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Brick by Brick

Shane Fitzgerald describes how responding to the cultural needs and interests of local community can lead to institutional success……

Perc Tucker Regional Gallery’s current major exhibition Brick by Brick is now approaching 70,000 visitors, far surpassing the previous exhibition attendance record for the venue. It’s  exceeded all of our expectations.

The exhibition has been a cause for celebration; a coup for the city and a significant boost for the region’s arts and cultural sector. It has been rewarding to see such enjoyment directly stemming from Gallery Services’ efforts in developing the show over the last year and a half. However the secret to the exhibition’s success hasn’t been as simple as filling the Gallery with LEGO® bricks.

In September 2012, upon taking on the management of Townsville’s Gallery Services – which operates peak regional gallery venues Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and Pinnacles Gallery – I set about developing a Visual Arts Strategy that would ensure a proactive and holistic strategic approach towards core service-level delivery. The Visual Arts Strategy recognised current changes in societal frameworks, aimed to increase the galleries’ qualitative and quantitative outcomes, and endeavoured to meet the evolving needs and expectations of our community.

The Strategy identified a host of deliverable programs, many of which challenged the traditional view of a Gallery and its function. These programs would each fit within one of six major themes; Collections Management, Art in Public Spaces, Creative Communities, Creative Classrooms, Creative Spaces, and of course Exhibitions. We sought to increase our genuine engagement with all sections of the community – to break down the stigma of  ‘the white box’ while retaining our commitment to the delivery of high quality fine art, contemporary art and museological exhibitions. Our vision in engaging with a broader cross-section of the community has been validated by the recent adoption of the Arts for all Queenslanders strategy.

The method identified as most effective in engaging this broader cross-section was the development of popular culture exhibitions, something that had not previously been done at Perc Tucker. The first cab off the rank was The LEGO® Group – an iconic product that has impacted all of us at one point or another, and provided huge scope to explore the ways it has been used by artists, its evolving design, extensive history, and impact on contemporary culture.

The intent of the exhibition was to appeal to both adults and children by concisely charting the product’s development over nine decades, displaying key items that illustrate important milestones, and exploring LEGO’s impact on popular culture, while also ensuring the exhibition is fun, contemporary, engaging and participatory.

A partnership with LEGO Australia was pivotal in securing historical information, images and materials, and in negotiating the loan of 53 historical items sent directly from the LEGO Idea House in Billund, Denmark. These items included important early products such as the LEGO pull-along duck (1945) and assorted wooden toys, the Ferguson Tractor (1952), the original System of Play set, through to more recent special edition, limited edition, and memorable LEGO sets. In a number of instances, it was the first time these objects had left Denmark.

These items were carefully complemented by a LEGO building room and LEGO video game room, and a host of interactive activities. To explore the use of LEGO bricks by artists, large-scale sculptures by the Southern Hemisphere’s only LEGO Certified Professional Ryan McNaught, aka The Brickman, were also included.

A Melbourne-based practitioner, Ryan is one of only thirteen LEGO Certified Professionals in the world. Gallery staff were aware of Ryan’s work prior to the exhibition being conceived, and it was always felt the inclusion of some of his stunning large-scale LEGO brick sculptures would be vital to the exhibition’s success. Ryan has been amazing to work with and truly appreciated by the entire Townsville community. Not only has he loaned some of his eye-catching models and mosaics, such as the 4 metre long model of The Love Boat – he has also delivered workshops for hundreds of children, constructed a scale model of Perc Tucker Regional Gallery, and developed an interactive ‘Mystery Mosaic’ of Sidney Nolan’s famous Ned Kelly painting.

Brick by Brick has been a whirlwind of success, built on a commitment to community engagement and quality, and reliant on partnerships to best realise the exhibition vision. It’s a whirlwind we intend to experience again in future years, with more popular culture exhibitions in the works.

Shane is Manager Gallery Service, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and Pinnacles Gallery, Townsville City Council.






Images:  Brick by Brick exhibition images by Shane Fitzgerald