Sue Mitchell

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Sue Mitchell is the Director of the Manning Valley Regional Art Gallery. Her impressive history of working in galleries spans 20 years. Sue takes us into our local gallery for a look at some of the works on show.

> You have held the position of gallery Director for the past 20 years in numerous locations. How have you found yourself in the Manning Valley?

My husband, Lindsay, and I decided to bring my family to live on a farm in the Manning Valley for the benefits of a rural lifestyle. 

I had also been involved with the Manning Regional Gallery for some time, as the exhibitions I was curating as Director of the Lake Macquarie Regional Gallery were toured up to Taree. We had planned to wait for some years after purchasing our beautiful property at the Bight, near Wingham, before we relocated, but when the Director’s position became available in October 1998, I moved here immediately. 

Now, 10 years later, this is our home and we love it. Our old farmhouse is 150 years old, and it looks like no one has done any work on it since then, but the lifestyle in the Manning is great.

I have been the Director of 3 Regional Galleries: for 2.5 years at Muswellbrook; 10 years at Lake Macquarie, where I took the Gallery to its fabulous site on 15 acres of waterfront land next to Marmong Point Marina; and then 10 years in Manning Regional Gallery. 

Before this all started I was a High School Art Teacher at Quirindi and at St Mary’s College in Gunnedah. Between these however, I worked in the Northern Territory on a Lord Vestie cattle station, sailed around the Mediterranean with friends on a yacht, and worked in Israel on archaeological sites, among other things.

> What was it like working on the archaeological sites in Israel? 

I was working with an American team of architects from Ann Arbour campus of Michigan University on a dig in Israel called Tel Anafa, near Quiriat Shmona, during the time when Israel invaded southern Lebanon. We stayed on the site a little too long and found that our transport routes were cut off. We watched from the Tel site as the bombs from the mobile rocket launchers hit all around the nearby hills. 

The Israeli army then bombed the bridges and oil depots in Beirut, and the skies blackened with burning oil. The bombing went over our heads for weeks, and I was even thrown out of bed by one bomb. It was all very exciting for a young Australian, but I didn’t have kids in school and a husband in the field. 

While on this dig we found the earliest Greek mosaic found in the Middle East and many incredible pieces of glass jewellery from Cesaerea, coins with Julius Ceasar on them, bronze statues etc.

While I was in Israel I also worked on the Negev Desert Survey Team from the Israeli Museum. We found the most incredible Byzantine cistern underground in the middle of the most barren rocky desert.

> In the past 10 years what major changes have you seen in the gallery?

In 1998 Manning Gallery had been located in the old site at the Manning Entertainment Centre for 10 years. My first job was to organise the move to the new site and to establish it as one of the leading Regional Galleries in NSW. 

Since then we have shown hundreds of outstanding exhibitions of state, national, and international significance and have shown the work of over 1,000 Australian artists. We have also run public programs and education programs that have helped develop the cultural life of the Manning community and its visitors.

In 2007 we opened a major new extension to the Gallery, which has allowed us to show musical and dramatic productions and to raise the standard of the exhibitions that we bring to the Manning.

I would say that the standard of art and the number of artists working in this area has drastically increased in the past 10 years.

> How important are art galleries to community life?

Everyone needs some of the ‘good things’ in life. Art, music, literature, sport, nature all enrich our lives and create opportunities for people to raise themselves out of the mundane existence of simply dealing with the necessities of life. Art is at the soul of any culture, and perhaps Australian communities in general could work on that a little.

> Tell us about some of the major exhibitions the gallery is currently hosting?

What is there to say about the Archibald Prize, except that it is the most important Portrait Prize in Australia and that it is every artist’s dream to be selected as a finalist? This year’s exhibition is the best Archibald I have seen. It shows the depth of the tradition of portraiture in Australia. 

The Artbank: Celebrating 25 Years of Australian Art is a top notch exhibition from the Federal Government of Australia. I am very proud of both of these exhibitions. Sometimes I think the people of this area don’t know how lucky they are to get these outstanding exhibitions up here.

> Do you have a favourite artist? 

Brett Whitely. I believe he is the best artist Australia has ever had. He stretched the boundaries and found new beauty that was before untapped.

> If you could change one thing about the area, what would it be?

One thing I would like to encourage is the development of better quality architecture. Unfortunately there are some very cheap and nasty buildings going up. This area will look ugly and poor if we allow low standard architecture to dominate our urban areas.

> Thank you Sue.

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