Curator & Gallery Manager - Arts Project Australia
Co-founder - Art et al.
Sim speaks with the PGAV about co-founding the Art et al. online platform, her experience working with Cromwell Place to deliver the exhibition Season One as part of the UK/AU Season of Culture, and shares her insights and key learnings for the sector about working globally.
Tell us about Art et al. and how the idea for an international online platform came about?
In 2020, Lisa Slominski of Slominski Projects (London), Jennifer Gilbert of Jennifer Lauren Gallery (Manchester), and Arts Project Australia and I began a conversation about the need for a more inclusive and accessible contemporary art world for neurodivergent, intellectually, and learning disabled artists to be seen, heard, and participate. So we formed Art et al., a curatorial platform that connects artists from supported studios with international peers, arts professionals, and audiences.
Art et al.’s programming launched in April 2021, concentrating on British and Australian creatives with and without disabilities.
How did the collaboration with Cromwell Place for Season One come about?
Art et al.’s successful project pitch to the British Council and the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, included ‘in real life’ exhibitions in Australia and the UK. The first was held at Arts Project Australia’s gallery at Collingwood Yards in late 2021. It was important that the second iteration in London also be presented at an arts hub, so that Art et al., could reach new and broad audiences. It was Lisa who suggested we approach Cromwell Place as a venue partner, and Lisa and Katrina Schwarz, curatorial advisor to Art et al. made the presentation. So, a year on from our first content going live, Art et al. presented its first UK exhibition as part of UK/AU Season of Culture. The exhibition, Season One, presents a selection of the artists, artworks, and collaborations featured on the Art et al. platform. The exhibition ran at Cromwell Place from 16 - 27 March 2022.
How have you managed the logistics of working internationally, including international funding?
Lisa, Jen and I have extensive experience working in the contemporary arts, supported studios and arts/disability sectors in our respective countries. We have established networks in the UK and Australia, as well as Europe, US and Asia, having each travelled extensively to participate in sector art events, art fairs and exhibitions, which is how we met a number of years ago.
When we began talking about developing an international curated platform, we agreed that the success of the project would rely on us establishing an equal curatorial partnership between our three organisations. The project required a long-term commitment with regular communication over Zoom, email and direct messaging. It was also important to establish neurodivergent artist steering groups, which we have set up in the UK and Australia.
In terms of securing funding in Australia and the UK, we share the load, each of us seeking and co-writing applications, with one of us taking the lead on each ask. We have a four-year framework in place and, as the project gains momentum, expands and evolves, the complexity of navigating funding and payments across the globe does become more challenging.
How was the Season One exhibition received in the UK?
The Season One exhibition and Art et al. project as a whole has been warmly and enthusiastically received, especially by the UK supported studios and artists, as well as the team at Cromwell Place, DFAT and the Australian High Commission, all of whom visited on numerous occasions, including the Australian High Commission supported VIP event which saw over 300 people attend.
What has it been like for APA artists collaborating with peers and colleagues in the UK?
The experience has been inspiring and transformative for APA artists, as well as for other artists from UK and Australian supported studios, their non-disabled peers, writers and project partners.
APA artist Georgia Szmerling worked with UK artist Holly Stevenson, and said of their collaboration for Season One that, “Working with Holly was different but interesting. It was good to get to know someone from England, who had the same interests as me. It’s a good experience to try something new and to work with someone else—take the opportunity when you get the chance and meet new people. Let other artists and people overseas know who you are.” Of the experience Holly noted, “I ended up embracing new ways of communicating and collaborating with someone, with similar interests to me. The experience was quite emotional, and seeing Georgia’s work here in London…it’s been amazing.”
What were the highlights of your recent trip the UK for the exhibition?
The time I spent in the UK with my peers, the artists and studios was really quite incredible. Especially given the challenges of the past two years, collaborating and working online. Nothing can really replace the in-person connectedness you feel engaging with peers, artists and their work directly.
It was especially rewarding to meet and spend some time with our project/ funding partners and supporters. It may seem strange to say that, but they have really been on a huge journey with us, so the outcome really was a shared experience where so many people rallied to make this UK/AU opportunity possible. The organisations and individuals within them—DFAT, British Council, Australia Council, Cromwell Place— were genuinely invested in the journey, outcomes and learnings from the project, which was both humbling and encouraging to experience first-hand.
The artists from supported studios who visited the exhibition and participated in our workshops and panel discussions were really engaged. Artists from studios who had work in the exhibition (theirs or their peers) were so proud to be part of an international project. Billy Mann, artist at UK’s Submit to Love Studio which supports artists with brain injury and who recently worked on a project with Art et al. and MUMA, said at the opening, “keep those words in your head, all the time: disruption and collaboration. That’s what’s important. Because that is what’s going to carry us through the bad times.” That bold statement gave me goosebumps and a feeling of incredible hope for the future.
Do you have any key learning from the project you can share with the sector?
There are many ways to approach opening up the arts to be more inclusive, accessible and representative of people within our community. The commissioned projects and collaborative frameworks developed through the Art et al. project demonstrates what is possible, while highlighting the reach that can be achieved by nurturing meaningful and strategic international partnerships.
A major programme of cultural exchange taking place across the two nations, Art et al.’s UK/AU Season programming, including Season One is supported by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. With thanks to our venue partnership with Cromwell Place, our additional funding from the Aesop Foundation and the Australian Council for the Arts; our founders Jennifer Lauren Gallery, Slominski Projects and Arts Project Australia; and to curator Katrina Schwarz for inspiring the launch of Art et al.
Images: photography by James Gifford-Mead.
The Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the lands where our office is located, and all Traditional Owners of country throughout Victoria and Australia. We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enduring traditions and continuing creative cultures. We pay our respect to Elders past, present and emerging.