Clear Expectations: Guidelines for institutions, galleries and curators working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists in Australia

Media Release

A new resource of best practice for the contemporary arts when working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse creatives has been published today, supported by Countess and NAVA.

Co-Authors of the new guidelines, artists Spence Messih and Archie Barry (pictured), said: “Experiencing harm from the bureaucracy of institutional decision-making is a common experience for trans, non-binary and gender diverse people, even in the Australian arts sector. Institutions, galleries and curators often fail to respect and affirm the gender identities of trans, non-binary and gender diverse people — this is particularly alarming as institutions often engage with this community of people to represent their gender identities.”

“For trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists, representation can lead to various issues including the commodification of personal identity, the tokenisation of work, having the complexity of one’s practice be reduced to a gender-centric reading, and witnessing the erasure of gender diversity in broader gendered contexts. Other challenges include being excluded from dialogue, being misgendered in a public domain and having artwork censored,” they continued.

This new resource, supported by Countess and NAVA, aims to provide institutions, galleries and curators with tools and strategies for working with and supporting trans, non-binary and gender diverse people. 

Representatives from Countess say: "The Clear Expectations resource is a timely and much needed piece of research that we are proud to be the original commissioning partner of. The resource has already impacted on our data collection philosophy and we believe it will have a significant impact across the art and cultural sector." 

“Clear Expectations is so needed and so welcome. NAVA is proud to support this important resource written by Archie Barry and Spence Messih, and so deeply impressed with the ongoing work of the Countess in championing gender equity for transformative change,” said Esther Anatolitis, Executive Director of NAVA.

Gender equity is a social, cultural and political issue that affects everybody. The participation, representation and action of people of all genders is essential for a world that’s ethical, confident and creative.

Nationally consistent, nationally observed industry standards are essential to unleashing ambition and achieving fairness. NAVA urges the sector to spend time reading this new resource of best practice for art spaces ranging from artist run initiatives to larger institutes, when working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse creatives.

“Take the time to read through this resource with your collaborators, colleagues, board and staff,” said Esther Anatolitis, “and let’s make sure the contemporary arts sector is respectful, safe and welcoming for all trans, non-binary and gender diverse people.”

Clear Expectations is now available as a free download below and via the new Countess website It has also been added to NAVA’s Gender Equity resources and will be available as part of NAVA’s revised Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts, Media, Craft and Design Sector.

About the authors

Spence Messih is an artist based in Sydney, Australia. Their practice speaks broadly to sites of pressure, power structures, materiality and language and more specifically about these things in relation to their own trans experience. Recently, Messih has been re-examining processes and materials historically associated with abstraction and minimalism to create artworks that communicate plural experiences of gender. Their work has been exhibited at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art; Artspace, Sydney; ALASKA Projects; Firstdraft Gallery; MOP Projects; Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts; Hazelhurst Regional Gallery; and Stills Gallery, among others. They have undertaken artist residency programs with Bundanon Trust; Wildfjords, West Fjords, Iceland; and at NES, Skagaströnd, Iceland. They were a recipient of The Freedman Foundation Scholarship for Emerging Artists through NAVA in 2017 and showed as part of the 2018 Primavera exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. They are a current PhD candidate at the University of NSW Art & Design.

Archie Barry is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Melbourne, Australia. Their practice is concerned with non-disclosure, embodiment, listening and language, often de-forming and re-forming words (spoken, sung or written) into live gestures. Their performance work has been exhibited at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art; the Centre for Contemporary Photography; the State Library of Victoria; Neon Parc; Artspace, Sydney; ALASKA Projects; and Contemporary Art Tasmania among others. Barry completed a Masters of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts in 2017.

About Countess

Countess was established in 2008 by artist Elvis Richardson as a blog compiling and publishing statistics on gender representation in the visual arts. In 2016 Countess released The Countess Report a comprehensive data collection survey of gender representation in the Australian art sector. In 2017 Miranda Samuels and Amy Prcevich joined as co-Editors. Countess was recently commissioned by Campbelltown Art Centre to create an artistic response to their permanent collection as part of the exhibition Borrowed Scenery, and future institutional interventions and critiques are in development. An updated Countess Report is currently being researched and will be published in 2019.  

About NAVA

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) leads advocacy, policy and action for an Australian contemporary arts sector that’s ambitious and fair. Since its establishment in 1983, NAVA has been influential in bringing about policy and legislative change to encourage the growth and development of the visual arts sector and to increase professionalism within the industry. Through the Code of Practice for the Professional Australian Visual Arts, Media, Craft and Design Sector, NAVA sets national best practice standards for the contemporary arts industry.

In 2018, in response to widespread disclosures of current, recent and historical cases of gendered harassment, NAVA released a set of resources for Members including a whistleblower protocol drafted by Herbert Smith Freehills acting pro bono, and the open letter and video Dear Person I’ve Been Reluctant To Keep Engaging With But Have Had To For Professional Reasons.

Images: (L) Archie Barry, Hypnic, performance approximately four minutes. Fifth rendition, Artspace Sydney, 26 September 2018. (R) Spence Messih, Primavera: Young Australian Artists 2018, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Sydney. Photos by Jacquie Manning.

Clear Expectations: Guidelines for institutions, galleries and curators working with trans, non-binary and gender diverse artists in Australia