Western Plains Cultural Centre

Beyond Community Engagement: Transforming Dialogues in Art, Education and the Cultural Sphere

In 2016 I was approached by Dr Kim Snepvangers at UNSW Art & Design and invited to contribute a chapter to Beyond Community Engagement: Transforming Dialogues in Art, Education and the Cultural Sphere, part of the UNSW Curated Series: Transformative Pedagogies in the Visual Domain.

With a focus on peer-led learning and institutional partnerships, I approached my former South London Gallery colleague Sarah Coffils, now SLG Head of Education, to co-write the chapter with me, which we titled “Collaboration or Cooperation: Peer-led Learning and Institutional Partnerships through Two Case Studies.”

We took a dialogic approach to framing the chapter and called on past project collaborators and several key academics in the field of peer-led learning to contribute their reflections, which they did generously and openly.

That was 2016. And then edits and re-writes and publishing hold-ups meant nothing… until now. Finally: it’s here.

I’m really proud of what Sarah and I wrote and am so grateful to Kim for the opportunity to take on this challenge and for her critical, constructive, encouraging feedback along the way.

The book can be purchased here (if some light academic reading is your thing) but the Abstract to Sarah’s and my chapter is copied below.


 This chapter explores from a practitioner-based perspective, two recent arts projects, that employed peer-led and project based models of learning to engage with a specific audience of young people aged 13-25. While distinct in their organisational structure, duration and delivery, both projects were conceived as part of unique institutional partnerships that engaged artists, creative industry practitioners and curatorial and educational peers as central to each projects’ realisation.

The two case studies include a UK project called the Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project (LVYAP) that was conceived by the South London Gallery and ran from September 2009 –  March 2013 in partnership with the Tate (across both Tate Modern and Tate Britain), Whitechapel Gallery, the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts. Both authors worked on this project. The second case study is from Australia and is the Kaldor Public Art Projects Pilot Regional Engagement Project, which in contrast with the LVYAP, ran for a shorter period of just 12 weeks, from May to July 2015. The project was part of the educational program for Project 30 – Marina Abramović: In Residence . It was delivered in partnership with the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo in central western NSW with support from regional arts board Orana Arts. One of the authors, Jo Higgins, worked on this project.

Using a dialogic conversational format to reflect on what worked and what didn’t in these two projects, the authors’  explore the institutional nature of collaboration, as something distinct from cooperation, and considers the role of agency and outcomes for both facilitators and participants in understanding what may constitute success. The relative successes of each project are considered in light of Australian and International evaluative reports on peer-led learning and shifting cultural agendas as well as key academic texts on collaboration and models of museum-based learning.

Ultimately, we attempt to draw some conclusions about best practice models of working in regards to institutional partnership projects and innovative engagement programs that target a specific audience of young people; an audience that necessarily needs to be nurtured if cultural institutions are to have vital and engaged future audiences.



What It Means to be Me, Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, 26 July 2015

Kaldor Public Art Project’s pilot regional engagement program wrapped up last weekend. I’m elated, exhausted, proud and a bit overwhelmed by its success and all the very positive feedback we’ve received from the participants and various stakeholders.

Below are some images from the final exhibition, held last weekend at the Dubbo Regional Gallery, Western Plains Cultural Centre. The exhibition was opened by the Hon. Troy Grant, NSW Minister for the Arts and John Kaldor, director of Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Photos: Alex Wisser / Kaldor Public Art Projects


There’s an immediacy and honesty to performance art that lends itself, perhaps more than any other form of art, to an exploration of what it means to exist in any one particular moment in time.

Over the last 10 weeks, seven rather extraordinary local teenagers have pioneered their own understanding of performance art as part of Kaldor Public Art Project’s Pilot Regional Engagement Program. This pilot, which has formed a central part of the wider education and public program for the recent Project 30 – Marina Abramovic: In Residence at Sydney’s Pier 2/3, culminates today in this very special one-day exhibition, What It Means to be Me.

