His decision to return to the helm of MCA was the answer to his “big question” of the past decade: “Where am I going to end up?”
“I was following my career path and having these incredible experiences and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Is that enough?’. COVID-19 also clarified his priorities, with Cotter having lost his mother Elaine the year She was unable to attend his funeral due to border closures.
One of the most significant changes she observed upon her return to Australia was the recognition given to First Nations. Giving her first country recognition brought her almost to tears.
COVID-19 has also imposed a sort of reckoning on cultural institutions. Cotter takes over the MCA from Macgregor whom she credits with moving the institution from “young adolescent” to adulthood.
“She nurtured a fully formed, very accomplished, very successful and highly recognized arts institution and I would love to build on that work and see the museum recognized more fully as an adult.”
Visitors return to the MCA and its galleries are busy, but attendance figures last year were 40% of what they were before the pandemic. The museum was closed for 108 days in 2021, and it missed international tourists who made up 40% of its numbers.
This is problematic for an institution that derives a quarter of its income from functions, events and sales of its bookstore and café. Cotter will not change the free admission to the museum but “the paid exhibitions will remain permanently”.
It remains to be seen whether financial prudence and government support in the event of a crisis will save MCA from cumulative losses. Cotter is philosophical about the impact of COVID-19 and predicts that the disruptions “will continue for some time.”
Nevertheless, she acknowledges that the MCA may need to rethink its financial models “to give us greater security in the future”.
“I think the last thing we do is imagine a magical day when this world we live in now is somehow different, with climate change too. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that the world is changing irrevocably.To quote Doug Aitken, it’s a new era.
“Everyone who works here believes in the idea that art and culture are really good for you. They can contribute to a feeling of well-being that takes you out of your everyday life. We really want to affirm the importance of culture right now through our business and if that means sometimes our doors are closed and we have to go back to doing something outside and on digital platforms, then that’s what we’ll do, and that’s up to pretty much what every museum in the world has done for the past two years.
In November, the art gallery of NSW’s new Sydney Modern contemporary art museum opens. Cotter dismisses suggestions that Sydney isn’t big enough for two players.
“I don’t think it’s particularly useful to see it as a competition. I think this further reinforces Sydney’s critical importance as an arts capital. If you go to London it’s not just the Tate Modern, in fact you have the Serpentine, you have the Royal Academy, you have Whitechapel, they are all different scales but they all play a role.
“If anything, I think it also frees us up and gives us more freedom to be more responsive in certain aspects of our programming than would be possible for someone like Sydney Modern. We will be, if you will, a smaller ship to turn around.
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