Arts institute reveals its vision

Dianne Dempsey | Bendigo Weekly | 08-Feb-2018

La Trobe Art Institute's Kent Wilson. Photo: Andrew Perryman.

One much anticipated item on Bendigo’s art calendar has always been the facade project competition held by the former Visual Arts Centre.

Launched in 2011 on a biennial basis, the competition invited artists to use the huge glass wall that faces onto View Street as their canvas. The results were often controversial and always fascinating 

Kent Wilson, the senior curator of the La Trobe Arts Institute, said that funding for the facade project was no longer available.

“We are now looking at transparency – now people can see what is going on inside the building,” he said. 

Mr Wilson admitted that visitors aren’t always sure of the purpose of the building and he hoped to clarify that situation.

“We sit in one of the busiest spots in Bendigo and naturally need to take advantage of that position,” he told the Weekly.  

Since its transition from the La Trobe Visual Arts Centre VAC to the La Trobe Arts Institute, the latter organisation has started to realise its vision, which hasn’t always been obvious.

Admitting that there was some confusion expressed by the community during the transition process, Mr Wilson was able to clarify the role of the LAI which was restructured at the end of 2016.

“In part, I’m building on what the previous curator/director Paul Northam envisaged and trying to expand from that,” he said.

“We will be having exhibitions that reflect a high quality, learning institution. We’re aiming for a state profile, a national profile and then, hopefully, an international profile.” 

In terms of criteria for exhibiting artists Mr Wilson said there would be an emphasis on trends, experimentation and creativity.

“Art work continues to change its definition,” Mr Wilson said. 

Aware that contemporary art is often challenging, he said part of the institute’s role is to welcome questions and discussions. 

“Everyone’s opinion is as valuable as mine,” he said, suggesting there is no hierarchy when it comes to art appreciation.

Exhibiting artists at the LAI are selected after a process of research and the selection must then be approved by the LAI director, Karen Quinlan, who is also the director of the Bendigo Art Gallery.

There will be seven exhibitions in 2018, held in six-week cycles. 

The current group exhibition, Infrastructuralism, includes a Bendigo trained artist Carolyn Eskdale who is now practising in Melbourne.

Mr Wilson said he is aware that there have been complaints from artists practising in the region that they are not given a strong enough representation in Bendigo.

“I can see if you are an artist in this town you might be frustrated, there are limitations to the opportunities to exhibit. There are so many artists here – including Castlemaine and Kyneton – it is surprising we haven’t a viable gallery dedicated to their work.”

Mr Wilson made it clear that he was keen to represent these neglected artists as the institute evolves.

He added that the View Street building is essentially the headquarters of the LAI and the remit is extensive. 

It includes responsibility for over 8000 pieces of work in the La Trobe art collection which is across all campuses. There is also the sculpture park at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus. 

Other aspects of the LAI charter are the fostering of collaboration between artists, setting up career pathways for students and exploring the potential for a new La Trobe university museum.

The LAI will be continuing the Ateneo de Manila University Artist in Residence partnership program and hopefully extending it to other parts of Asia.

Infrastructuralism will be potentially held across all spaces of the LAI – the galleries, courtyards, hallways, ceilings and toilets. It runs until Saturday, March 17. For inquiries go to


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