How local art made Australia’s national capital

How local art made Australia’s national capital
Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak
Australian National University Press

‘In a city primarily constructed to accommodate the business of federal politics, the arts scene is, by contrast, marked by a distinct lack of political correctness. I determined to find out why this was so.’ – Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak

Researched and written by author Anni Doyle Wawrzyńczak, ‘How local art made Australia’s national capital’ pays tribute to Canberra’s rich arts and cultural landscape. Situated on the lands of traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people, Canberra was originally founded as the site for Federal Government office in 1908, which has also evolved as a bedrock for Artist Run Initiatives, commercial galleries, and important historical, social and cultural institutions; Australian War Memorial, National Gallery of Australia, National Portrait Gallery, Australian National University, and Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS), to name just a few.


Six chapters traverse a two-part history of how local art prospered as a powerful communal force pivotal to the evolution of the city’s local and national capital space amid vigorous political agendas.

Part one cites Canberra’s local arts community as a unique dynamic and key motivator in the cultivation of the precinct’s formidable art scene since the 1920s. Surveying the years between 1920 to 1978; Wawrzyńczak re-asserts the power of women as influential makers of social reform; discusses approaches to local and national federal arts funding; the growth of commercial galleries and other exhibition spaces; and the development of Canberra and its surrounds. With reference to the 1985 Pascoe Report into funding for arts and cultural development in the ACT, Wawrzyńczak looks back at the issues and solutions pertaining to the lack of; studio and exhibition spaces; funding for flagship performing arts companies; and the inadequacies of funding and forward planning across the entire arts sector during the 1980-1990s era.

Part two highlights contemporary visual arts practice from 1978 to 2000. With reflection on a case study on Bitumen River Gallery (BRG) / Canberra Contemporary Art Space (CCAS), the extraordinary achievements of local arts practice, comes to view. Wawrzyńczak revisits the circumstances that led to the establishment of BRG; the merger of BRG and the Arts Council Gallery in 1987, which formed CCAS; and charts the history of the gallery’s directorship; and its transcendence from local focus to international markets; the artists and exhibitions including ‘Satellite of love’ by Dale Frank, ‘60 heads’ by eX de Medici, and Indigenous exhibition ‘Black books’, and many others.

Wawrzyńczak gives merit to the energetic arts and cultural atmosphere of Australia’s capital city with consideration for the political milieu within which it continues to broaden and diversify.

Kirsty Francis is an arts writer based in Sydney

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