Volunteering with Canberra Contemporary Art Space: interview with Sharon Gallagher

This post is part of our short series of interviews with people who volunteer in the GLAMR industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, Records). The series began with our participation in #blogjune, but there are too many magnificent volunteers, places and stories to restrict them to just one month!

These stories will highlight the abundance of volunteering opportunities across Canberra, and showcase our local volunteer heroes. You can also find out how to volunteer!

Our fourteenth interviewee is artist, Shags (aka Sharon Gallagher), who volunteers with CCAS (Canberra Contemporary Art Space).

Canberra Contemporary Art Space is a space in which contemporary artists can develop daring new work. There are three CCAS gallery spaces in Canberra which host exhibitions by local, national and international artists. CCAS offers opportunities for networking and collaboration, while introducing audiences to exciting new ideas and media.

Shags, CCAS volunteer
Shags, CCAS volunteer

Tell us about you and your CCAS volunteer role…

As part of my mid-life crisis (or is that ‘peak in the all-life crisis’?) I decided to enrol in Printmedia and Drawing at the ANU School of Art. As part of a Professional Practices unit, we had to undertake either a residency in a high-school or do an internship somewhere of our choosing. Not being confident that I could wrangle a grunt of teenagers; and because the CCAS staff laughed at my dumb jokes when I first met them, I figured I may as well be among people who didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Fortunately, they took me in.

After my required time was up, I asked if I could stay on as a volunteer. Well, I must have dazzled them with my wit*, because they said yes.

*I can’t back this up.

What are the benefits of volunteering with CCAS? 

The international glory?

Seriously though, there are a number of benefits:

1. As I attempt to transition into an arts career, this real world experience will no doubt be invaluable. I’ve learnt all manner of skills. For example, how to hang lights (and stay on a ladder); that the bubble-side of bubble wrap goes on the outside of artwork; if you sit the gallery, the public expects you to be the local arts expert; what artists do as other jobs; what else an arts organisation does to stay relevant and engaged with the community; how much time and effort goes into organising an exhibition. This list goes on.

2. As a practicing artist, I understand what I can do to make life easier for a gallery; what’s important in an exhibition proposal (good documentation!); I get to practice talking about art; I feel more included in the arts community. This list goes on too. I’ve really learnt a lot just by having my ears in the room.

3. The quiet pride in knowing you’re helping an organisation, that you inherently care about, to succeed.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of your volunteer role?

I just really like hanging out with the people who work there; they’re delightful, hardworking, multi-skilled, driven, charming nutters.

A close second is de-installing and packing up exhibitions, prepping the walls and installing the next show.

Was there anything that surprised you when you first started at CCAS?

The volume of work they get through with good humour.

Last year CCAS had 32 exhibitions at the Gormon Arts Centre (GAC) and Manuka. Now that the City space opened earlier this year, CCAS will have 41 shows in it’s 2016 exhibition program (pause to think about that. That’s A LOT!). This of course means: drafting contracts, liaison with artists/galleries/couriers, de-install/install, catalogue essay writing and design, marketing, organising and attending openings, doing their social pages wrap-ups, to name a few things.

On top of this, they also (take a breath here) write funding proposals, do budgeting, report back to their funding bodies, manage the members base, member emails, social media, organise resident recipients, host events and school groups, give advice on proposals, do archiving, keep statistics, attend other organisations’ openings, they’ve just set up corporate partnership … there are only three full time staff!

To help with all of this and more, they have a bookkeeper, an installation guru and two volunteers.

Do you have a favourite exhibition that’s been held at CCAS?

Oh my. There have been so many great exhibitions held in all their spaces. However, my favourite by far was Monster at the GAC in 2013 by the mind-blowing printmaker and pioneer, Erica Seccombe.

How do people express interest to volunteer with CCAS?

Firstly, ask yourself some questions: Do I actually like contemporary art? What am I hoping to learn? Why this particular arts organisation and not another? Am I certain that I can turn up when I say I will? Do I understand it’s not all about wine and cheese cubes at openings? (i.e. I’m ok with scanning old catalogues or filling in statistical spreadsheets).

Once you’ve done that, head over to their website for information about duties, benefits, requirements and who to contact.

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