Its been a long time coming...

That’s why I jumped in the car and drove for two and a half hours to the IPAG annual general meeting back in early June, to hear for myself about the new and strong collaboration in the Southland public art world.

I’d even heard, praise be, about work going on to set up a big shared display space in central Invercargill.

[A bit of boring history: I re-joined the Anderson Park Art Gallery Society when I returned home to the south in the 1970s, after several years away. I was elected to the council. Who wasn’t, in those days? I was also elected to the Invercargill City Council in 1977 and was appointed to the Southland Museum Trust Board. This gave me a governance role for both the city’s art galleries and I was quickly convinced that running them separately was, by and large, pretty dumb.]

I know there are members who yearn for the old days at Anderson House. I’m one of them. I was there from opening day in the early 1950s. Michele and I even lived there for a while when the society had no live-in caretakers.

I loved the architectural and parkland setting and how it could glow with good art, good exhibitions and musical events, and I loved how the collection grew in scale, modernity and quality. My years as president through the ‘80s were some of the best in my life.

We knew there were insuperables: storage, work space, climate control, security, wall space, and distance from the city. That last one was not a problem for those who loved the house, the park and the sheer joy of driving out there.

But the Anderson Park collection was never built up for an elite. It needed and deserved to be accessible to everyone in Invercargill, everyone in Southland for that matter. It needed to be a daily possibility for families, schools; for the young and the old…..and that meant Don or Kelvin Street, not McIvor Road, Waikiwi.

That those unsurmountable issues are being resolved, by two public collections confronting their homelessness by working together, at last, was what took me to the AGM in June.

What a joy it was to see the professionals from SMAG and IPAG standing together, speaking about their shared work and vision, about how the shared exhibition space in Kelvin Street would look and work. It was so good to hear how, at the public library’s archive, the IPAG collection was being cared for, repaired, and readied for re-emergence into public view in a central and accessible space.

Awhi Rito is a wonderful project, overseen by a project team made up of governance reps from both IPAG and SMAG. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Alf Poole, Russell Beck, John Husband and I talked about in the mid-1980s. We never got close to making it happen. It took fear of earthquakes and our not very resilient buildings to do that….and staff and board members enthusiastic about collaboration and sharing expertise. Bless them all!

I drove home to Dunedin after the AGM feeling very good about the future of public art in Invercargill. I even dared to see Kelvin Street as a step towards a new, purpose-built arts centre in central Invercargill….and to see a role for Anderson House as an adjunct exhibition space at some future time. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Michael Deaker
IPAG Patron