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Art Aid

Review by Ann McMahon

Art Aid an exhibition and art auction held at the ANCA Gallery in Canberra responded to the shocking news of the boxing day tsunami. It raised $17,500 for Care Australia. A call that went out to Canberra’s professional arts community generated generous donation of 96 items. Senior and established artists contributed along with recent graduates and the mediums represented spanned the spectrum. An unprecedented survey of contemporary Canberra practice was the result. At the opening, ACT Chief Minister and Minister for the Arts, Mr Jon Stanhope spoke about Canberra’s experience of natural disaster and of the generosity with which the Australian public characteristically reacts.

He reminded listeners of devastation that continues to occur as a result of human conflict and urged us not to become weary of giving. He also directed our attention to the exhibition and recommended a spirit of engagement to get to know and understand the works, an approach he said he is applying to his new arts portfolio. The exhibition in the ANCA Gallery from 26 January to 5 February consisted of work by eighty Canberra artists. The ANCA artists, not only organized and ran the event as volunteers, but were well represented, among the contributors. Around a dozen former and twenty nine current ANCA tenants made donations including: Anna Eggert, Jude Rae, Mickey Allan, Elizabeth Kelly, Julie Ryder, and Oliver Smith.

Many Canberra arts identities donated works to Art Aid including: writer and administrator Meredith Hinchcliffe, Suzy Edwards, Coordinator of the Tuggeranong Arts Centre; Barb McConchie, Director of Craft ACT, Peter Zanetti, Director of Megalo Access Arts; Annie Trevillian, Ruth Waller and Peter Maloney, lecturers at the Canberra School of Art; Vivienne Binns, Head of Core Studies; Johannes Kuhnen, Head of the Gold and Silversmithing Workshop at the Canberra School of Art and Helen Aitken-Kuhnen, his partner in Workshop Bilk in Queanbeyan; Jane Barney, Public Art Officer with artsACT and former Director of the Canberra Contemporary Art Space.

The show culminated on the evening of Friday 4 February with an exciting live auction. Phill Lynch, ex-basketballer and local media personality showed an auctioneer’s sense of timing and humor when a baby with a bidder number almost carried off one of the nights bargains, a Matisse print donated by Canberra dealer, Stephanie Burns. Competition was particularly strong for Decorative Arts pieces from some of Canberra’s leading crafts people. Sharon Peoples’ machine embroidered Red Polk Shoes was a hot item and a ceramic installation by exciting emerging artist Anna Gianakis sold for twice the catalogue price. Jewelry by Johannes Kuhnen and Sally Mussett concluded the live auction in dramatic style. Catrina Vignando of Craft Australia and Barb McConchie of Craft ACT, both delighted with their respective prizes, reported having great fun on live auction night.

The event had a serious side as well and was conceived as a way for artists, usually lacking financial capital, to contribute to the tsunami appeal. But it would not have been possible to arrange Art Aid at such short notice without being able to draw on the physical, creative and human resources of ANCA. ANCA is an incorporated not for profit ARI based in the ACT, which celebrates the 15th anniversaries of the establishment of the ANCA studios in Mitchell this year and the opening of the purpose-built access gallery and artists’ studio complex in Dickson in 2006. For more information about ANCA and the artist tenants, go to the ANCA website.

Not only was Art Aid a wonderful exhibition, it brought together practicing artists motivated by a desire to make the world a better place. When he introduced the auction, Robert Glasser, Care Australia’s CEO, talked about devastation that is hard to imagine, about the loss of lives, of buildings, services and communities. He felt overwhelmed, he said, by the unparalleled support that has come from the people of Australia. The spirit and character that underlies human endurance and kindness also drives creative expression and it showed in Art Aid.

Ann McMahon is a freelance writer and artist based in Canberra. March 2004