Guests take advantage of seeing Australia's premier portraiture prize the Archibald up close at the Grafton gallery in February.
Guests take advantage of seeing Australia's premier portraiture prize the Archibald up close at the Grafton gallery in February. Simon Hughes

How much of a prize catch was the Archibald for Clarence

SO what is the impact of having a nationally-recognised art exhibition in your hometown? Let's look at the outcome of the Grafton Regional gallery's recent hosting of the Archibald Portrait Prize.

During the exhibition time-frame of February 2 to March 19 total attendance for the exhibition was 3778, including 809 students from 29 different schools from around the region.

This was the third time the gallery had hosted the prize but the first time it attracted an admission price. Season tickets were $10 adult, $5 ANZ (sponsor) customers, and gold coin donation for school children.

This generated an income of $24,587.40. Council reported that charging for the Archibald for the first time demonstrated the potential that 'blockbuster' exhibitions had when it came to applying entry fees.

Recently retired gallery director Jude McBean has plenty of experience around the Archibald Prize's appearances in Grafton, the last three tours arriving under her directorship.

"It's always been the most popular. It has such a huge profile and people just love portraits. They all know about the Archibald, it's the rock star of the art world.”

Ms McBean said there have been a couple of other exhibitions during her 20-odd years at the gallery that generated huge visitor responses including How to Make a Monster which came from Gold Coast and the Sydney Powerhouse's Circus exhibition but the Archibald remained the consistently popular blockbuster for the gallery.

While said she the Archibald visitation figures from council were good considering it was the first time it was a ticketed event, there was probably some minimal impact to people who would normally come along and see it.

"People of very low income brackets like pensioners. There's likely to be more in depth analysis about who came and who didn't which will help to ensure the people who missed out are catered for.”

Ms McBean said the recent Archibald exhibition did attract a lot of visitors from out-of-town which was great for the local economy.

"There were a lot of people from South East Queensland who we aimed at promotion-wise to come and stay for the weekend. There were also a lot of visitors from the west, the Tablelands and North West slopes and plains, places like Moree.”

She said despite their popularity it was getting harder to get the blockbuster exhibitions at the gallery for a number of reasons.

"A lot them (like the Moran Prize) don't travel any more because is it so expensive. They tend not tour them so much but rather try to attract people to the originating venue.”

Ms McBean said if the Grafton gallery extension was to go ahead (they recently applied for funding under the State Government's Regional Cultural Fund) it would open up more scope for more 'blockbusters' and in turn more visitors to the area.

"The gallery was unable to apply for national and international exhibitions because of the lack of display standards and capacity. Climate control, wall height, the extension would solve a lot of that. Tourist numbers have increased across the whole Valley and quality touring exhibitions are a big way to attract them.”

  • Announcements of successful funding projects under the Regional Cultural Fund are anticipated mid-year.