The Art Gallery of South Australia has ushered in a new generation of guides through its Vanguard program, offering people aged under 30 the opportunity to make their mark on the institution.
Meet the Vanguards of AGSA
There are few places Kathryn Ellison would prefer to be than wandering through the galleries of AGSA. For more information on the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Vanguard program, see the website.
For more information on the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Vanguard program, see the website.
When we speak, the contemporary art graduate is working front-of-house, welcoming guests into the Art Gallery of SA’s Clarice Beckett exhibition.
She came to work for the institution through its Vanguard program, which trains people aged under 30 to become tour guides for AGSA’s contemporary art collection.
“Before the program, at the end of 2019, I had volunteered at Sonic Blossom, Lee Mingwei’s piece, and then I saw [the Vanguard callout] on Facebook and I went, ‘I’m going to jump at that opportunity,’” she says.
“I’d just finished my undergrad, and I was looking for the next thing that could ease me into my career in arts.”
The Vanguard guides complement AGSA’s long-serving gallery guides, and the program aims to make volunteering with the institution more attainable for younger people.
“We identified that we wanted to diversify the demographics for the guides,” Assistant Director of AGSA Lisa Slade says.
“You want your staff and your volunteers to be as demographically diverse as your audience.
“We have his incredible team of about 70 Gallery Guides. In order to do their job, they have to give up a year of their lives for training.
“It dawned on me a very long time ago that you can’t diversify your demography unless you change the rules of the game.”
Rather than a year-long training program canvassing the Gallery’s entire collection, Vanguards will be taught about ASGA’s contemporary art collection over the course of three months. The volunteering schedule also takes into account work and life responsibilities of people in early adulthood.
“The Art Gallery is so good with us, because we’re young people who work,” Kathryn says.
“It makes coming and doing the tours so much easier, in a way, because you don’t have to stress about, ‘Oh, I’m not doing enough.’ They actually just get it.”
Oliver Reschke heard about the Vanguard program through his grandmother, who’s also a Gallery Guide, and like Kathryn, he leapt at the opportunity.
For Oliver, the program was a great way to extend his knowledge, and being a Vanguard guide has allowed him to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes – talking about art.
“One of the things that really interested me about it was the fact that you can have conversations with people about art,” he says.
“That’s something that I always enjoyed about my visits as well – coming in with people and actually looking at a piece, discussing it.”
The Vanguard program began in 2019 and Lisa says it has brought not only a new audience, but new perspectives into the 140-year-old institution.
“We really hope that it will [influence who is coming into AGSA], but we also hope that it will have an influence on the patterns of thinking and the lives and experiences of the existing audience,” Lisa says.
“I saw Oliver with a massive group of people in the last weekend of Tarnanthi, and I can imagine people seeing Oliver in the gallery as a guide and registering a sense of pleasant surprise, because you don’t fit the bill. And we don’t want a bill, to be honest. That’s the whole point of the program.”
For Kathryn, the Vanguard program is a unique opportunity to influence the way people not only experience contemporary art, but also AGSA itself.
“It is nice to have that influence, try to engage with people who are so scared of contemporary art,” she says. “Contemporary art can be so hard to connect with sometimes… so I think in a way, yes, we do bring our own perspective.”