Announcement of Churchill Fellowship 2018

NSW Churchill Fellow recipients at Government House, 26 October, 2018.

I am so proud to have been named as one of 112 Australians to receive a prestigious Churchill Fellowship this year. This annual award recognises Australian experts who seek to make a positive impact across their professional fields and was established in 1965, the year in which Sir Winston Churchill died. Its principal objective is to perpetuate and honour the memory of Sir Winston Churchill by the award of Churchill Fellowships. 

A Churchill Fellowship is the award of an opportunity through the provision of financial support that enables Australian citizens to travel overseas to undertake research, analysis or investigation of a project or an issue that cannot be readily undertaken in Australia. 

The fellowship offers the opportunity to visit other countries and investigate inspiring practices that will benefit Australian communities. In 2019, I will be travelling across the US and Canada for eight weeks, visiting institutions including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis; MCA Denver; and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

Young people lining up for GENEXT, April 2012, the MCA’s flagship event for young people aged 12-18. The program is developed and run by the Museum’s Youth Committee. Image courtesy: MCA Australia.

I’m going to be investigating different models of youth-led engagement and informal & peer-to-peer learning programs for young people 12–25 years. These kinds of art- and museum-based programs, which are similar to the ones I run at the MCA, put the ideas and experiences of young people at their centre.

I’m so excited to learn more about these programs because they’ve been proven to have significant long-term impacts on participants, including improved mental health, increased empathy and creative and critical thinking skills, as well as developing lifelong connections to the arts. But these learnings are not just for the benefit of young people – they benefit the arts sector too; it’s vital we find ways to support and engage this audience because they’re our future makers, designers, artists, curators and ambassadors.

The research and travel is obviously a huge part of the Churchill Fellowship but working towards making an impact with your findings on return to Australia is the long-term aim and for me, that means supporting the growth of peer-led youth programming within Australian institutions. As part of my application, I undertook a lot of research here in Australia and affirmed that a lot of the youth programming that takes place in cultural organisations here is currently delivered by adults (that is, it’s not peer-led). This is slowly changing but there is little longitudinal experience or institutional knowledge on a national level in this area, outside the MCA, which is why the Churchill Fellowship is so exciting. My research across the arts sector here reveals a huge desire to work with young people in meaningful and sustainable ways, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about how to begin – and how to sustain it, once you do!

Obligatory Churchill selfie, London, September 2018.

Some of the programs in the US and Canada have been running some phenomenal youth-led programs for more than 15 years nows. I’m really looking forward to meeting with educators, public programmers and participants and to observe these programs first-hand; to find out what makes them so successful and why they’re so important – to the museums that support them, but also to those young people who participate in them.

It’s going to be a life-changing experience.

 

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Frida Kahlo at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

I so, so loved seeing Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the V&A when I was in London earlier this month.

Despite finding the haunting soundtrack they bled into every room a bit emotionally manipulative, I felt that the exhibition - full of personal belongings and artefacts exhumed after 50 years from a locked room in her house, La Casa Azul, in Mexico City - powerfully cut through so much of the myth about her, absolutely anchoring her life and work and extraordinarily wonderful, powerful sartorial choices in her body.

The plaster casts and steel braces; her prosthetic leg; her many medicines and the details of her painso much pain – brought a real clarity and urgency to her work. To create such visceral, clear-sighted, provocative works despite and because of her pain, I’m just in awe really of her intense female energy. To have her passion and anger and vision, when so many others would have foregone their politics and aesthetic agendas for painful solitude and defeat, I was profoundly moved actually. And I also really, really loved – thinking about her jewellery – how she used it to do and say so many things – about herself and about Mexico. Jewellery really can be this extraordinarily powerful, subtle tool for communication if you wear it right

There’s so much more to say about Kahlo, her work, the exhibition, the god awful, tasteless shit they were selling in the giftshop (I can’t imagine how the socialist Kahlo would have felt about £45 floral headbands being sold in her name…) but really, for me - it was about that visceral, tangible connection to her pain and her clarity of purpose.

 

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