This $50,000 has no connection to the day to day running of the place so if the money did not arrive – no big dead.
    The well meaning lunatics have stepped in with some cash thinking they can control the situation.

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