There’s a big distance between the galleries of Northern Australia (NT) and Venice, Italy. But curator and UNSW Art and Design alumna Clare Armitage had the “phenomenal opportunity” to travel from her NT home to be part of this year’s prestigious Venice Biennale. Ms Armitage has a particular interest in Australian art and inter-cultural curatorial practice. She was one of eight successful applicants for this year’s Emerging Arts Professionals Program with the Australia Council for the Arts.

The 10-day program provides opportunities for arts professionals to deepen their knowledge and network with overseas peers, artists and organisations at the Venice Biennale. Ms Armitage was exposed to Vernissage Week, including 30,000 curators, gallerists, writers, academics and an enormous number of artists. She says the experience exposed her to international trends in exhibition content, as well as exhibition design and technology.  

“You are able to learn about the ways people are working in other parts of Australia as well as in other countries,” she says. “No matter what your particular interest in cultural production may be, you will be able to find an artist, an exhibition or curator who is interested in similar things. You can connect in some way with an expert or a peer.”

“By far the most exciting part of this process for me was talking to my peers in the program from around Australia,” Ms Armitage says. “They are all brilliant curators, directors and writers and I hope to maintain our strong connections and work together in the future.” 

The artist says the Venice Biennale was “a listening and learning exercise”. “It's about going and seeing how an event on that scale is actually executed,” she says. “It provides you with some amazing opportunities to network with people from other parts of Australia and other parts of the world.”

Ms Armitage has lived in the NT for eight years, where she has been involved with a variety of private and public gallery spaces between Darwin and Katherine. She recently started a new role as Assistant Curator of Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin. She says working in a regional centre means accessible professional development opportunities “can be quite limited”. “So I had my eye out for opportunities that were being offered by other organisations, other groups. When I saw the Venice Biennale program I was extremely interested; it’s a huge thing.”

The UNSW alumna says she application process was “rather in-depth” and included some interviews.  “The Australia Council gave participants in this program the chance to be quite self-directed in the kinds of meetings and activities they wanted to engage with, which was a really great approach.”

It is the second time Ms Armitage was granted an Australia Council opportunity. In 2014 Ms Armitage was awarded an Australia Council Curatorial Fellowship at the Godinymayin Yijard Rives Arts & Culture Centre in Katherine where she has worked as the Curator. In 2017 Clare was named the Inaugural SPARK NT Curator, and her Exhibition, Fecund: Fertile Worlds toured the Northern Territory for a year.

Ms Armitage took a year off after high school before studying at UNSW Art & Design, which she describes as “the best time”. “I just came out of high school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was always interested in art history,” she says. “Then to go to art school and be with amazing people sitting around talking about ideas, it was wonderful. But it was also great studying alongside practicing artists, while studying art history and theory.”

The alumna describes her Honours year as “really worthwhile” and says she is still in touch with many of her “great” teachers. “In my current work, being able to work alongside artists is really important. Looking back, I can see how much those conversations and that contact at such an early time in my education truly helped me.”

Find out more about the Emerging Arts Professionals Program