The Be­nalla Art Gallery is prov­ing to be a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion, ap­pre­ci­ated by the lo­cal com­mu­nity and draw­ing more vis­i­tors from fur­ther afield.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Leah Tindill pho­tos Marc Bongers

The Be­nalla Art Gallery is prov­ing to be a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion, ap­pre­ci­ated by the lo­cal com­mu­nity and draw­ing more vis­i­tors from fur­ther afield.

IT is a priv­i­lege for the North East to have such an as­set as the Be­nalla Art Gallery. Sit­ting proudly against Lake Be­nalla, the gallery of­fers cul­ture, his­tory and a great cup of cof­fee from the in-house café. The build­ing it­self is a piece of art­work, show­cas­ing the con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture of the 1970s on the out­side, while the in­side of­fers grand white spa­ces to let the art­work breathe and dic­tate the feel of the ex­hi­bi­tion room.

In the gallery’s per­ma­nent col­lec­tion are works from famed Aus­tralian artist Sid­ney Nolan which, among oth­ers, are com­ple­mented by trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tions. Di­rec­tor Bry­ony Nainby, who be­gan work­ing at the gallery three years ago, said she en­joys hear­ing feed­back from the gallery’s hun­dreds of vis­i­tors about the build­ing and its ex­hibits.

“The over­whelm­ing re­sponse we have from vis­i­tors is one of sur­prise and de­light be­cause of the fan­tas­tic qual­ity of ex­hi­bi­tions we have here,” Bry­ony said.

“We have three ex­hi­bi­tion galleries and of­fer one of the best ex­hi­bi­tion ex­pe­ri­ences in the North East and in Vic­to­ria. One of the things we try to do is to have a va­ri­ety of works on dis­play so we can of­fer a di­verse range of ex­pe­ri­ences. We have things from tra­di­tional land­scapes right through to con­tem­po­rary works. The gallery is a great sense of pride for peo­ple in the com­mu­nity. It’s one of the main things that peo­ple in Be­nalla show to their vis­i­tors.”

Aside from the works on dis­play, Bry­ony said peo­ple en­joy “the soar­ing ceil­ing and pro­por­tions of the space”.

“It was built in the early 1970s and opened in 1975,” she said.

“The year af­ter I started was the gallery’s 40th an­niver­sary so we had quite a big cel­e­bra­tion. It was a cel­e­bra­tion of the tra­di­tions that the gallery came from and a cel­e­bra­tion of how we are mov­ing into the 21st cen­tury.”

Mov­ing into the 21st cen­tury means that the gallery of­ten takes on a more con­tem­po­rary feel, with dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, video, street art and mixed me­dia all fea­tur­ing heav­ily in the past 12 months.

“We show a lot of art­work by con­tem­po­rary artists as well as video art­work - the kinds of ex­hi­bi­tions that show­case what types of art­work are be­ing made now,” Bry­ony said.

Sur­rounded by ex­pan­sive botan­i­cal gar­dens, the gallery and the com­mu­nity make use of the out­door space to in­spire fur­ther art.

“We are ex­tremely lucky in that the gallery it­self is set among fan­tas­tic gar­dens and has a lake­side view,” Bry­ony said.

“Peo­ple can come here, en­joy the art and then en­joy a cof­fee while over­look­ing the lake views. We have an ed­u­ca­tion space un­der the gallery and our classes spill out into the gar­dens, un­der the Mag­no­lia tree.”

The Na­tional Es­tate reg­is­tered gar­dens are as much an as­set for Be­nalla as the gallery, of­fer­ing a de­light­ful es­cape into na­ture. One of the ear­li­est icons of Be­nalla, the gar­dens were set aside for pub­lic re­cre­ation in 1859, two years be­fore Be­nalla was de­clared a town.

The clear­ing ini­tially had a cricket pitch then be­gan tak­ing shape as the Botan­i­cal Gar­dens in 1880 and now boasts a Rose Gar­den, which was first planted in 1959.


The space was en­hanced fur­ther when the Bro­ken River was dammed in 1972, cre­at­ing the recre­ational Lake Be­nalla along­side the gar­dens. There’s also plenty to keep the kids en­ter­tained, with a re­vamped playground nes­tled among the lus­cious gar­den. The gar­den sur­rounds and lake­side views are among the things Bry­ony loves most about her job.

“I love the set­ting. I love com­ing here every morn­ing and see­ing the gar­dens and the light shim­mer­ing on the lake - the gallery is so per­fectly set­tled in place,” she said.

“One of the won­der­ful things we hear at the front desk is from peo­ple who tell us that they al­ways stop at the gallery on their trav­els. We have a lot of vis­i­tors trav­el­ling from Mel­bourne to Syd­ney or Can­berra who al­ways choose the gallery to stop at be­cause they have a great ex­pe­ri­ence here. We have had record crowds for our ex­hi­bi­tions this year and that has been very re­ward­ing.”

Ex­hi­bi­tions com­ing up this spring in­clude paint­ings from Aus­tralian fash­ion de­signer Prue Ac­ton, who was born in Be­nalla.

“To co­in­cide with spring we will have some of her works, she did a lot of beau­ti­ful flower paint­ing and still lives,” Bry­ony said.

“We will also have a con­tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tion that cel­e­brates some of the cut­ting-edge work from Brook Andrew.”

Fans of large, vi­brant works will also en­joy an ex­hi­bi­tion by Ar­lene Tex­taqueen set to be held at the gallery in com­ing months.

“She mod­els her­self on an art su­per­hero, with a tool belt full of tex­tas, and she only draws in texta,” Bry­ony said.

IN FO­CUS / Be­nalla Art Gallery di­rec­tor Bry­ony Nainby aims to of­fer a va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences for vis­i­tors.

MON­U­MENT / A sculp­ture in Be­nalla’s botan­i­cal gar­dens com­mem­o­rates sol­dier­sur­geon and war hero, Sir Ed­ward “Weary” Dun­lop.

WATER­FRONT / The lake­side lo­ca­tion makes the gallery an at­trac­tive place for trav­ellers to take a break.

FLORA / The botan­i­cal gar­dens fea­tures a range of na­tive and ex­otic species, in­clud­ing a rose gar­den planted in 1959.

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