Brett Adlington, the new director of the Lismore Regional Gallery.
Brett Adlington, the new director of the Lismore Regional Gallery.

Director's vision for gallery

New Lismore Regional Gallery director Brett Adlington points to the hole in the wall behind his desk – the flaking plaster and brick wall that peeps through is a stark reminder of just how inadequate the current gallery is.

While he is thrilled to be back in his home town with the gallery under his wing, he said he had no idea the current gallery was in such a state of disrepair and is eagerly awaiting a funding response from the federal government regarding the proposed Margaret Olley Arts Centre.

Lismore City Council made an application to the federal government’s Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program in January for $4.5 million towards the $9 million project.

“If it’s a positive response then it’s full steam ahead,” Brett said. “I knew what I was coming to in terms of the building not being up to scratch, but I didn’t realise just how bad it was. At present we really can’t take visiting shows. For instance, the last show I curated for Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, called Art Out of Water: The Fish of Art, had some fantastic Top End Aboriginal bark paintings from the Australian National Maritime Museum. They were included at Lake Macquarie but there is no way they could be accommodated when the exhibition opens here in February.”

Brett, who started in his new role two weeks ago, is a former Lismore boy who attended Kadina High School before moving to the big smoke to attend the Sydney College of Arts.

He later moved to Townsville, where he worked in a local gallery before taking on a curator’s position at the Gold Coast City Art Gallery for six years. His last job was at the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery in Lake Macquarie near Newcastle, but when the chance to work in Lismore came up, he said he felt it was the right time to come home.

“I wanted to take that next step into a director’s role and be more involved in the strategic direction of a gallery,” Brett said. “Plus I didn’t like the weather in Newcastle – those winters were too bleak and cold for me! My parents still live here and my wife and I still have friends in the region – so it always felt like a nice place to be. It’s such a beautiful environment… it really struck me when we moved back here that I’d forgotten just how beautiful it is.”

He said if funding came through, the Margaret Olley Arts Centre would be a boon for Lismore.

“We’d be in a position to bring people into the region by having a flagship gallery and we’ll be in a better position to show major touring exhibitions or loan works from bigger institutions,” he said. “At the moment, we’re not on the circuit of big shows. The Tweed Gallery has an exhibition of Sidney Nolan’s work and he’s a key figure in Australian art, and in the new space we could show those sorts of things, plus the work of local artists alongside them.

“The other thing is the gallery has a fantastic art collection its been collecting since the 1950s and at the moment it’s stored in a really inadequate way, yet it’s a major asset for Council. The Olley would have a dedicated area for proper storage and it would be nice to be able to show some of the permanent collection and tell those stories of Lismore, the stories that have shaped and affected our region.”

He said he thought the newly launched Northern Rivers Portrait Prize was another great way of getting local people interested in and involved with the gallery.

“I guess it carries on that idea of telling the stories of Lismore – you have the people and characters of the community reflected in an exhibition and it’s events like that that get people engaged,” he said. “It also builds the permanent collection because it’s an acquisitive prize.”

He said more than anything he wants to see more people visiting and enjoying the gallery and believes children should be incorporated into that.

“The main things I want to do is open the doors of the gallery to the wider public and I think you can do that by getting exhibitions that appeal on a wide scale. I think we also need to get a good children’s program happening in the gallery, with regular children’s events,” he said. “GoMA (the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane) has been a bit of a leader in this country if not the world in its focus and inclusion of children in the gallery. Obviously we’re restricted by the building, but even just things like developing kids worksheets with exhibitions so there’s a way for kids to engage with a show – things like that which don’t take space. I’d like to get some funding for a kids Saturday morning in the gallery where someone is employed to direct kids in art activities. It’s not a formal workshop, it would be free and just a drop in thing where people can come and do things with their kids.”

He said his hope is that when the Olley finally does open people are already more at ease with the gallery and more inclined to see what’s going on.

“Part of it is making sure people understand that the gallery is not a scary place – there’s a role to put on challenging exhibitions but also a place to put on fun, appealing exhibitions,” he said. “I often say to people that you might see a movie you don’t like, but you still go and see another film, don’t you?

“So if you don’t have a great experience with one exhibition, come back, because it might be quite different the next time. That’s the balancing act of working in a gallery – you have to be mindful of the whole community and the whole program has to engage and reflect the many different aspects of the community.”

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