The Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui is a regional art gallery, which is part of the Wanganui District Council’s Community and Culture sector. The Gallery is housed in a historic neo-classical building which opened in 1919; the collection is approximately 6,500 artworks, both historical and contemporary (16th – 21st century) and of international and national significance. This collection covers painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, glass, installation and has recently started to acquire audio visual work.
There are seven full time and nine permanent part time staff employed at the Gallery. There is no ‘Registrar’ or ‘Collection Manager’, but these roles are covered by the position of Curator of Collections, which is part of the Gallery’s management team. This team is headed by the Senior Curator and includes the Curator/Public Programs Manager and the Gallery Operations Manager. The Assistant Curator, Technician and Technical Services Co-ordinator (Photographer) also assist in Collection projects, balanced around their contributions to the rigorous exhibition schedule of around 20 shows a year.
The position of Curator of Collections was created to document, handle and exercise collaborative curatorial control and stewardship of the Sarjeant Gallery Collections. The incumbent is expected to have an academic background to fully document the Collection; keep the database current and useful; undertake Collections research to produce collection exhibitions with accompanying scholarly writing; oversee stocktaking and valuation processes; care for artworks physically and manage the Collection stores; seek funding for Collections care and facilitate outward loans, have contact with the public and allow for controlled access to the Collections.
In this position, I manage a part time staff member, the Technical Services Co- ordinator, whose role is to capture images for the collection management system and publications, as well as keeping a photographic record of all exhibitions. The Assistant Curator, who is managed by the Curator/ Public Programmes Manager, has 40% of their time delegated to assisting with collection care and research, and also undertakes a registration role with exhibitions.
The more traditional curatorial titles, coupled with the wide spread functions within each role, can at times be confusing to other institutions through day to day interactions and queries. As is often the case, particularly with smaller institutions, resources are stretched because of the need to support a vibrant exhibition program and foster community engagement within a very modest budget. Currently, without a dedicated Collection Assistant or Registrar, the majority of my time is dedicated to collection management. Because of this and the challenging condition of our storage areas physical progress can be slow, and the opportunity to research and write about the collection is limited. There is also now a strong focus on providing recommendations towards relocation and redevelopment plans, aiming to vastly improve conditions and access for the future.
This role of Curator of Collections is a new one, created in late 2011. Previously the Gallery employed a ‘Collections and Building Manager’, whose role was split between myself and our Operations Manager. It is beneficial to now have a Collection-focused role in the management team, to give input into strategic decisions and daily operation. With continued support of the collection in this capacity, we are developing a better managed system of care and creating greater opportunities for accessibility, research and interpretation.
By Sian van Dyk is Curator of Collections at Sarjeant Gallery