Q&A Cut Thumb ARI

NAVA chats with Lu Forsberg and Callum McGrath to discuss highlights of an ARI mentorship program held in Qld.

Hi Lu and Callum, to begin with; could you please provide a general overview of the program? 

• The New Space program consisted of six intensive sessions during a twelve week time period. We spent time getting to know the members of the New Space program, listening to what they wanted to achieve and learn while with us. The program was structured using a project management template from which we planned for meetings, funding, exhibitions etc. We visited two ARIs, Outer Space in West End and The Walls Art Space on the Gold Coast. The members of the group were able to speak directly with directors and staff including Caity Reynolds and Lisa Bryan-Brown from Outer Space and Rebecca Ross from The Walls. During our visits the group were able to ask questions and take notes, see the exhibitions on display and as a result gained further insight logistics of running an ARI.

How did you work with XYZ to support their process of establishing a new ARI?

• One of the things that we value between us is inclusivity in exhibition and event programming. We highlighted the importance of making sure that a range of dialogues and subjects including, gender, race, sexuality and class be taken into account when looking to exhibit artists and their work. I think we used this as a opportunity to re-evaluate things we would have done differently when we started and give advice accordingly. 
• In our sessions with XYZ as much as we followed a structure we let them lead the discussion in some ways. We felt that it would be beneficial for them to come to us with what they had progressed with and through that process we could give them detailed advice and answer questions. 

In your view, what were some of the highlights of the program?

• working alongside and supporting a group of artists was a big highlight for us, its always great to connect with people who are equally passionate about contemporary art. We also enjoyed being able to assist in forging new professional relationships between graduating art students  and people already working in the Arts industry.
• Seeing the group develop and refine their ideas over the course of the program was very fulfilling. It was really interesting and insightful working with them as their idea grew into the foundations of what we hope will be a really interesting ARI model and program. 

What are some of the challenges that artists face in establishing and sustaining an ARI in Queensland? 

• Its no secret that one of main challenges of running an ARI is functioning with little to no money. If more funding opportunities were made available and ARI’s were successful in securing the funding then we can see the problem of sustainability starting to be addressed. Directors and staff that keep ARI’s functioning need to be paid at least minimum wage for their roles in what they do. Without ARI’s emerging experimental artists miss out on opportunities to test new work and to develop their practices.
• Another major challenge we found in sustaining an ARI is your own practice, finding a balance between being an ARI Director, a practicing artist and working part time/casual jobs was a real challenge. This was a major reason that Cut Thumb’s programming changed direction after 2017. I think everyone who has worked with an ARI in some capacity comes to a point when they have to make a decision what they want to put their energy towards. Running a annual program is no easy task that requires a lot of hard work. 

What advice would you give to artists who are wanted to establish an ARI? 

• Be ambitious, fundraise, look into funding options, talk to artists, and go to exhibition openings. It’s really important to look at the art scene and do something different to what is already going on; ARI’s are their most ex-citing when they are reactionary to what is already happening in the community. Try and connect with people from other states and look outside of your immediate community every now and then for new artists. Ask yourself if any groups of people are not being exhibited? and if not, why not? What art works are engaging and would benefit from showing at an ARI? Look at exhibiting art that promotes interesting and needed dialogue. 

Cut Thumb directors Lu Forsberg and Callum McGrath

Photo by Tim Walsh