Public Sector Workers Providing Art and Culture to WA

Photo: Andrea (Right) at the 2018 CPSU/CSA Delegates Mass Meeting.

The vastness and intricacies of the West Australian public sector is rarely explored in the public eye.

Many critical roles such as child protection workers, rangers or juvenile detention centre officers are well publicised, but there are roles that provide cultural enrichment for this city, such as the staff at the Art Gallery of WA (AGWA). 

AGWA is a state government run art gallery, based at the Perth Cultural Centre in the city. It houses collections of art from historical periods to now and includes: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island art, Western Australian art and design, Australian and International art. 

One of AGWA’s knowledgeable staff and new CPSU/CSA Delegate is Andrea Tenger.

She manages AGWA’s Gallery Guides, a group of volunteers who deliver tours to visitors.

Andrea recently nominated to be a Delegate, as she felt communication between management and staff could be more open and effective.

“I’m a brand new delegate, I chose to nominate because the Art Gallery didn’t have any delegates,

“It has been a tough year, VTSS and staff turnover meant we lost 4 valuable people from my small team in a short period of time, only I remained. I have had tremendous support from another delegate at the Library. It’s just great knowing I had someone on my side.

Andrea says few working at the Art Gallery knew Joint Consultative Committees existed.

“I had no idea there was a JCC.

“When I went to my first meeting I was shocked and surprised about how much information there was and then I was able to share that with my fellow Union members.

“For ages we had been hearing rumours and wondering about plans and then they were all items on the agenda and were being addressed by management.

Andrea’s career started nearly two decades ago, working in community development for the Gallery.

“Back in 2000 the gallery was trying to get more young people to visit and engage with the state art collection. I was employed to develop the audience program for youth.

“Our research informed the programming for the Gallery; what kind of art and the way it was displayed, new and innovative interpretive events and activities that supported the works and new technologies to communicate with the audience.

“It was such a successful program and it really helped increase youth participation.”

AGWA has faced a tough few months with the Auditor General reporting that the state art collection is at risk of damage or loss due to a lack of storage space and appropriate conservation. 

“The state art collection is a $300million asset that is owned by all of us.

“It’s almost 18,000 works of art, an important part of our unique cultural history and heritage. Many of the works tell us stories and show experiences of what it means to be West Australian.”

Andrea says the lifeblood of AGWA is the dedicated team of Gallery Guides.

“They are the most amazingly talented, passionate bunch of people.

“Some of them have been volunteering at the Art Gallery for more than forty years.

“None of the tours are scripted, the Gallery Guide selects the tours they want to do and then go away and research it.

“I help deliver training every fortnight to the guides about the works of art on display, but in terms of the tour itself, they really plan it.”

Andrea explains that responding to the visual arts is part of the WA school curriculum, so school tours such as Worth 1000 Words, means the guides ask questions like; “Did you know paintings tell stories too, it’s not just books. What do you think the story is here?”

“We often have these incredibly excited Year Twos giving great responses like ‘The lady looks sad’, and then we explore it more, asking them to look for clues on why she’s sad, or looking at the colours the artist has used. Do they make you feel sad?”

“We really try to get the children to look; it’s all about looking closely and thinking about what you’re looking at.

“The school tours are so important and we love doing them, especially if we have a child who might have never seen art before, and certainly not in an art gallery, just to have that excitement and joy and the look on their faces when they realise “I can talk about art.”

“It’s really special.”

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