Jude McBean, retiring as Grafton Regional Gallery director.
Jude McBean, retiring as Grafton Regional Gallery director. Adam Hourigan

An opening to close a stellar career

SO HOW does a gallery director close the chapter on a long and stellar career in the arts here in the Clarence? On opening night of course.

The Grafton Regional Gallery will farewell its beloved director Jude McBean at tonight's exhibition openings, officiating the event her last task before clocking off after more than two decades at the cultural institution.

Director for the past 15 of those years, Jude McBean said while there are plenty of aspects of her work she will miss, first and foremost it will be the contact with the people she will miss the most.

"All the volunteers, the artists and the staff, there are so many great people who invest their time and talent in this gallery. I loved the engagement with the community, through programs like the Gallery Advisory Committee, The Gallery Foundation, Friends of the Gallery and the volunteers who look after everything from the shop to our beautiful gardens. It's just amazing what so many people do," Ms McBean said.

Of course the director will leave her own legacy on the place through a number of achievements and milestone moments including the launch of the Gallery Foundation in 2005 and seeing the Friends of the Gallery flourish and grow successful community events like Art in the Paddock and Soup Day.

She also cites the development of the gallery's signature Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award, which saw it grow from a $10,000 prize to now offer $40,000, attracting some of the country's top artists and more than 570 entries.

"The JADA also sees strong regional tour every two years that takes it to up to nine regional galleries throughout New South Wales and Queensland."

Ms McBean said growing the gallery's collections was also one of her passions during her directorship.

"Getting every artwork into an industry database, photographing and documenting each object, including support material, was a huge milestone. Also developing our regional collection. It's a very significant identifier for this gallery adding value and representing this community over generations. It's grown from 513 to more than 3000 objects, including the much loved O'Grady collection."

Other career highlights included the gift of the rare Lindt photographs by Sydney's Cullen family and the subsequent publication of Photographs Are Never Still - the culmination of 12 years of research into the identity of the Aboriginal people portrayed in photographs taken by John William Lindt in 1874 in his Prince Street Studio, Grafton.

Ms McBean said she also loved directing and initiating various exhibitions reflecting local culture and showcasing art that everyone can enjoy.

"Making art and its associated programs accessible has always been important to me."

The director also enjoyed the industry aspect of the job, whether through her roles as president and treasurer of the Regional & Public Galleries NSW, as board member and Chair of Arts Northern Rivers or being a peer assessor with the Australia Council for the Arts.

Ms McBean said she realised this kind of experience means that while she may be officially retiring, her connection with the gallery is far from over.

"I'll remain on as a Foundation board member. They are looking at putting my treasury skills to use so I'll pop up events from time to time."

She will also have time pick up her arts practice again, as it has been a long time between paintings for the graduate in Fine Arts.

"The prospect of being creative again has become more attractive as retirement comes up. Art has never really been a hobby for me or something I did on a Saturday afternoon. All my focus and thoughts have been on the gallery so there hasn't been much opportunity to pick up the paint brush for a while."

One of the major roles Ms McBean (and husband Collen Pritchard) will be switching to on retirement is one of being grandparent, a very mobile one, according to the retiring director. "We've a portable granny flat we are going to hook up to the ute so we can visit our three daughters who live in various parts of the region.

"They now have five-week-old twins, a four-month-old, a seven-month-old and another due in July. We went from having one grandchild to having five in eight months so there will be no shortage of things to do."

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