When you hear ‘bank’, you think of a secure place to store funds and treasured valuables away from thieving mitts… Well, here we’re talking about a different kind of bank – Artbank. This Australian Government arts support program flips notions of exclusivity on their head, and instead welcomes the public to access a rich collection of contemporary art.
Established in 1980, Artbank has two key objectives – to support Australian contemporary artists by buying their work, and to promote the value of Australian contemporary art to the broader public. These operations are funded through the leasing of artworks from the Artbank collection.
Artbank has found a new Victorian home in Collingwood. Designed by Collingwood-based firm Edition Office, the large-scale purpose-designed warehouse space is dominated by a commanding steel-framed racking system, displaying Artbank’s vast collection, which would typically be confined to a back room. It also features furniture by Dowel Jones, Handkrafted Co, Project 82, and other accents from Daisy Cooper Ceramics and Armadillo & Co.
At Artbank, you can come and witness an exemplary art collection, rummage through the ‘vault’ as you please, and even take a piece away with you (via the Artbank art-leasing program, no heists thank-you). In the oft-elitist art world, this concept sounds a little crazy, and at the very least too good to be true. It’s not. Director Tony Stephens explains more…
What is Artbank?
Artbank is unique and that is one of the truly amazing things about it. While it has one of the most significant and diverse collections of Australian art in the world, it is not locked away only to be seen by a select few. Rather, it is open and inclusive – we actively encourage people to rethink and reconsider how works from the collection, and art more broadly, can play a meaningful role in their everyday life.
Whether through renting a work for your home or office, or coming taking part in one of the many programs/projects we run, this a collection that is democratic and accessible by all of its owners – the Australian people!
After more than a decade operating out of a showroom and office in Armadale, why make the move to Collingwood?
A lot has changed in the world since Artbank set up fourteen years ago in Armadale. As organisations evolve and grow, they seek to represent their ideals and position their brand to mirror this shifting nature. So for now, Collingwood best emulates where we are as an organisation. We want to contribute to the existing and growing community of creatives that reside in the area and connect our non-typical stakeholders and audiences with the possibilities inherent in this approach.
Practically, being located in Collingwood also provides us better access to our clients and in turn, allows for a change in the way they engage and invest in what we do. And while we do have our collection spread between Melbourne, Perth and our headquarters in Sydney, for now, we are focused on the next stage of this project – activating our new space!
Since 1980, Artbank has been focused on providing direct support to living Australian artists through the acquisition of their work and promoting the value of Australian contemporary art to the broader community. What does this actually look like?
The ever-expanding Artbank collection comprises more than 11,000 artworks by more than 3,500 Australian artists and is culturally diverse with works by some of Australia’s best-loved artists and brightest emerging stars.
The public is able to access these works through a number initiatives, but most popularly through the art leasing scheme, where works can be leased for a fraction of the insurable value, and then installed in a client’s home or office for everyone to enjoy. Income generated through the art leasing initiative is reinvested into the program – covering operating/program expenses and new acquisitions for the collection.
Described as ‘a democratically available collection,’ in what other ways can the public get access?
You don’t need much to engage with Artbank – a well-developed sense of curiosity will suffice!
Democracy in this context is about everyone having the same right to the work; this is truly a ‘public’ collection in every sense of the word – whether you have a few dollars to spare or just some free time.
The new studio program launching in May will offer Australian creatives practising in fields related to the visual arts (including artists, curators, writers, designers and academics) the opportunity to realise projects and progress their work in our architecturally-designed space with its own laneway access; all within the increasingly unaffordable city fringe. Residents will be selected via an open-call and receive a daily living allowance, with the final program being defined by the needs of the practitioners who apply. So in effect, our program and spaces will be defined by the communities for which they have been created – a reversal of the traditional institutionally led model.
More broadly, our Open House on 24th March is an opportunity for everyone to explore and discover/rediscover the depth of the Artbank collection! Visitors will be able to go behind the scenes and explore over 2,000 artworks on display in the artwork racks, participate in free architectural talks and curatorial tours, listen to music and enjoy street food – all for free!
The collection is focussed on ‘Australian contemporary art’ what are the parameters of this classification, and does it extend to design?
The basics are you need to be alive, legally have the right to live in Australia either through birth or through traditional/irregular migration channels and have been here for more than for 12 months. And of course, you need to be a professional, practising artist with a history of exhibiting and displaying your work in public spaces.
As to the question of design – the delineation between the visual arts and design is often blurred. We collect in this ‘blurry’ space but not beyond.
On that note, we know you enlisted a number of local Australian designers to enrich the Artbank premises with locally made/designed ceramic kitchenware, tables, chairs and rugs…
We commissioned/acquired these items for our new facility because while we don’t collect design as part of what we do, in this context there is the opportunity to acknowledge and support a creative process with a different outcome.
The creatives that invested their time and energy in bringing these beautiful objects to life will add to the layers of our new building. They contribute to a sense of place in the building, which is the perfect way to complement the architectural approach of Edition Office.
Why should our readers stop by Artbank (perhaps rather than another gallery)?
It isn’t really about either or – both have an important role to play in the broader arts and cultural ecosystem. It really depends on the type of experience you are looking for and this is where the difference lies.
You may come across Artbank when you see our works hanging on the walls of a friend’s home or when you visit the doctor. Or, you might come along to one of our events and get a surprise – it’s not quiet and reserved. We encourage you to get your hands on; heave out the artwork racking and create your own journey through our collection. There’ll always be something to challenge, excite, inspire and surprise you during a visit, and we look forward to welcoming as many people as we can to all our facilities over the coming years to do just that.
The purpose of the Artbank Open House and other activities is to help reverse the perception that visual art is only for an elite few. Instead, we see the collection as something that belongs to the public; it embodies the stories of our diverse communities and helps better relate to what’s happening in the world around us.
The Artbank Open House
Saturday 24 March,11am-4pm
18-24 Down Street