Kate Davis at Ararat Gallery TAMA. Image: Supplied
Kate Davis is an artist and curator working at the intersection of art, education and community. She recently took on the role of Visual Arts Coordinator at Ararat Gallery Textile Art Museum of Australia (TAMA) where she leads the artistic direction and management of the Gallery and visual arts initiatives across Ararat Rural City.
Moving from Melbourne to take up the newly created position, Davis quickly realised that working regionally means there’s less room for error because the luxury of resources is further removed in a country town.
‘When things go wrong, it can knock hours, days or weeks off your timeline,’ she admitted.
‘During my first week, the car broke down, and it took me four hours and a number of misadventures before finally arriving at work.’
Similarly, when Davis accidentally dropped a forex sign with printed wall text, knocking off a chunk, the standard 2-3 days it would take to ship a replacement was too long. Instead she was resourceful, working with colleagues to find a local kitchen cabinetry shop who laser cut it for free.
‘You need to think outside the box more so than when you live in the city,’ she said.
In 2018 Ararat Gallery celebrated its 50th anniversary with the completion of a $7.4 million redevelopment, and in recognition of significant textile art history, collection and contemporary programming, a new brand was launched and the gallery was renamed Ararat Gallery TAMA
Since the 1990s the gallery’s permanent collection has continued to grow with acquisitions that reflect the expanding field of textile practice in Australian visual culture. Today the collection is a major repository of textile art (excluding fashion) that is unsurpassed by any other Australian collecting institution.
Before the redevelopment, the gallery was led by a Director, but due to the restructure, a flatter hierarchy now exists giving Davis the title of Visual Arts Coordinator. Unconcerned with grandeur, Davis is more interested in her roles and responsibilities at the gallery rather than her title, embracing all the position has to offer.
Ararat Gallery TAMA. Image: Michelle Dunn
Read: The changing identity of regional galleries and museums
Alongside being able to help shape a new arts precinct, it was the gallery’s specific focus that interested Davis.
‘I was very taken by the gallery’s collection, which has a strong representation of women and tracks the development of textile art in Australia,’ she said. ‘Likewise, I was fascinated by Ararat’s history, being the only town in Australia to be founded by Chinese immigrants – the possibility of belonging to a tight-knit community and living in the Grampians was also very appealing.’
Overseeing the gallery’s collection, curating exhibitions, organising public programs, education and community events’ are just some of the tasks Davis takes on in her new role, and it’s the diversity that’s so appealing.
‘I get to do a bit of everything, which I really enjoy,’ she said. ‘I am committed to nurturing the Australian arts ecology and seek to understand the mechanisms that govern the industry. I have always known that regional galleries play an important role, but I wanted to understand this position more deeply.’
Regional galleries: going from strength to strength
Prior to working at Ararat Gallery TAMA, Davis organised projects for festivals, institutions ARIs, community spaces and schools; both in Australia and abroad. Last year, as an independent practitioner, she undertook a research residency at the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, founded Pavement Projects and participated in the 4A Curators’ Intensive, the Shanghai Curators Lab and MoreArt Public Art Show.
Currently she’s at the Venice Biennale where she’s been appointed as an Exhibition Team Leader for 'ASSEMBLY', Angelica Mesiti's exhibition in the Australian Pavilion. It's her broad range of experiences, such as this, that she cites as helping to secure her position.
‘As I need to be across all operations within the gallery, the diversity of my experience placed me well for this position – both the organisations, venues and audiences I’ve worked with, and the roles and responsibilities themselves.’
One of the things that makes regional galleries so potent, she says, is that they’re willing to be autonomous.
‘Instead of replicating things seen elsewhere, regional galleries are defining and distinguishing themselves by their own unique characteristics,’ Davis said.
She hopes her vision for Ararat Gallery TAMA will further exemplify this.
‘Art objects only tell part of the story; I want the gallery to be teeming with life and activity and for community members and international visitors alike to feel welcome and included. Through hosting residencies and nurturing socially engaged practices, I hope the gallery will become a place where information and ideas are produced and exchanged. I’d like to learn more about the locality through site-specific projects that integrate science, technology and design. Ideally these activities would spill from the gallery into spaces and places throughout Ararat Rural City.’
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