The City of Mount Gambier welcomes Ashleigh Whatling as the new Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre Director.
The Adelaide born curator has experience working in the arts and cultural sectors in South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland and is settling into her new role in Mount Gambier, a position she had her eye on for a while.
“I am happy to be here and be closer to my family and friends. I really want to understand what this community is interested in and how we can elevate that into art exhibitions that draw people in and tell stories about who we are,” Ashleigh said.
“The Riddoch has an excellent reputation for programming within the regional arts network and I would like to continue to develop that reputation of national significance in terms of cultural conversation.”
In the next 12 months Ashleigh plans to develop a five year strategic plan for the Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre.
“I’ll be reaching out to hear from the community about what they want the Riddoch to be, including what we do well and what we can improve on. I want to learn from the city and then reflect it back to them.”
“My goal would be to continue to showcase local talent and to also bring some big names to the region so that we don’t have to rely on going all the way to Adelaide to see some of those big shows, we can develop and host them here.”
The Riddoch is strongly positioned to become a destination gallery as we are within driving distance of Adelaide and Melbourne. I’d like to continue to focus on developing our original programming because there is a lot of talent in the region. We can encourage people from further afield to come and spend time in Mount Gambier and one of the ways we can do that is by having a flagship gallery. – Riddoch Arts and Cultural Centre Director Ashleigh Whatling
Ashleigh studied a double masters degree in Art History and Museum and Curatorial Studies at the University of South Australia. Following an internship, she was employed as a full time Curatorial Assistant at Samstag Museum of Art in 2011.
“It was a wonderful place to work, and I learned the ropes of collection management, artist liaison, publication research and development, arts administration and marketing and front of house presentation. I got to cut my teeth in a prestigious environment – a purpose-built gallery with a high functioning team.”
In 2017 Ashleigh was appointed as Curator of Visual Arts and Design at QVMAG in Launceston, Tasmania, the largest regional gallery in Australia. Here she managed a small curatorial team responsible for a large collection of furniture, works on paper, paintings, sculpture, textiles, ceramics and photography spanning 250 years of practice.
“I was also responsible for delivering a schedule of changing and permanent exhibitions across 11 galleries. As part of that, we closed the permanent Colonial and Federation galleries and we reopened them with much more contemporary and inclusive permanent displays of the collection that told multiple stories and also included 13 new commissions.”
“One particular exhibition I am proud of is one I did with Alistair Mooney. He carved native birds out of Huon pine which is an endemic species of wood in Tasmania that takes 300 years to grow to maturity, so it was really special.”
In 2019 Ashleigh was promoted to Senior Curator of Visual Arts and Design within QVMAG which involved strategic planning for the gallery.
“We managed to pull off major change in the gallery and draw national attention during that time, which I am very proud of.”
In 2021 Ashleigh made the move to regional Queensland after she was appointed Director of the Hervey Bay Regional Gallery.
“This position gave me the opportunity to re-open the gallery after a two-year closure due to COVID and develop and launch a strategic plan.”
“Since reopening in April 2022, the gallery has delivered 15 exhibitions featuring over 100 artists, delivered over 50 workshops, public programs and events, hosted internationally celebrated artists for the Fiona Foley Artist Residency and built strong relationships with the Butchulla community.”
A career highlight for Ashleigh was the launch of Girra: The Fraser Coast National Art Prize, a $25,000 major acquisitive prize.
“What we managed to pull off at Hervey Bay entered it into the national conversation of contemporary art and what a regional gallery can be in terms of telling stories that you can’t tell anywhere else and bringing really high profile talent to the region to help develop the creative community that already existed there.”
Ashleigh plans to build on her previous success at Hervey Bay and Launceston with a focus on hyper local content – stories that can’t be told anywhere else.
“Hyper local content is really what will draw people from other places and Mount Gambier is really rich in stories that only we can tell, the volcanic landscape is rich with stories.”
“Artists are always drawn to these dramatic landscapes, so I’m keen for the Riddoch to become a place for original content you can’t find anywhere else,” Ashleigh said.
“I think storytelling is at the core of what regional galleries can do. There is an opportunity to further build connections with our Boandik community and understand our stories and how they relate to the deep history of this place.”