Canberra, known for its major institutions with national implications, and broad avenues that circle suburbia in the bush, does not immediately scream independent arts and culture, but a newly opened gallery in the heart of ANU is creating a place for the growth of a local arts scene.
The offshoot of Sydney’s aMBUSH Gallery, based in Waterloo, aMBUSH in Canberra is part of the wider Kambri precinct, the largest change to the ANU’s campus since its establishment. Honouring the connection between the precinct and the First Nations peoples who gifted the name to the university, the first show at Kambri aMBUSH will be a collection of 15 First Nations artists, some emerging and some established.
“It was very natural for us,” described Bill Dimas, co-director of aMBUSH Gallery. “We were infected by that positive attitude that the ANU had so we wanted to kick off programming for Kambri aMBUSH with an only First Nations show.”
Entitled While You Were Sleeping, the show includes artists of all mediums, and as intended for the precinct as a whole, is a meeting point for artists from across the country and of varying artistic traditions. Works range from Blak Douglas’s graphic canvases, Robert Fielding’s photography and Noni Cragg’s portraiture. As Dimas emphasised,
“There is a new wave of First Nations artists who are doing really incredible work out there and now is the time to really open our eyes and pay attention to it.”
Beyond exhibitions, Kambri aMBUSH will be continuing the public programming of other aMBUSH outlets, here with a focus on connecting to the surrounding student community.
“We're going to continue doing what we're doing, which is platforming young and emerging artists and also showcasing established artists,” noted Dimas. “We're excited [that] here at ANU we're going to be working with ANU students, and we're going to be working with a lot of Canberra artists.”
aMBUSH does not see its role as to simply showcase art on its walls. The Sydney gallery has been a home to street art that has spilled into the laneways around Waterloo and Central Park, and no artists are charged a commission to exhibit. Instead, aMBUSH works with private sector partners to fund the gallery and its projects.
Dimas highlighted that, “we're living in a time where the arts is underfunded by government [and] therefore the formula that artists had been following for such a long time, gallery representation and so forth, that landscape has totally changed.”
This is not to say that artists do not have a role in public conversations, far from it ,according to Dimas.
“Artists are really the last frontier of storytellers, they look at society, they look at news events they look at what's happening in the world, whereas the media protects corporate interests and at some point the message can become quite diluted. We've always felt that the artists are at the forefront; they are documenting, they are perceiving what's happening out there and then they're putting it in their work.”
To get these artists to the widest possible audiences, particularly at a time where commercial galleries are struggling, and contemporary art is moving towards giant art fairs, the small scale exhibitions that enliven a city week by week had to turn to a new source of funding, in this case, a partnership with the corporate sector.
Countering suggestions of corporate greed, Dimas suggested that for him, “it's all part of how you inter-relate. You can bring the private sector on board in the creative arts because it's a win-win scenario all around. It's really in the artistry of crafting deals, and that's why we've been really successful without sacrificing the quality of the content, nor bastardising the promotion with branded logos everywhere.”
In addition to running aMBUSH, Dimas and his business partner John Wiltshire operate Wiltshire + Dimas Management, a multidisciplinary consultancy. Working with private sector developers, as well as local councils, government bodies and now, universities.
“We're the place-makers and the place-managers for Kambri,” Dimas described. “Not only do we have a gallery here, but we have a very large cultural centre, we have a huge outdoor public realm and there's another five massive buildings.”
Here, Kambri aMBUSH fits within a wider program and project of public activations across the entire precinct, one that Dimas sees as providing an equitable return for the university, the artists and the public, one that Dimas hopes to see continue in the future.
For details on While You Were Sleeping and the wider aMBUSH program, click here: http://ambushgallery.com/.
For more information on Kambri, click here: https://kambri.anu.edu.au/.