Christmas festivities will start early at Umbrella Studio contemporary arts, as the gallery’s annual members’ exhibition launches this Friday night.
Gallery Coordinator Angela Little said the exhibition, this year asking members to submit pieces based around the theme ‘Drive’, had been a staple on Umbrella’s calendar for decades.
How long has the annual exhibition been running?
The members’ exhibition began right at the beginning of Umbrella pretty much; since we became incorporated in 1989. As far as I can tell, their first idea was just that they wanted a show where everyone could put something in and have a go, and it was around this same time of year – so was meant to be like a Christmas show. It was called Umbrella is a Tree. It was about selling artworks over the holidays, and ever since then it has remained in November-December which possibly means it still is a Christmas show, but we don’t take it that way anymore. There’s a bonus in that though. It’s an opportunity for everyone to be involved, and allows people to exhibit a single work and not produce a whole show, because it’s kind of hard to produce that much work; not everyone’s up to that.
What’s been the importance of getting members involved over the years?
This is a membership organisation, so is absolutely paramount we have membership support. The involvement of our members … you have to be a member to exhibit here, so basically we wouldn’t have exhibitions otherwise! They’re volunteers, visitors to the gallery, facilitate and run workshops for us, they attend workshops and events we put on, so pretty much make the gallery. A good portion of our members have over three years’ membership with us – we have 332 members now, with 52 youth members. The involvement of the members is what makes us run.
You were saying it’s always so hard to come up with a theme – where did the idea behind ‘Drive’ come from?
It’s a challenge every year to come up with a new theme that’s open to interpretation, inclusive, and broad enough to interest people. We want to challenge people a bit – we don’t want to pick something too easy, because that’s not interesting. In this instance, I brainstormed for several months. Last year, the theme was Generation, looking at a generation of artists that had made up 30 years for our 30th anniversary. So I thought this year, we could make it Drive as in driving forward into our next chapter. That was the semi-inspiration. But for everyone else, it asks them to be inspired by concepts of movement, direction, focus, determination, travel, instinct and any other interpretation of the word. That’s kind of why we chose the theme, because it’s driving forward into the next chapter of Umbrella.
Are there members who have gone from having a single piece in the members’ show to having a full exhibition?
Definitely. It’s a good platform for people to experiment, and as an emerging artist you might put something in the members’ show, receive feedback, and then think you may make a whole series of work based on that. It definitely happens, and encourages new membership too. If you know you have the opportunity to be a part of something like that, then you might choose to become a member to try something out, get feedback, and try to sell something. I admit I went through some of the surveys we send out, and one of the questions asks which exhibition our members liked the most during the year. A lot of them do say it’s the Members’ Exhibition! It’s a favourite, and it’s interesting when you’re thinking a bit more about why it’s their favourite. A lot of them talk about it being creative, inclusive, and with variety – showing the diversity of how a theme can be approached, and people like that. Everyone has a different perspective, and that can be one of the exciting things; how people all tackle the same word. Someone wrote that they love what a rich artistic community it shows. Which is true – there’s about 80 to 100 pieces included in the exhibition every year lately. That’s 80 to 100 local people showing artwork all at once.
Are some of the people who get involved people who may not have been artistic in the past?
Certainly – some of these people might have jobs in other areas, it may be the only artistic thing they actually do! I know a number of them who just make the one work for that show; they want to be involved, but time fights against that. It also gives these people an opportunity to meet up, in a way. So you might go to the members’ show, and see the people and how they change in both their artwork and personally each year. Everyone goes to the members’ show, because if there’s 80 to 100 artists involved, they’ll all come with their friends or family. It’s a bit of a party.
What’s next for Umbrella?
2018 is an exciting year for different exhibitions: we’ve now locked in our program and are refining details. We have a variety of shows from drawing to printmaking including Compact Prints – the biennial printmaking exhibition and international exchange. We also have some great touring shows coming next year which we wouldn’t have been able to have before, including Tracey Moffatt and an exhibition from Western Australia touring nationally.
Catch the opening of Umbrella Studio contemporary arts’ members’ exhibition Drive at 6pm on 17 November. The exhibition will run until 17 December before the gallery closes for the holidays, reopening on 19 January.