Painting a Brighter Future: Sylvia Ditchburn

Sylvia Ditchburn opened her gallery on Ogden Street to help other artists navigate the ins and outs of working commercially IMAGE: Sarah Joy Photography.

Townsville's commercial (ie. privately run) galleries play a vital role in supporting the vibrancy of Townsville's artistic landscape. This is the first in a three-part interview series with some of the passionate gallery operators forging opportunities for local artists and makers

Sylvia Ditchburn and her partner Ken opened their small gallery space on Ogden Street in 2008.

The absence of private galleries in Townsville at the time, gave Sylvia no choice but to open her own.

“There was nowhere for me to show my work, no private galleries – there’s Umbrella and Perc Tucker who are Government subsidised – but there was nowhere else,” said Sylvia.

For artists wanting to make a career of their skills, places to show their work are crucial.

“You either move away or you send your work away to be shown elsewhere. When you’re a full-time artist, you’re producing a lot of work, so you’ve got to get it out there and try to sell it,” Sylvia said.

“I used to have work in other galleries … Brisbane, Cairns, Port Douglas, Sydney, Melbourne, all around the place. But then they’d close down and the next gallery owner would have a different vision, so you’d have to find somewhere else. It’s a constantly changing landscape.”

Sylvia’s vision for her own gallery was to provide her work with more permanency, while helping other artists to navigate the ins and outs of working commercially.

“I didn’t want to have a collective because I’ve seen too many of them fail, but I still wanted to help local artists,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into [being an artist]. You need some business savvy. You need a website, and you need to know how to market and price your work.”

Sadly, after 10 years helping local artists from their current space, Sylvia and Ken will close the gallery’s doors at the end of this year. However, the pair will continue to help make art more accessible by manning a pop-up shop next to Perc Tucker Gallery on Sundays. The pop-up will include a range of work, including Sylvia’s own original paintings and prints.

“You’ve got to have a variety of things in your gallery – you can’t just have the highly priced things,” Sylvia explained.

“I did get a lot of flak from a few artists when I started with the print market because they said I wasn’t a purist. But you can’t run a gallery without prints, you’d never make it.

If people buy a print, they’re buying art, they’re buying your art and they’ll put it on their wall. Then later they might graduate to an original painting. It does happen!”

READ PART ONE: Sue Tilley, The Drill Hall Studio.
READ PART THREE: Anne Lord, Gallery 48.

Sylvia Ditchburn Fine Art Gallery is located in Shop 7, 86 Ogden Street (opp. Coffee Dominion) and is open 10am-4pm Tuesday – Friday and 10am-1pm Sundays.

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