Professor Ted Snell AM CitWA, soon to be former Director of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at the University of WA.
As champagne flowed and freshly shucked oysters were consumed at the otherwise joyous occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Friends of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery on Saturday, Ted Snell, Director of Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at the University of WA announced he would be leaving his position at the end of December. Incredulous members and committee of the Friends were left reeling by the announcement, as Snell congratulated them on their long and valued contribution to the Gallery, and urged them to continue their vision of inclusiveness and support for the Gallery.
Speaking after the announcement, Snell said the University had decided to dispense with a director of the Gallery. The move comes after a decision to relocate the Berndt Museum of Anthropology to the School of Indigenous Studies, and UWA Publishing to the University Library. “There’s no associate director of the Berndt, or director of UWA Publishing, and now Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery,” said Snell. “And there’s no word on what will replace those roles.”
The University cites its grim financial situation a result of poor management over the past decade, which has been compounded by the effects of the pandemic, leaving no alternative than to make radical changes.
“I think it’s going to be difficult as we don’t know what is planned,” said Snell. “The University has been saying they will do a review of arts and culture for three years. Staff contracts have been renewed five times in those three years, and are now coming up for renewal on 31 March next year, so a decision will need to be made on the next steps forward.”
Snell said the UWA Cultural Precinct will also be disbanded in early January 2021. The Precinct provided pathways to connect art, music, theatre, publishing and cultural activities occurring at UWA throughout the year, while also managing Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, the Berndt Museum, the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art and the University of WA Art Collection. “We have been very attuned to the local community as a result,” said Snell. “Paradoxically, at Lawrence Wilson we reached out to engage students and the various teaching and research areas for every exhibition, now it will become part of an education program to engage students.”
Only two major exhibition periods have been booked for the Gallery next year, and several smaller shows. “Unfortunately I was the curator of one of them,” said Snell, “so, I’m not sure what will happen there.”
Asked about his future direction, Snell said he planned to do some of the things he’s been doing badly, very well. “I have plenty to do. In some respect I’m excited about having the time and flexibility to do other things.”
For now though, there is still much to do before he hangs up his hat at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. Last Friday saw the opening of Ross Seaton: The Master of Nedlands at The Naval Store in Fremantle. Part of the UWAway program initiated in 2016 to take cultural activities off campus to attract people back to campus, over 400 people attended the opening in the massive 840 square metre space, built in 1935 as a warehouse for the Australian Navy. Located at the juncture of Queen Victoria Street and Canning Highway, and with a distinctive octopus adorning its north-facing exterior, the building is a familiar sight to those crossing the old Traffic Bridge into Fremantle.
The exhibition features the work of unknown artist Ross Seaton (1944-2020), whose vast output over several decades was unknown to the world during his lifetime. Seaton was known as ‘the walking man,’ a familiar sight as he walked along Stirling Highway to the ocean. Curated by Snell, it is the first large-scale exhibition of his work, and is accompanied by a monograph.
Snell said his real concern at the moment is to make sure as many people as possible visit the exhibition before it closes on 13 December. “The current Drew Pettifer exhibition at Lawrence Wilson is also touring to Bunbury Regional Art Galleries, opening on 19 December, so there’s quite a lot of activity before the end of the year. These are the things I’m really focusing on at present. And doing the invigilation at the Ross Seaton show has been quite good fun to be honest. I’m enjoying it enormously – talking to people coming in to the exhibition has been really terrific.”
He said Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery is well regarded not only in Western Australia, but also nationally and internationally. “We have, I believe, worked really hard to represent Western Australian artists, and create different exhibitions which wouldn’t be held in other places. University galleries make an incredibly important contribution to the life of a community, and the University of WA has been a hub for cultural activities since it was established over 100 years ago. That does now seem to be at risk, which is distressing, and should be to the wider community.”
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery at the University of WA.