Throughout the program, the participants have explored and tested ideas of presence, movement, the role of the body in art and how we interrogate and construct ideas about ourselves and about the world around us.

The seven works presented here express their very personal experiences and enquiries about love, misunderstanding, imagination, disconnection, social expectation, empathy and something of the magic of Marina.

In presenting these beautifully deft explorations of what it means to be them at this moment in time, they hope also to ask, what it does it mean to be you?


Justen Beehag

Caitlyn Coman-Sargent

Grace Farmilo

Shanae Gosper

Kate Hagan

Clare Noonan

Sam Read


The Kaldor Public Art Project Pilot Regional Engagement Program has been supported by Arts NSW and the Federal Ministry for the Arts in partnership with Western Plains Cultural Centre and Orana Arts.



More Marina Magic

How many teenagers in their lifetime get a masterclass in performance art from the internationally acclaimed Marina Abramovic?

Well, I know of eight. And they’re all from Dubbo.

On Saturday 3 July, the Kaldor Public Art regional engagement project reached its halfway point. The pilot, in the context of our recent project with Abramovic, has proven to be a unique and hugely rewarding opportunity to engage with ideas around performance art using the very immediate experiences of our teenage participants.

Through a series of workshops, discussions, exercises and activities (led by myself, theatre director Imara Savage and artist Lottie Consalvo) we’ve been exploring the role of the body as a gesture or action in art making. We’ve also been looking at ideas of presence and energy and the role of the audience, and asking our intrepid participants to mine their own ideas and experiences, challenging them to consider how they might explore some of these emotions and responses as a work of art.

Earlier this month the participants joined us in Sydney for two days at Pier 2/3. It was a chance to experience Project 30 – Marina Abramovic: In Residence and to be part of our dedicated public program event with Western Plains Cultural Centre aptly titled, The Western Plains Respond. It was also an opportunity for them to see their learning and works-in-progress in the context of the 12 emerging Australian artists living in residence at the Pier (of which Lottie was one) and to meet the rest of the Kaldor Public Art Projects team.

The Marina masterclass wasn’t on the agenda. It was an impromptu event, proposed by Marina herself no less, after she met everyone on Friday and was told about what they’ve been up to for the last couple of months. Marina challenged them to explain their ideas, asked critical questions, gave thoughtful feedback and told them in no uncertain terms to commit to their ideas, especially the ones that frightened them, because they usually proved to be the most important ones.

All of which will be on display during the special one-day exhibition at Dubbo Regional Gallery at the Western Plains Cultural Centre on Sunday 26 July.

This huge and exciting culmination to the project is a chance for the participants to present their work as serious young artists, and to learn what’s involved in curating an exhibition. Which is why Kent Buchanan, Curator of the WPCC and Andrew Glassop, WPCC General Manager, along with the rest of the Dubbo team are taking the unprecedented step of giving them their own exhibition space in the main gallery.

Their final performance pieces, which will be curated by Kent, deftly explores their teenage experiences of disconnection, feminism, mental health, love, worry and expectation.

Presented from 11am as part of a special day-long, free public program that includes the official launch of the Public Art of Dubbo website by Deputy Premier and NSW Arts Minister, the Hon. Troy Grant, and an afternoon panel discussion on the changing nature of public art. Chaired by Kent Buchanan, panellists include Kaldor Public Art Projects Director John Kaldor, artist Alex Wisser and Regional Arts Development Officer for Orana Arts, Alecia Leggett. And probably a participant or seven.

The day gets underway at 10.30am and concludes at 3pm with refreshments and informal reflections. No bookings are required and the events and exhibition are free to attend.

It’s an important moment for us in our pilot project but beyond that, it’s a very special opportunity to experience the work of some exciting young artists who have absolutely earned an audience for their work. Just ask Marina.


This article was written for Museums and Galleries New South Wales in my capacity as Regional Engagement Coordinator for Kaldor Public Art Projects and originally published on 11 July 2015. http://mgnsw.org.au/articles/more-marina-magic/