Dubbo curator named in top 50 most powerful art figures

A LIST of the 50 most powerful people in the Australian art world includes Dubbo's cultural warrior Kent Buchanan.

His steely determination to square the cultural ledger between city and country has caught the influential eye of The Art Life.

The long-standing critical blog that launched an ABC1 television series, recently released the inaugural list with Mr Buchanan at number 48.

The curator of Western Plains Cultural Centre (WPCC) was one of only two arts professionals working in regional Australia on it.

Founder of The Art Life, writer and commentator Andrew Frost, has been a visitor to WPCC where impressive infrastructure is just the beginning.

The 48th citation on the list reports the WPCC "might be way beyond the edges of the Sandstone Curtain but it's one of the most energetic and forward-looking of NSW's regional galleries".

"Curator Kent Buchanan brings contemporary art to the people of the west and stages shows by international artists as well as mounting travelling shows from the ARI (artist-run initiatives) circuit," it says.

Indeed, there are few artistic obstacles Mr Buchanan and the team at WPCC will not tackle in championing equal access to cultural experiences of a regional, national and international nature.

Assisting them is the march of technology that has made "distance unimportant".

"This centre is about providing access to cultural material and allowing people to access it without having to travel to a big city," Mr Buchanan said this week.

"There is no reason why we can't enjoy the same things that any other big city can enjoy."

Born and bred at Dubbo, Mr Buchanan moved to Sydney in the late 1980s to study at the College of Fine Arts of the University of NSW.

When he returned to Dubbo a decade later the only door open to a career in the arts was a volunteer position at the former Dubbo Regional Gallery in Darling Street.

But one opportunity would lead to another as the now 42-year-old married father of two children found his professional feet.

Mr Buchanan was education officer at the small Darling Street gallery when a fire in 2003 prompted Dubbo City Council to begin planning for a facility that could accommodate both art and history.

The devastating 2000 storm at Dubbo had closed the city's makeshift museum.

Largely ratepayer-funded, WPCC opened in 2006 with Mr Buchanan getting the chance to move from education officer to assistant curator in 2007 and curator a couple of years later.

"It was a dream come true because I'm really passionate about the arts and particularly passionate about living in the regions and having access to all of those things that people take for granted in the city," he told the Daily Liberal.

"The opportunity to present works to people that they have never seen, never considered seeing, is really satisfying."

The WPCC building, boasting five gallery spaces, has been up to the challenge of exposing the public to "a variety of shows, genres and media" including film and video art that attracts younger audiences, "notoriously difficult" to entice inside.

"I've pushed for new media and I think that's helped set us apart," Mr Buchanan said.

So too has the decision by WPCC to steer away from building a so-called "supermarket" collection and concentrate on the "animal".

"By specialising in the animal we now have a reputation within the art world," the curator said.

Larger institutions have been calling to ask for advice or to borrow.

People entering the striking red and grey building in Wingewarra Street for the first time are shocked for all the right reasons.

"When they come here they really see something on par with some of the mid to large centres in the city," Mr Buchanan said.

"We can put on a traditional show but at the same time other shows that are challenging."

The curator thinks the council and its team at WPCC are getting it right, but "there's still a lot to do".

"There's still people I come across in Dubbo who haven't been here," he said.

"They're the people I'm really keen on bringing in."

Mr Buchanan said WPCC was an opportunity to leave behind a contemporary world where just about everyone is trying to "sell us something or influence us in a particular way".

"We're just about ideas and beauty," he said.

"You can take what you want from it. You can like it or not like it. Every reaction to an artwork is valid."

The curator gets a buzz out of hearing WPCC patrons swap thoughts and opinions as they wonder past its precious cargo.

"It's between liking and not liking that really interest me, because that's when we have a dialogue," he said.

Mr Buchanan's rise in prominence in the national arts community corresponds with his acceptance of the offer to be secretary of the committee of Regional and Public Galleries NSW.

It promotes and lobbies on behalf of big and small facilities, including the Art Gallery of NSW.

It is an extra load that the curator is happy to carry as he encourages a cultural revolution in the bush.

Mr Buchanan is "gobsmacked" by his inclusion in The Art Life list and insists it reflects upon the WPCC team and a council with vision.

"It saw that Dubbo was becoming a much more sophisticated city and we needed an impressive centre," he said.

kim.bartley@ruralpress.com

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