News & Commentary, Visual Arts Blockbuster mentality claims Castlemaine Art Museum By Rosemary Sorensen | July 26, 2017 | 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.” Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Rosemary Sorensen Rosemary Sorensen is director of Bendigo Writers Festival.