13 April 2022

NGA announces new annual oration in memory of Betty 'Blockbuster' Churcher

| Ian Bushnell
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Betty Churcher

Betty Churcher was a woman of many firsts. Photo: NGA.

Arts doyen, the late Betty Churcher, will be honoured by a new annual event at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) where she was a trailblazing director.

The NGA has announced the Betty Churcher AO Memorial Oration will feature leading women of the arts, including Australian and international speakers, who inspire creativity, inclusivity, engagement and learning in their practice.

The inaugural oration from 7 to 8 pm on Thursday, 21 April features one of Australia’s most successful international curators, Dr Melissa Chiu. The director of Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will talk with globally-renowned author and award-winning journalist Julia Baird.

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They will discuss the legacy of women artists on the global stage and delve into Chiu’s career in the arts, her personal story from Darwin to Washington, the future for women artists and how museums engage new audiences.

The NGA says the oration recognises Churcher’s impact and legacy.

Churcher (1931-2015) was the National Gallery’s director from 1990-1997, the first and only woman to hold this position.

She was committed to removing as many barriers that stood between the audience and a work of art, eventually becoming known as ‘Betty Blockbuster’ for her commitment to large-scale exhibitions that engaged beyond the traditional gallery-goer.

Churcher was also the first woman to lead an Australian tertiary education centre as Dean of the School of Art and Design at Phillip Institute of Technology in Melbourne in 1982 and the first woman to lead a state gallery as Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1987.

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She once said: “When I was growing up there was no woman to act as a role model for me. When I went to the Royal College of Arts not a single female was on the staff. Even the thought of having a female on the staff was outrageous.”

NGA director Nick Mitzevich said the way Churcher brought art to life had always inspired him and that it was the spirit of her inclusive approach that continued in the gallery’s current vision to lead a contemporary cultural agenda.

“This event celebrates Betty Churcher, whose leadership in education and programming oversaw an era of creative transformation and audience growth,” he said.

“It recognises and celebrates leading women of the arts who inspire creativity and inclusivity in their contributions to cultural life both here in Australia and across the globe.”

To learn more and to book tickets for the pay what you wish event visit the NGA website.

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