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Byron Shire
April 19, 2021

Interview with Meredith Cusack from BSA

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The Way We Were Fundraising Exhibition

BSA Project Space, Mullumbimby   |  6–8pm  |  Friday 21 June (running until 9 July)

This Friday the Byron School of Art celebrates five years of the BSA Project with a fundraising exhibition The Way We Were. Project Space co-ordinator Meredith Cusack spoke with The Echo about this very vibrant and exciting artist-run space.

How would you describe your role with the BSA?

As the coordinator of the BSA Project Space, each year I work with the directors to build the exhibition program. Then it’s about supporting the artists during install, opening night, the exhibition run, and de-install. A lot of my role is being open to what possibilities are floating around. There is a formal process where artists can apply for an exhibition, but there are always other opportunities that come up that you can’t plan for; a chance conversation might lead to a collaboration or partnership of some kind.

Looking back, how do you feel about the way it’s grown?

The school itself began in 2013. The Exhibition Space began a year later and grew out of the first year-long course where teachers and students were trying out their ideas through installation. I think the thing that is most satisfying is the way we are pretty well integrated into the local community. Exhibitions open every three weeks, regular artists’ talks, and you know there are always something to see here. As part of the school we have also gained some recognition farther afield – number 85 on the Art Life Top 100 for 2019 was a pretty happy day for us. And then because the exhibition space is literally hidden within the school, you’ll get a local who walks in and says: ‘Oh, I never knew you were here’. I like that we are still an unknown for some people. On the one hand you have to trust that if you are building something special it will slowly permeate out into the wider community; on the other hand you need to let people know what you are doing as there’s nothing like an opening night when the energy is high.

What does BSA offer to the community that is unique as an art experience?

One, it’s that the program isn’t necessarily commercially driven – not because we didn’t want to sell work but because we want to see a range of media or ideas played out. Two, it is the building itself; it is such a great space and responds so well to different types of work. Three, the way we fit with the wider school – I love that the students can test their ideas against the work that is being shown in the space. Nothing beats those days when both studios are full of students and we have visitors ducking in and out of the exhibition space, or we are installing a new show and students can engage with the process at that stage. Because we operate within the Byron School of Art we can make the most of the cultural capital we have worked so hard for. For example the school and its directors have been entrusted with the Ralph Woodford Residency, which in turn has helped us to connect with some amazing artists who have exhibited in the space. And finally, I feel like it’s a welcoming space. I have had countless great conversations here. I have a soft spot for the people who turn up again and again, and just engage with whatever is before them.

How do you keep an unfunded gallery like BSA operational?

Well like most artists we do a lot of unpaid work! We use a rent-supported model and a small commission. It’s a model that’s used all over the world in slightly different formats. It means we are working with motivated artists who are prepared to put themselves on the line to show their work; other times it means we can gain access to artists from around the country and farther afield who are happy to carry some of the costs. Artists are extremely generous, and the school contributes to running costs. Like many art spaces we are looking at the fundraising exhibition to keep fees for artists as low as we can and to keep the space viable.

What are the shows that you have seen at the BSA over the last five years that really hit home for you?

There are so many but the first one that comes to mind is an exhibition called A Consumer’s Guide to Unobtainable Happiness by local artist Susan Gourley. Susan had used waste materials to reproduce French-inspired patisseries as a way to both mimic and question a mass-consumption culture. I watched her pull out all stops to make this show happen. She got a builder in to put more timber in the roof, hired scaffolding so she could install the work from the ceiling, and then spent hours tying the work up till her fingers were raw. It was a stunning show but it was also driven by her passion for environmental issues. Even the way she managed the materials after de-install was considered. That really raised the bar for me; it made me want to help the artist get the most from the space; I am always interested in working with artists who bring that much to the table. But I also saw what it took to offer that up; this was a show where nothing was for sale. It cost her money and time and energy, but there were other rewards. Later that show was reinstalled in a regional gallery, and will continue to have a life after that.

Tell me about the fine art prints of works available.

In a nutshell we are producing a limited edition of signed fine art prints from 12 artists who have exhibited in the space over the years. It’s a very small print run, only editions of seven, and the prints are beautiful. It’s a great way to own a James Guppy or Emma Walker for $250!

What will The Way We Were be showing?

The exhibition will give people the opportunity to see the prints in the flesh. Some lucky buyers will discover their purchase comes with a surprise original artwork as well but that’s all I can say at this stage!

Where do you see the BSA in the future?

One of the beauties about receiving no external funding is that we are pretty nimble as an organisation. Whether it’s the school itself or the exhibition space, we will always be looking at what is happening in the wider art world and what is happening within our own community – and what can we offer in that mix.

Exhibition opens Friday 21 June at 6pm and runs until 9 July. For more information about the space, go to byronschoolofart.com or email [email protected] or contact Jo Petrou for school enquiries: to [email protected]

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