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May 28, 2015

Brain regain: Liz Nowell and the new art radness

The appointment of Liz Nowell this week as new executive director of CACSA is good news for Adelaide art and brings a significant mind back from beyond.

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  • Liz Nowell portrait by Andy Nowell
  • Sculptures by Julia Robinson

The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) is moving on. While a very quiet controversy surrounded the retirement of former Executive Director of the CACSA and Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet Editor Alan Cruickshank, the organisation has appointed a new boss this week and is seeking a new home for their operation.


Liz Nowell takes up her position as Executive Director of CACSA in November. In the meantime head along to Julia Robinson’s solo exhibition on June 5 – ‘One to rot and one to grow’

Originally from Adelaide, Liz Nowell has lived and worked in Sydney for the past five years. CityMag caught Liz just hours before the CACSA AGM, where the appointment would be made official, and just a day before she flies back to Sydney.

“I’m actually going to New York in four days, for four months, to work in the Brooklyn Museum,” says Liz when we ask why she’s not starting work for CACSA straight away.

While in New York Liz is working at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art where she’ll undertake a curatorial placement at the same time as managing Australian artist, Tony Albert whohas won a residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program.

On her return, Liz will start at CACSA in November and it’s safe to say she’ll be bringing her obvious penchant for multi-tasking, global perspectives and connections  back to Adelaide when she does.

“I’m really excited to come back to Adelaide,” says Liz. “By the time I come back I will have been gone for five years and I’ve just learnt so much. I’ve met so many people. I’ve had some wonderful experiences and I’m really looking forward to coming back to Adelaide and bridging the Adelaide art community with the national and international art community,” she says.

And it’s not all about the contacts. When CityMag describes our feelings about the lack of mainstream interest in art and music here in Adelaide, and raises concerns that even our great art ambassador Nick Mitzevich’s shine seems to be dulling  – Liz is legitimately shocked.

“Really?” she says with eyebrows bordering her hairline. “Because from an outsider’s perspective and just by going on contemporary conversations in Sydney, there is a lot of respect and admiration for Adelaide’s art scene. People like Nick Mitzevich at the Art Gallery [of South Australia] and Brigid and Ben from Fontanelle and their work is highly regarded.”

“I want to open art up and get people in Adelaide engaged,” Liz says. “I guess my experiences in Sydney have kind of helped me see ways and experience ways in which we can open up the gallery because otherwise, if you don’t engage with your community, people tend to feel left out.”

It’s not just talk either. There’s a dot point plan of how this will happen. Liz will be:

  • Working on long-term development programs in the form of two or three year commissions.
  • Exhibiting South Australian artists alongside major national and international artists rather than drawing a line between South Australian artists and the “other”. Liz believes “some of the artists here are the best in Australia and should be held in that regard”.
  • Holding more informal gatherings – “The first thing I’m going to do when I come back in November is invite everyone that’s invested in the visual arts community to just come to CACSA, have a drink and talk about what they want their world to look like. To listen to these people is a great start,” she says.
  • Making CACSA about artists – “It’s really important that institutions make artists their number one priority.”
  • “I want to do a lot of exhibitions that look at local histories here and have artists respond to local histories by inviting them to undertake residencies in communities over long periods of time and see that develop into an exhibition.”

And regardless of whether the above list strikes you as radical or not, CityMag expects some significant results when Liz Nowell brings her ideas into action come November.

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