Griffith | Brett Naseby’s Glinting Dreams for the Crystal Arcade01.05.2014
In the first installment of a series RANSW is running on privately owned regional galleries, we interviewed Brett Naseby (self-described “photographer and video dude”) who has single-handedly converted an dilapidated former-TAB into an independent gallery space in Griffith, NSW. Estelle Pigot spoke to the new gallery owner in the lead-up to the opening of the Brett Naseby Gallery this month.
What is the story behind your creative career?
I lived in Coleambally until I was 17, then moved from Griffith overseas and then back to live in Sydney, working for Telstra, for a long time. After 2006, I came back to Griffith and started working at WIN TV in advertising where I was making ads and writing creative copy. I’d always had a bit to do with music production; always doing something on the side, writing jingles and that sort of thing (basically just flirting around the fringes of a professional life). That’s how I started to become involved with the arts community here.
I decided to become a sports photographer, then one thing led to another and I ended up doing weddings. Now I’m pretty established in the commercial sector of the Riverina, doing photography and video for corporate businesses.
I became involved in an arts committee called Exposed Arts Griffith. I was really taken by the concept of the Renew Newcastle project, so off the back of some of those ideas our committee ended up having a competition inviting local artists to enter which we then exhibited in a local shopping mall.
It caused real division in the arts community here, some artists refused point blank to have their work exhibited in the mall, others thought it was a great idea. But it really opened up the art to a whole new demographic of people. People would finish their grocery shopping and head up the escalator where the art was. You would see the tentativeness of people as they approached the exhibition – people who would probably never set foot in an art gallery – you could see their intrigue and interest. Three months later, I got another local indigenous artist into the retail space and she was very successful. She sold almost all of her work. That was my first experience of bringing art outside of a traditional gallery environment and seeing how that could open up commercial possibilities.
Why did you want to open your own gallery?
I originally wanted to have my own gallery to exhibit my own work and I’ve always thought it would be really cool to work on my photography out the back of a gallery.
I have held a few exhibitions down in Melbourne but the costs of printing, hiring a space, hanging and transporting were so high that I started thinking I should just have my own. So, I found a small upstairs space just down the road from where this new gallery is located, here in Griffith. The overheads here, versus in Sydney or Melbourne, meant that having my own space was possible and that was the most attractive part for me.
The first space I had was in a shared space in a nest of small businesses and a bit out of the way, so I started keeping my eyes open for something better suited. I had been looking for a larger space for 12 months when this place came up at the Crystal Arcade.
The building is a great Art Deco place, the rent is really reasonable and I could see myself working out the back. So, it ticked boxes. The only thing was, when I looked at the size of the gallery, the amount of work I would need to have ready to fill it was way too much. So then I got thinking about inviting local artists to also show their work in here.
What sort of artists have you invited to exhibit?
The idea for Brett Naseby Gallery is for there to be somewhere where people could exhibit for the first time, especially if they have never exhibited before. The artists don’t need to fill a gallery with a full exhibition or need to meet a prescribed theme. They have the freedom to do what they want in a three metre by three metre area, for six weeks.
We are going to run the Artist Markets from the gallery every Saturday morning. I will be running TV and social media advertising campaigns to attract people to the market, and the art will be sold then and there, allowing the exhibition to constantly change as works are replaced and refreshed.
What funding have you received for this project?
No money, it’s all me. So far, it hasn’t been a huge expense. I’ve probably spent about $15K getting this place up to scratch, and the rent is very reasonable. This space used to be a TAB – a total man cave – so I needed to refurbish it to suit my idea for the gallery. I’ve probably done 80% of the work myself, which took me about a month. The refurb included building two main exhibition spaces in the front gallery including a big, brick feature wall, then an office out the back where I will work from.
I’ve gone with an ultra-warehousey look with lots of exposed steel walls. I installed the steel walls to make hanging really cheap and easy. Using magnets we can hang prints and stuff very simply. I put in soundproofing, painted parts black and hung big industrial lights. It’s been a real labour of love.
What is the history of The Crystal Arcade?
The Crystal Arcade has been part of Griffith a long time. In the 1956 Olympics, the city of Melbourne built an arcade under Flinders St to direct foot-traffic from the station to the shopping precinct. They installed all these rounded, glass Art Deco shopfronts and the owners of this arcade in Griffith imitated the style when they built this arcade.
Doing the arcade up is a number one priority for me; to bring this old arcade back to life so people are attracted to the place and want to spend time here. I have had a whole bunch of Art Deco prints made up on foamcore to display along the length of the arcade. There’s a barber down the end who has been there for 30 years, it’s a bit of a time warp.
I’m working with Pioneer Park Museum, who will be installing an historical Art Deco display in the glass cabinets that line the walkway. Like the yellow brick road, or like the Pied Piper, we’ll lure them down the arcade with this quirky, interesting stuff and then bam! there’s a cool art gallery down the end they might as well pop in to see.
What are your expectations around the gallery’s future?
It’s all speculative at the moment.
There’s a misconception in the country, and the regional art scene, that art galleries are for the elite part of the community. But for me and this gallery, it’s about creating a place where people can find cool stuff to hang on the wall. Art is about having beauty in your house or environment. It’s about having something unique.
I keep reading about Ikea opening up everywhere. People are going to have a mass produced prints, made in China, hanging on their walls, when they could have an original one-off. There’s so much sameness going on, it’s driving me insane!
Many customers don’t realise that you can support local artists, have something totally individual, and that it’s affordable. I want the Artist Markets to change that perception and get people excited about art.
I have no qualms about saying it’s a commercial space. There are going to be flags out the front promoting the markets, TV ads and promos, all pushing the idea that it’s a market. People associate markets with the idea of grabbing a bargain, and that’s what we want. For the customer to want to come here, the art is fresh and cheap! There is always something new and different! But be quick if you want to get a special! That’s how it will work from the buyer side.
For the artists, this is where it becomes a very personal thing for me. In this region we have a small but very strong, long-established group of supporters of the arts. Brett Naseby Gallery is a platform for artists to gain exposure outside of that core and reach new audiences. I think that is so important for artists to be commercially successful.
I have put proposals out there and received interest from the local arts community, and I expect this will continue to grow over time as people get to hear about the Artist Markets. Sure, it’s a commercial enterprise that needs to make money to survive, but I hope it will become a bit of a creative hub for the local arts culture to thrive around.
The first Artist Market at Brett Naseby Gallery will take place on Saturday morning 31st May 2014.
Follow the journey of this exciting new space on the gallery’s Facebook or on the Brett Naseby Gallery blog.