What is at the heart of art education? Reflections on the National Visual Art Educators Conference 2019

What is at the heart of art education? Reflections on the National Visual Art Educators Conference 2019

Dear QATA members,

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be awarded a bursary from QATA and NGA to attend the 2019 National Visual Art Educators Conference. I viewed this as the perfect opportunity to develop my knowledge of Visual Art education. As well as be able to meet some of the professionals at the
forefront of this field.

The conference was centred around the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition ‘Love and Desire’ and the investigation of ‘What is at the heart of art education?’ Inspiration. Bravery. Compassion. Connection. These are the themes that connect…

NGA director Nick Mitzevich set the tone of the conference by reflecting on the power the Arts has to be inspiring and brave. He spoke of the most significant acquisition of the NGA, Jackson Pollock – Blue Poles – 1952, and the courage displayed by both the Director of the time and the Australian government to place such a controversial work in front of an Australian audience. Mitzevich always came back to a very apt observation – ‘look to the edge, the periphery, because the edge becomes our middle ground’. This was reflected in the acquisition of the Blue Poles, once a waste of money to the public, now a national icon.

We continued on as a collective, doing deep dives into the works within the collection and touring exhibitions, hearing from academics about art as therapy and thinking in and through contemporary art, and hearing the possibilities of art education within various institutions, be it gallery, museum, or arts alliance. Every break out session and workshop was an opportunity to meet fellow educators from all across Australia and learn about a new approach to Arts education.

The most amazing experience of the whole conference was listening to Ben Quilty, Sally Smart, and Lisa Reihana speak about their respective art practices and how they all passed on their knowledge through education; Quilty with his work with Syrian children refugees and Myuran Sukumaran, Smart with her development of the NGA Play space for young minds, and Reihana with her work as an art educator at a tertiary level back in New Zealand.

If all of the above doesn’t entice you to attend the next NVAE conference, then let the collections at the NGA and National Portrait Gallery be the calling card! There were about 20 Queensland delegates this year, and it would be amazing to see more in future. I would like to thank everyone involved in creating such an amazing conference: presenters, artists, gallery staff, and fellow Queensland attendees for making the whole experience a worthwhile one.

Most importantly, to QATA, NGA and Art Education Australia for helping this regional teacher to head down to the capital for the most dynamic, engaging and challenging professional development of my career.

Working with Lucy Irvine and fellow arts educators to think through space – collaborative weaving.

Ben Quilty discussing his practice and mentor relationship with Myuran Sukumaran

My haul from the Love and Desire bookshop – couldn’t resist!

Gorgeous student drawing in Sally Smart’s NGA Play space.


Paige Hennessey – currently teaching at North Rockhampton State High School.