The National Gallery of Australia is flinging open its doors from 5 pm tonight for the inaugural Art Weekend. It’s a chance for visitors to connect with the national collection, even if they’ve felt uncomfortable stepping into an art gallery.
Between artist talks, low sensory gallery sessions, tours and talks for hearing and vision impaired people, after-dark activities, life drawing classes, and workshops for all ages, the NGA has put together a free program full of access points for everyone to have their own meaningful art encounters.
“We want to open up the gallery to people who think art isn’t their thing,” says the NGA’s Head of Programs, Katie Russell. “If someone feels that, ‘oh, I don’t know if I understand art’, there will be people here to explain what they’re seeing and give some clues about how to think about art.”
Art Weekends are about to become a monthly occurrence, with the last full weekend of each month set aside to entice curious visitors from Canberra and further abroad.
“Each month we work with a guest Australian artist who brings their perspective to the works on display,” says Russell.
“For our first weekend the artist is Julie Rrap, and her work is currently on display in our Bodies of Art exhibition. She has helped us design and curate all the activities across the weekend.”
It all kicks off on Thursday night, with an artist talk from Rrap inside the exhibition itself.
Friday night reveals Night Shift, an opportunity for visitors to take in the gallery in an informal setting, with food and wine on hand.
“Unlike other major metropolitan cities, we don’t have the advantage of being right in the middle of the city as in Melbourne with the NGV [National Gallery of Victoria]. So it’s enticing for people to make a night of it on the last Friday of every month.
“It’s very much about bringing the public along, opening up the gallery to as many audiences as possible. Other galleries have opened up late, but this is a new initiative for us. It’s a good opportunity to come and relax on a Friday afternoon after work, with music and food and things like that. It’s a bit of a night out – life drawing, a bar – we will provide all the materials if people want to get creative. Canberrans need a little bit of that after a fairly difficult summer.”
Sunday brings a whole host of activities, with a focus on creating new entry points for those who might not feel comfortable stepping into a gallery on a regular day.
Sensory Sunday sees the gallery opening early at 8:00 am, creating a low sensory environment for visitors on the autism spectrum, living with anxiety or who are neurodiverse. Visitors will be free to wander around without the noise and busyness that might normally exclude them from the gallery.
An audio described tour through Matisse & Picasso is on offer from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm, suited to people who are blind or who have low vision. An Auslan sign-interpreted tour through the exhibition will then take place from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm. Bookings are essential for both sessions.
Sunday also plays host to the aptly named Super Sunday: Bodies in Space, a gallery-wide program of workshops, music, storytelling, and dance, designed for an intergenerational audience to enjoy.
“It could be grandparents with little kids, any mix of people who want to come in,” says Russell. “The gallery will be enlivened across the whole building. I think Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm is going to be a very interesting time in the gallery.”
It all goes to show the commitment the NGA has for sharing the national collection, going so far as to livestream the weekend’s talks on their website. The idea is that the works on display ought to be accessible to as many people as possible, whether one can physically make it to the gallery or not.
Art Weekend takes over the National Gallery of Australia this weekend, January 23 – 26, as well the last full weekend of every month. Head to nga.gov.au for more details.