THE ANU has a new art gallery in its new $260 million Kambri precinct with the ritzy opening of the aMBUSH Gallery.
“We are a social enterprise, not a commercial gallery, we are more of a project where we work within the urban art genre,” says Bill Dimas, co-founder with his partner, John Wiltshire, of aMBUSH Gallery, when “CityNews” catches up with him by phone to Auckland.
The pair started aMBUSH in Sydney about 12 years ago as a street-art gallery, staging many public art projects, notably in late 2011 the “Outpost Project” on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, which is said to have been the biggest street art festival in the world and attracted more than 86,000 visitors.
“It was part of the process of normalising street art, which was constantly being confused with vandalism because it’s so close to graffiti,” he explains.
“We work with government and local councils to change that image.”
He says early street artists had to leave Australia, but now he and Wiltshire have witnessed a turning point so that people can see how important art is in society.
Former Canberran, the stencil artist ELK or Luke Cornish, was one of their earliest exhibitors and, 12 years later, they’re still working with many of the same people and have had 500 artists through the doors.
“We’re a small gallery, working well within the private sector and picking up where government has left off,” Dimas says.
“In spite of the reduction of funding in the arts, we’re still charging along, it’s really quite thrilling.”
The enterprise is not so small. From 2015 they operated a cultural centre pop-up in Sydney Central Park and filled an entire level with galleries. But at the other end of the spectrum, they’ve also engaged with kids in collaborative programs with schools.
And now there’s Canberra.
The ANU, he notes, already has two galleries on campus, “student-driven galleries” at the ANU School of Art & Design and the Drill Hall Gallery.
“But we’ll be in the heart of the campus, so we can bring in Canberra city, we’re going to embrace Canberra.”
Just in time for National Reconciliation Week from May 27-June 3, they’re opening with what the university calls a “culturally significant inaugural exhibition”, “While You Were Sleeping”, which features the work of 14 emerging and established contemporary First-Nations artists from across Australia in painting, illustration, sculpture, film, photography and mixed media.
The artists include David Cragg, Robert Fielding, Shane “Mankitya” Kookaburra, Noni Cragg, Blak Douglas, Elizabeth Close, Julie Dowling, Warraba Weatherall, Otis Carey, Benita Clements, Michael Cook, Damien Shen and Wayne Quilliam.
Dimas’s other company, Wiltshire + Dimas Management, will be managing and programming the cultural precinct at ANU, with plans to make it an inclusive cultural space for local and international artists, and “to bring a diverse program of great artists, thinkers and makers – a kind of melting pot for the arts.”
“We want to honour the name Kambri, which means ‘meeting place’ in the local First-Nations language,” Dimas says.
aMBUSH Gallery, open to the public in the ANU’s Kambri precinct, accessible by foot from University Avenue. Underground parking available via Kingsley Street.