What I've Learned
Michael Reid’s Northern Beaches Gallery Manager Amy Woolley reveals her love and enthusiasm for emerging art, and how the gallery environment has provided the perfect balance creatively.
Editing by Emma-Kate Wilson
As a teen, I wanted to be a florist; I was drawn to the creative, visual, and practical balance that it seemed to have. My grandmother was the inspiration here; she would lay out all her vases and flower frogs when she knew I was coming to visit, and then I was allowed to roam her beautiful garden collecting cuttings ready to make beautiful arrangements for the table. She eventually gave me her sketchbooks that were filled with her arrangements from floristry school. While I didn’t end up pursuing floristry, I was always intent on choosing a creative path, and after completing a degree in business, I went on to study Art History and French with a view to working in the gallery environment.
Working as Gallery Manager, each day is varied and busy — two things that I am very much drawn to. It allows a lovely balance between the visually creative and the intensely practical, so I feel right at home. There is so much ‘behind the scenes’ action in the gallery environment to create each stunning exhibition and roll it out smoothly, and I find it a pleasure to be privy to these moments and then to witness people engaging with the show for the first time.
The Michael Reid team is unique in the art industry; it is not internally competitive and withholding of information; rather, from the first moments I came on board, each colleague has generously imparted their individual wisdom and experience in order to build a strong team and a strong suite of galleries. We collectively celebrate the highs of each of our four galleries and pull together to develop new strategies when the environment calls for it.
With a degree in business and experience in HR and administrative roles, it was always the aim to apply these skills in a creative industry. After completing a postgraduate diploma in art history, I was fortunate to be offered a position with Michael Reid working on their emerging art program. It required a whole range of new skills, which was incredibly exciting while drawing on my business grounding and very quickly became apparent it was a great fit for me.
Working as Gallery Manager, each day is varied and busy — two things that I am very much drawn to.
Amy with Michael Reid Northern Beaches Program Director Amber Creswell Bell and legendary Australian artist Ken Done at his book launch at MRNB in 2021
One of my absolute favourite Australian artists is Lucy Culliton. The first show I saw in person was ‘The Residents of Bibbenluke Lodge’ at King Street Gallery in 2017, after eyeing off her works online, and I have been obsessed since. I love her candour and humour especially in her depiction of her favourite creatures all underpinned by that luscious palette. More recently, Noel McKenna’s exhibition ‘The Night is Doubtful’ at Darren Knight gallery in August last year was an absolute joy to view and has begun another obsession.
For those entering the industry, I would have to say patience is key. There are limited positions, and sometimes you have to do the grunt work and show your commitment, often starting at the bottom and working up. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded with Michael Reid and thoroughly enjoy my current position as Gallery Manager of our Northern Beaches gallery.
I particularly enjoy working with emerging artists. I find it exciting to help uncover hidden talent, and it is also highly rewarding to support emerging artists understand what they need to do to be successful with galleries. In our recent Art Education series, we were able to impart so many of these important insights. Curator and Program Director Amber Creswell Bell and Gallery Director Toby Meagher had a wealth of knowledge to share along with some practical tips from me. The long and short of it is if artists are to be successful, they need to be organised, easy to communicate with, understanding of feedback and reliable.
We have just launched our new Emerging Art Prize — a great new initiative sponsored by Morgan’s Financial offering our emerging artists a very generous $20000 for painters and $5000 for ceramicists towards their art practice. It is a much-needed boost for emerging artists in a formative time of their careers. I’m looking forward to the next few months.