In February, Amrit Gill will step into the role of Artistic Director/CEO at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. She comes to the position from the Australia Council for the Arts, where she has held the role of Director, International Development, since 2017.
With over 15 years’ experience across producing, programming, strategy, international relations, community development and social enterprise, ArtsHub was keen to catch up with Gill, and learn about her vision for the celebrated Sydney organisation.
WHY 4A, WHY NOW?
‘One of my very first jobs with 4A, in 2002 – so I am going full circle with the organisation, stepping into this leadership position,’ Gill told ArtsHub.
‘I have long known. that when I eventually leave OzCo that I wanted to go back to working in a more nimble structure. Working in a funding agency is a fantastic experience, and it is really important for people move in and out of these points in system, and then embed that knowledge elsewhere. I am really excited to go back to the small to medium sector,’ she said.
‘4A is so valuable, not only to Sydney and nationally, but beyond. We are part of Asia geographically, but we don’t always acknowledge that. It is a great challenge to take on, and build on this growth and legacy, from an artist association and three major shoulders – [past Directors] Melissa [Chiu], Aaron [Seto] and Mikala [Tai].’
When asked about the depth of her of experience with managing international cultural exchange, and how she might bring that to 4A, Gill said that over seven years with the Australia Council she worked at expanding that exchange.
‘While I’ve had a great range of opportunities there, one thing I was really pleased to do is expand our work into Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. This is an area I am very passionate about.’
Gill continued: ‘We all know the amazing legacy of 4A from [nurturing] 25 years of dialogue with the region, and in particular the last five years presenting contemporary Australian art in Hong Kong. I really feel that despite the challenges of international exchange at the moment, a lot of opportunities are still on the horizon that may, or may not, include physical exchange. I am terribly interested in these hybrid models to emerge.
‘But also embracing a climate responsible model of working together,’ added Gill.
She said it was all about exploring what other points of engagement could be, and to think of smarter ways of looking, which are more sustainable.
‘It is about a strong set of intentions with a lot of exciting voices to activate and fire up that future.’
‘The mobility models of past are not necessarily sustainable, so I will be looking for more break-even models, and make them work better for artists. I truly feel this is an exciting time to innovate.’
Gill added that she is also looking at diving deeper into South Asia, which has been a strategy over the past five years for 4A.
‘It is one of the fasting growing diasporas – and of course, where I am from,’ Gill added.
Gill described her management style as one focused on ‘empowering people to get their ideas to happen. Great things happen in collective ways, and to allow space for experimentation and failure.’
It is a good fit for 4A, which has always worked with a wide range of curators in any given year.
ADDRESSING THE PRESSURE POINTS
‘The entire arts sector is in a space of not necessarily moving into a position of recovery – to not bounce back to the way we were before. We need to look at rebuilding to serve our community and artists, and keeping that at the centre of what does 4A has done – and will do.’
Gill continued: ‘Particularly in recent years, 4A has worked to [represent] equity and diversity, and to make sure that is very much a part of rebuilding the sector, and strengthening professional development opportunities around that [space]’.
‘The sector is in crisis, and it is very easy for people not to choose to continue this, but it is so significant going forward for the future of the industry,’ Gill told ArtsHub.
In terms of reduced funding and its future impact, Gill said she will be looking at sustainable
business models going forward. ‘When we talk about public funding getting smaller, we are very conscious how we partner better and how we leverage support better, but also to look at other sources [of income].’
OPTIMISM FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER AT 4A
4A is currently closed to the public as the spaces is refurbished. In the meantime programming continues.
Gill explained: ‘The remediation by the City of Sydney [who own the building] has been long in coming, and we are excitied to get back in the space. In the interim, what 4A has done, is to extend our partnership to deliver a program in 2021.
‘It is an interesting chapter in 4A’s history, to be able to be out of building for a short time but to expand our Sydney program wider. It shows the organisation has incredible weight beyond its physical space, and our location in Haymarket.’
When asked what would she would use to describe the future she would like to shape for 4A, Gill said relevance.
‘It might sound dry, but really grounding the organisation in its community, in Sydney, nationally and internationally – really grounding its relevance in the contemporary arts sector,’ she said.
Gill remains optimistic for 2021. ‘A lot or organisations have gone through a period of reflection, and to re-affirm what they are about and what their place is in the ecology of the arts. But also to think about the ecology of city and community they are situated in. For me that is a great optimism for 4A, and this idea of being grounded and relevant – it’s a really positive thing.’
ABOUT AMRIT GILL
Since 2017 Gill served as Director, International Development at the Australia Council for the Arts, leading on international strategic investment and project delivery across visual arts, experimental arts, literature, music, theatre and dance.
At the Australia Council she has managed the review of international residency programs, served as project director for Australia’s representation at the Venice Biennale in 2019 and 2022, and led the implementation of the agency’s first international arts strategy expanding engagement and investment in Asia and global First Nations exchange.
Prior to joining the Australia Council, Amrit worked at Milk Crate Theatre, British Council Australia, and Information and Cultural Exchange (ICE). She holds a Bachelor of Art Theory and a Bachelor of Arts (History) from the University of New South Wales.