NERAM director Robert Heather hopes to make art museum a tourist destination

 NERAM art director Robert Heather.
NERAM art director Robert Heather.

After the success of the second Wimble’s Wayzgoose printing festival last weekend, NERAM director Robert Heather has exciting plans for the gallery.

“NERAM should be the jewel in the crown,” he said. “We want to be a tourism destination as well as a community facility. We want the local community to come and feel ownership of what's here, but we also want to support the local economy by attracting tourists into Armidale.”

He hopes that people will make a special trip to visit NERAM – and stay for a few days to explore wineries, restaurants, and historic buildings.

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Already, the gallery’s festivals and big exhibitions are drawing art-lovers to the region.

Artists and printmakers from around the country and overseas came to the five-day Wayzgoose, which featured practical workshops, seminars, and making a Big Print.

“In the long run,” Mr Heather said, “we'd like to make it something people come to Armidale for, with leading printmakers or artists presenting workshops."

The event also included the first Packsaddle Lecture, a new series exploring Australian and international artistic practices and history.

Shane Carmody, historian at the University of Melbourne, gave the inaugural F.T. Wimble Lecture on Britain’s rare books, from the Sinners’ Bible (“Thou shalt commit adultery”), for which the unfortunate printer was fined the equivalent of $84,000 and lost his licence, to the fierce rivalry between aristocratic collectors, who bankrupted their estates to get hold of incunabula.

The Howard Hinton lecture on Australian art history and the Chandler Coventry Lecture on contemporary art will follow later this year.

While NERAM has exciting exhibitions of Indigenous art, ceramics, abstract art, and private art collections, one of its biggest events this year will commemorate the 180th anniversary of the Myall Creek massacre, when convicts and stockmen murdered 28 Aborigines.

“Myall Creek and Beyond”, which opens in June, has been two years in gestation, and will feature works by leading contemporary Aboriginal artists, a symposium at UNE, and a visit to the Myall Creek Memorial.

Singer/songwriters David Leha (“Radical Son”) and Quarralia Knox worked with community members around the region this week to create video projects for the exhibition.

“We’re making sure that it has national significance,” Mr Heather said.

Since becoming director in 2015, Mr Heather has boosted NERAM’s profile by sending touring exhibitions from the Howard Hinton collection around the country. More than 18,000 people, for instance, saw 50 of the collection’s greatest hits at the Hazelhurst Gallery, Sydney, last year.

While he sees the gallery as nationally significant, Mr Heather also believes the museum belongs to locals.

“We want to make everyone in New England, everyone in Armidale, committed enthusiastic supporters of NERAM,” he said.

“It’s very much a community hub, the centre of the intellectual, social and artistic community.

“It’s also a place where people can come with their kids and grandparents. We want to make sure everyone feels welcome and is welcome."

Abstract or contemporary modern art may not be to everyone's taste, he said, but there will always be a mix of styles in the gallery spaces, plus the Hinton collection on permanent display.

NERAM also runs children’s programmes, and classes and activities for seniors. It’s working with Aboriginal people, international students from the university, and, hopefully, soon the refugees moving to town.

“We feel that Armidale's becoming a more diverse place,” Mr Heather said, “and that everyone from every community should feel welcome here."

This story NERAM director Robert Heather's exciting plans for art gallery | See pictures of printing festival first appeared on The Armidale Express.