31 March 2023

$3.5 million Bega gallery set to paint region as new contemporary arts hub

| Sally Hopman
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Man in front of painting

Director of Bega’s SECCA Gallery, Iain Dawson, sees the new facility as the hub of contemporary art in the state’s southeast. Photo: Supplied.

When it comes to an acquisition wish list for his new gallery, director Iain Dawson has his answer down to a, well, fine art: everything, he says, “I want it all”.

Hardly surprising for Mr Dawson, whose dream of establishing such a creative space is just about to come to fruition with the opening of the $3.5 million South-East Centre for Contemporary Art (SECCA) in Bega, later this month.

SECCA has been about five years in the making. The purpose-built contemporary arts space has been built on the site of the former Bega Regional Art Gallery, in the centre of town. It is located on the traditional lands of the people of the Yuin Nation.

Build a (new) gallery, and they will come, according to Mr Dawson who ran the fomer Bega gallery for almost 10 years.

Located halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, he believes the new gallery has the potential to become the arts hub of the state’s southeast.

Art gallery rendering

An artist’s rendering of one of the new SECCA galleries at Bega. Photo: Supplied.

“We are excited to be launching SECCA with such a diverse range of exhibitions which reflect our ambition for the future of the gallery,” Mr Dawson said.

“It is our aim for SECCA to become the cultural heart of the southeast, uplifting the local area through compelling arts and cultural programming and creating a new standard for what is possible for a regional gallery.”

The 30-year-old site has undergone redevelopment and expansion to create the new SECCA Gallery.

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Designed by award-winning Melbourne-based architecture practice Sibling, SECCA will include 500 square metres of exhibition, archive, storage and workshop space alongside a new facade. It will feature a significantly larger exhibition space and include a state-of-the-art main gallery space for touring exhibitions, featuring vast windows so the art can be seen 24/7.

The SECCA gallery is already home to the Shirley Hannan National Portrait Award, one of the most pre-eminent awards for portraiture in the country, and the historic Bega Valley Arts & Crafts Society collection.

Mr Dawson said although based in Bega he saw the gallery as a link between the local community and the rest of the contemporary art world.

He said he was looking forward to building on the already 300-piece SECCA collection, including works from one of his favourite artists, Hilda Rix Nicholas, who made a significant contribution to Australian art between World War I and II with her landscapes, and portraits of soldiers. After a successful career in Europe, Rix Nicholas returned to Australia and in 1928, remarried and moved to Knockalong Cottage on the NSW Monaro, establishing a local connection with the region.

Top of his wish list is a piece by First Nations photographer Christian Thompson. “He does amazing work,” Mr Dawson said. “It is sublime. He is definitely on my wish list … which is about a mile long.”

The new gallery is scheduled to open on 29 April with the exhibition Perforated Sovereignty, running until 2 July 2023.

Outside view of modern art gallery

An artist’s rendering of the outside of Bega’s new SECCA Gallery which opens in April. Photo: Supplied.

It focuses on the works of local, national and international artists from Australasia. Reflecting the ambitions of the newly redeveloped facility, Mr Dawson said the exhibition would bring together diverse ideas, mediums and cultural heritage to create a snapshot of a contemporary regional community, its impact on the world and the global impact of new dialogues.

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Exhibiting artists include Katherine Boland, Eric Bridgeman, Susan Chancellor, Lissy Cole and Rudi Robinson, Dean Cross, Cheryl Davison, Timo Hogan, Sang Hyun Lee, Maharani Mancanagara, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, Emily Phyo, Dias Prabu, Citra Samistra, Greg Semu and Mr Wanambi.

To close the year, SECCA will host the prestigious Archibald Prize exhibition, featuring portraits from 2023 shortlisted artists.

“We are excited to be launching SECCA with such a diverse range of exhibitions which reflect our ambition for the future of the gallery,” Mr Dawson said.

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