Nick Mitzevich. Photo by Helen Musa

FOR a couple of months there was the rumour, then in early April the art world’s worst-kept secret was out in the open – the new National Gallery director is to be Nick Mitzevich.

Paul Costigan.

There have been many praiseworthy statements about Mitzevich’s work as director of the Art Gallery of SA. He finishes in that role with two successful exhibitions – “Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay” (recommended – I saw it in Singapore) and the “2018 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art”.

Not to take away from the positives, but this appointment did highlight a couple of curiosities.

Right now all the major state galleries and the National Gallery have directors who are white, male Anglo-Europeans. The exception could be SA, if the government replaces Nick with a talented woman of non-Anglo-European descent.

If you look around the regional galleries, you will find many talented women occupying the positions of director – and if you go back further it is clear that women dominate the graduating classes from art schools, museum and art history programs. There’s something wrong here. Somewhere along their career paths there is resistance to women making their way through to the top visual arts jobs.

We have had the Australian Human Rights Commission report by Tim Soutphommasane (pronounced Soot-pom-ma-sarn) that highlighted the inequity in racial backgrounds within the ranks of Australia’s CEOs. So who among the visual arts has been favouring Anglo-Europeans as the directors of our major state and national galleries? Unfortunately, this task falls to government-appointed gallery boards and ultimately to the relevant minister or cabinet. So it remains a larger corporate/institutional problem, not one controlled by the arts communities around Australia.

Then there is this other local curiosity. Regional gallery directors often have a high profile within the community. Think Bendigo, Geelong, Bathurst, Newcastle, Ballarat and the list goes on.

Here in Canberra, as has been demonstrated by the interest around the appointment of Nick Mitzevich to the NGA, there is a lot of interest in the goings-on within the NGA.

But wait – we also have a local Canberra Museum and Art Gallery (CMAG). How many people who took an interest in the NGA appointment could name our own CMAG director and have visited the wonderful 20-year “Celebration” exhibition – to quote from its brochure: “that reflects both the creative breadth of its artists and the historical context of art in the Canberra region”.

While the CMAG and its staff have been doing a great job with exhibitions, one wonders how much more the ACT government should be doing to ensure a higher profile for the visual arts in Canberra alongside all the interest in the exhibitions at the National Gallery and other national cultural institutions. I suggest that there is a lot more to be done by the ACT Arts Minister.

All signs are good about Mitzevich’s appointment (starting July 2) and I join with the many who are looking forward to seeing a higher profile, through exhibitions and online, for the fabulous NGA collections that need to come out of the storerooms more often.

We need to see more homegrown blockbusters from the NGA. We also hope that sometime soon we may also see the return of dedicated spaces for particular cherished art forms, such as sculpture, photography and the decorative arts.

Mitzevich takes on the NGA at an “interesting” time especially given what he is famous for – his enthusiasm for the visual arts and curatorship. The coming years could be a good time for those of us and our friends interstate who used to love going to the gallery very often.

And for those who do not know – the director of the CMAG is Shane Breynard.

Paul Costigan is an independent commentator and consultant on the visual arts, photography, urban design, environmental issues and everyday life matters.

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Ian Meikle, editor