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New Art Gallery director appointed

25 July 2006

The Christchurch City Council has appointed a new director for the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu. She is Victoria University’s Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Jenny Harper. Ms Harper will take up the position on 9 October.

Ms Harper brings a wealth of expertise to the role, having worked in art galleries in New Zealand and Australia as a curator and director, as well as 11 years academic experience at Victoria University of Wellington.

In announcing the appointment today, Christchurch City Council Community Services General Manager Stephen McArthur said with hands-on gallery curatorial experience, industry knowledge, leadership skills and gallery management, Ms Harper was well-qualified for the role of director.

“Ms Harper was part of the Institutional Planning Team for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, becoming Director of the National Art Gallery in 1990 and then Director of Art and History at the combined museum and gallery (now Te Papa) in 1992. For five months she was acting chief executive.

“She worked a year as the Director (Museum Projects) before leaving to take up the position as Associate Professor and inaugural head of the Art History Department at Victoria University,” he said. “She was pivotal in the development of the Adam Art Gallery which opened at the university in 1999.”

In 2001, Ms Harper was appointed Head of Victoria’s School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies, and in 2004 became Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Academic).

Mr McArthur said as the new director Ms Harper would be instrumental in implementing the Paradigm Shift or Five-year Strategic Plan which was released last week, and would ensure the Gallery fulfilled its key leadership role in the development of Worcester Boulevard and the Cultural Precinct as the most visited cultural tourism site in New Zealand.

“Ms Harper will also play a pivotal role in helping the Gallery to celebrate the city’s creative spirit and expand the public’s perception of art, inviting them to expand their cultural horizons and enrich their senses.”

Ms Harper said she was looking forward to returning to Christchurch, where she had studied in the 1970s, completing a BA and an MA in Religious Studies with 1st Class Honours) at the University of Canterbury.

“The launch of the Paradigm Shift makes this an exciting time to be involved in the development of the Christchurch Art Gallery,” Ms Harper said.

“The Christchurch Art Gallery is a fantastic building and there is strong stakeholder and community support for the institution, but in some ways it is a gallery still waiting to happen.

“The Five-year Strategic Plan is an important framework for the Gallery. It provides for strategic development but offers the flexibility to grow and expand people’s perceptions of art through a challenging exhibition programme. It is a very good forward looking plan that I am happy to implement,” she said.

“Galleries all over the world are questioning the conventional paradigm, shifting their priorities and adjusting their practices. It is not a unique experience to Christchurch. The challenge is to exploit and animate the gallery experience for a range of visitors.”

After 11 years in the academic sector, Ms Harper said she welcomed the return to the art gallery environment, being involved with the public, working directly with artists and a gallery’s collection. “I look forward to engaging the broader community and making the Christchurch Art Gallery a leading arts institution.”

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