Gallery Feature: Grafton Regional Gallery

Gallery Feature: Grafton Regional Gallery

As Galleries, Arts Organisations and Museums around the world fight to keep art accessible during Covid-19, Grafton Regional Gallery are working behind the scenes to deliver arts and cultural experiences for our community in new and exciting ways.

We caught up with Niomi Sands, Regional Gallery Director, to discuss their new initiatives and digital programming:


Describe the impacts of COVID-19 on the gallery and it’s staff?

Even before COVID-19 the gallery had transformed many of its programs to allow for the $7.6 million refurbishment and extension (new main gallery and new flood free art storage). In mid -January all the existing exhibition space except the historic Prentice House at the front of the gallery was handed over to the successful tenderer O’Donnell& Hanlon. These works are scheduled for completion in early December 2020 and COVID-19 to date has had little impact on the construction schedule. Hence the COVID-19 closure of the whole gallery has had less impact on exhibitions than normal as these had already been re-scheduled around construction.

Although the whole Gallery is now closed to the public, all staff are still employed  working behind the scenes to deliver arts and cultural experiences for our community in new and exciting ways. The current situation has provided an opportunity to work on the background logistics required for the new building and its operations plus it has also provided a unique opportunity for the team to bring forward projects that had been put on the “when we have time” pile.

Recently the Gallery launched ‘Art At Home’, a series of fun art activities created by Clarence Valley artists for all ages. Each week the Gallery has added activities to the Art At Home page on the Gallery’s website as soon as they are developed. The page features some of our favourite workshops from the past as well as some innovative drawing activities from guest artists. The great part of this project is that the gallery has been able to support our local artists to design and create workshops to get creative from the comfort of home.

Last week the Gallery team was excited to be add new drawing workshops to the Art at Home page by the 2018 JADA winner Todd Fuller and former artist in residence Jody Graham. Both Todd and Jody have created wonderful workshops that are great way to experiment with drawing at home.


What are some of the gallery’s new digital programming initiatives?

Throughout the closure the Gallery has continued to present arts and cultural activities for all ages. Online samples of upcoming exhibitions, interviews have featured on the Gallery’s website and social media.

In April we presented a digital version of the Artist Unpacked program that featured online courses from Monica Davidson from Create+ Business and Northern Rivers Creative, Christina Giorgio from Creative Consultancies. Also during April, I presented a few tips for artists as part of the Artist Unpacked program.

During term 2 the Gallery will present an interactive online Art After School class, Paint, Draw & Sketch for Teens  with local artist and teacher Cass-Lyn Palmer. The 6 week online course encourages teens to create a body of artwork  through exploring the basic fundamentals of art including colour mixing with acrylics and an introduction into colour theory, composition and scale, blending, and 2D and 3D forms and is supported by Create NSW.

The Gallery team is super excited to be continuing the NOW+ Project by Goldberg Aberline Studio in a digital version. In the next few weeks Maurice Goldberg and Matthew Aberline will be presenting an online workshop in how to reuse single use plastics. The online workshop will contribute to the larger project and we anticipate that later in the year the Gallery will follow on with some workshops around the Clarence after the current situation resolves.


The unprecedented global changes we are experiencing will have long-term effects on our community. What challenges and opportunities do you hope to see emerging when life returns to somewhat normal (whenever that may be)?

This unprecedented global event has fostered the ingenuity and the resilience of our creativity communities. The rapid up-skilling in digital technology and connecting online has provided opportunities for artists to engage with audiences on a global platform. The event has highlighted the support and collaboration that exists within this sector. I am hopeful that the arts and cultural sector will recovery strongly and maintain and grow the connections developed during this period.


Once we reach this point, what are some of the projects and exhibitions we will be able to experience at the Gallery?

When the Gallery reopens the exhibition program will resume, with shorter exhibition periods so that we can support all the artists who are featured in the 2020 program. The Gallery team is currently reworking the program and as soon as an opening date is announced the Gallery will re-issue the program for the rest of 2020. The program will kick off with exhibitions by Sue Bell and Kade Valja.

The second half of 2020 brings the excitement of the 2020 JADA. This year the prize money has increased and there is a great deal of anticipation as we wait to see the entries. JADA is a celebration of drawing at its best and this year the prize will be judged by Peter McKay, Curatorial Manager of Australian Art at QAGOMA.

As construction of the Gallery extension continues the Gallery team is keen to share the progress. Recently I presented an Instagram Live tour of the construction site and we plan to program regular Instagram Live tours as the site evolves towards construction completion in December this year.

Grafton Regional Gallery

Image: Illustration from ‘Squiggle Game’ by Jaz Grady, available to download from ‘Art at Home’