Dr Rebecca Coates to step down as Director of Shepparton Art Museum

Shepparton Arts Museum Dr Rebecca CoatesAfter six transformational years at the helm, Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) Artistic Director and CEO, Rebecca Coates, has announced she is stepping down from the role.

Dr Coates is departing following the triumphant opening in November 2021 of the new SAM building designed by acclaimed Australian architectural firm Denton Corker Marshall and its nine inaugural exhibitions.

“I had three goals when I commenced in the role,” she said. “First, to build the artistic exhibitions, collection, and engagement so that it earnt the participation of the local community and a national reputation.

“Second, to build a genuinely worldclass new building that would attract visitors, enable a first-class museum operation, and be a symbol of civic pride.”

“And third, to build a stronger community in Shepparton, with the museum as an agent for social change, celebrating diversity and fostering inclusion. All three goals have been well and truly achieved,” said Dr Coates.

SAM’s exhibitions are now widely recognised across Australia and internationally, building on SAM’s focus on ceramics and indigenous art and engagement.

In the past six years Coates has curated and co-curated 29 exhibitions and overseen a total program of 111 exhibitions. Two of the exhibitions curated by SAM (Craftivism and Raquel Ormella) have toured to national acclaim.

Dr Coates also revamped SAM’s ceramic art awards to build the profile of contemporary artists working in ceramics. And she built partnerships with a number of Australia’s largest galleries, including the National Gallery of Australia, Bundanon Trust and Art Gallery of South Australia.

Under a new partnership, Art and conflict – a major exhibition organised by the Australian War Memorial, will premiere in March 2022 in Shepparton’s new art museum, its sole Victorian venue, at the beginning of a national tour.

The SAM collection has grown through Dr Coates’ tenure, adding 588 artworks valued at $3 million. Donations by artists have grown by a factor of ten, including donations by artists Ben Quilty, Danie Mellor, Karen Black, Richard Lewer and Felicity Law and Tony Albert.

The Museum has also formalised the gift of the Carrillo and Ziyin Ganter Collection, valued at around $4.5.

Dr Coates was pivotal to the new Shepparton Art Museum that now stands at the entrance to Shepparton. She was the driving force to use a rigorous process endorsed by the Australian Institute of Architects to identify an architect and design.

She said that this was “vital to ensuring that Shepparton got a world class museum, not just another infrastructure project.”

In the past six years SAM’s education programs have expanded, supported by a major learning and engagement partnership with the University of Melbourne, and program partnerships with La Trobe University and the Yulgelbar Foundation.

SAM also presented SAM Edulab (an artist-led intensive four week program that attracted 600 local primary and secondary students previously), an artist-led school holiday program, the SAM Scholars Program (which provides mentoring support to around 25 VCE art and design students per year), and Fresh (a VCE art and design exhibition).

In addition, funding of $500,000 from the Buckland foundation has supported a new Ambassadors and Volunteers program, engaging 60 young people over five years to work with SAM.

Dr Coates said that for her, “It was crucial that SAM contributed substantially to indigenous reconciliation both locally and nationally.” SAM has developed an Aboriginal Engagement Plan supported by funding from Creative Victoria and deep engagement with local community and the arts sector.

Dr Coates set up the museum’s first indigenous curatorial position through a one-year residency funded by Creative Victoria, and secured ongoing funding for the position through a learning and engagement partnership with the University of Melbourne.

In the last 12 months SAM has secured RISE funding from the Federal government for over $250,000 to create 9 new indigenous traineeship positions.

The recent Lin Onus exhibition is the culmination of this indigenous engagement, with local indigenous communities closely involved in the exhibition, the first time that a collection of Lin Onus’ work has been shown on country.

“I would like to thank the staff of SAM whose contributions have been to SAM’s success over the past six years as well as SAM’s donors and supporters, ably organised by the SAM Foundation, and the enormous contribution of Carrillo Gantner AC,” said Dr Coates.

“I am very grateful for the support of numerous artists and my colleagues in art museums and galleries who continue to make and show work that matters, despite the challenges.”

“It’s been six big years, and the past two years have involved the triple challenge of pivoting through a global pandemic, transitioning the governance of the organisation from being part of Council to becoming a stand-alone not-for-profit organisation, and opening a new world-class museum with a much larger footprint.”

“I am now looking forward to a well-earned rest, and to contributing further to Australian arts and culture in future roles,” said Dr Coates.

For more information about the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM), visit: www.sheppartonartmuseum.com.au for details.

Image: Dr Rebecca Coates (supplied)