Museum mourns death of former director

CANBERRA’S visual arts community has been shocked to learn of the death earlier this week of the Canberra Museum and Gallery’s inaugural director, Angela Philp, aged 63, after a short battle with cancer. 

Angela Philp

Dr Philp, who was CMAG director from 1996 to 2000, had been working as a lecturer in fine art at the University of Newcastle for 10 years previous to her very recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Tributes have been pouring in to “CityNews” from former colleagues, who remember her as a vivacious, tenacious educationist and advocate for the arts who understood the importance of “democracy in the arts”. In a brief newspaper obituary, her family have written: “Lived for and loved the arts”.

The present director of Canberra Museum and Gallery, Shane Breynard said yesterday: “We are saddened to hear of the death of CMAG’s inaugural director Angela Philp. The passion, expertise and energy Angela brought to her role helped to establish a firm foundation for CMAG to develop and flourish.”

Former education officer at the CMAG in its earliest years, Fiona Hooton, recollected the enthusiasm with which Philp set up educational arts programs in the 18 months before the gallery opened, later extending this into  the “Youth Ambassadors” program at the gallery, where 16-year-olds from Campbell High School were trained to become gallery guides.

“She really believed in depth of engagement in her approach to arts education,” Hooton said, describing her as “really visionary”.

As Canberra grew into self-government, emerging as a lively city in its own right, deserving of its own gallery, Philp was at the forefront of the move to make that happen.

Philp plunged into the cultural life of Canberra in the 80s’ and 90s’. She was one of the loudest voices in the golden era preceding the formation of the ACT Cultural Council and the Cultural Facilities Corporation when arts ministers Bill Wood and Gary Humphries held regular public arts forums.

She played a part in setting up the Canberra Sculpture Forum in 1995, later acquiring for CMAG papers regarding the notorious sculpture by Melbourne artist Greg Taylor titled “Down by the lake with Liz and Phil”.

She joined communities, and later put together a book on the first 10 years of the Australian National Capital Artists (ANCA). She became a Commonwealth Approved Art Valuer for Australian art and edited papers for The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Her voice was authoritative. Originally from Tasmania, Philp graduated in art from the University of Sydney, gained a Dip.Ed. from Sydney Teachers College and went on to a successful teaching career, introducing countless students to the appreciation of art. She later graduated with a Masters from the University of Sydney with a thesis on the “Sydney Society of Women Painters”.

From 1983 to 1987 she was a senior lecturer in education at the National Gallery of Australia to which she later returned as a sessional lecturer. In 1988 she was headhunted by Canberra School of Art chief David Williams to become a lecturer in art history and theory, but left after a year to take up the directorship of the Nolan Gallery for the ACT Government, where she remained from 1989 to 1996, enjoying respect from her staff, some of whom have emailed “CityNews” to express their sadness at her death.

After leaving the CMAG, Philp completed her PhD at The ANU in 2006 on the topic, “Museums and the public sphere in Australia: Between rhetoric and practice”. Her career in the arts to that point gave her plenty of fuel for case studies on the subject.

Angela Joy Philp, died in Newcastle on January 29. She is survived by her daughter Stephanie.

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