‘It’s like a magic kingdom’: Gallery hands keys to locals for unique new show

Until the beginning of this year, Sarah Samuels hadn’t even set foot in the Art Gallery of New South Wales – despite living just a stone’s throw away.

It sounds silly because I live just across the road, she says. It wasn’t something I thought I would like. I thought it was boring.

Now, after taking part in an innovative project called Local Rhythms and Actions, the 29-year-old Woolloomooloo resident can’t get enough of the place.

My whole perspective on art has changed, she says. Everything about the art gallery is just amazing. It’s not just the art that’s in here, it’s what it does to you. You can look at artworks and they will transport you back in time. I didn’t know I’d feel like this being in an art gallery.

At the beginning of the year, the gallery put out a call for Woolloomooloo residents to co-curate an exhibition about their community. Eleven people answered the call and attended a series of workshops to select the works to be included. They also got to explore behind the scenes and learn about how the gallery functions as a leading arts institution.

The resulting show is a refreshingly eclectic exhibition that includes paintings, prints, photographs, video installations and sculptures from artists including Reko Rennie, Shaun Gladwell and Jeff Koons.

The project was co-ordinated by the gallery’s music and community curator Jonathan Wilson, who helped run the workshops along with Nick Yelverton.

It was very much roundtable discussions, deciding as a group what we were looking for and then trying to facilitate finding those key themes, he says. Themes would arise, whether it’s sport, music, culture, street art, Indigenous words or prominent Indigenous works and then we just kind of went searching together.

Maya Sheridan-Martinez is one of the Woolloomooloo locals who took part in the project.

To be honest we didn’t really know what was in store, she says. We were able to delve down into the archives of the gallery and put together an exhibition through the eyes of locals, which was pretty awesome.

She particularly enjoyed the diversity of the curating group, which had a wide range of ages and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

It’s been pretty crazy and curious, listening to everyone’s different perspectives, she says. We grew a bit closer and learned some things about each other. We had a few headbutts as well but that’s always good.

Samuels is now a regular weekend visitor to the gallery, often bringing along her three children to explore the collections.

You walk through the doors and it’s like a magic kingdom, she says. You’re stepping into a whole other world that is just a hop and a skip away from my house.

A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. .

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