Jonathan Organ and Jessica Pearless took over as co-directors/curators at Northcote’s Northart gallery – just as the Covid19 pandemic and four-week New Zealand-wide lockdown forced the gallery to close. Christine Young talked to them about their background and their aspirations for the gallery.
Jonathan and Jessica each hold a Master of Fine Arts degree (with Honours), and each has over 20 years’ experience working in the visual arts sector in New Zealand and overseas. Alongside their arts industry work they have also developed careers as award winning practising visual artists.
Jonathan has held various roles in arts management and curation, including arts manager at Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, curator and auctioneer for Webb’s Auction House, and director of Maheke Exhibition Galleries. Jessica is an experienced arts manager and educator, having run the art department and gallery for Webb’s, and taught art and art history to university level. She is also an artist mentor for Boosted, The Arts Foundation of New Zealand’s crowdfunding platform.
They established their art services agency, Paragon Matter, in 2018 and through this specialise in art valuations, artist mentoring, art events and advisory.
The Northart board, commenting on Jessica and Jonathan’s appointment, said, “We are delighted to have appointed Jessica Pearless and Jonathon Organ to lead Northart’s future place in Auckland’s cultural landscape. They come with a wide range of industry credentials and creative experience as well as an ambitious drive to build on former manager Wendy Harsant’s legacy to develop Northart as the flagship northern arts facility in Kaipatiki. The Board looks forward to an exciting future for Northart led by our new directors.”
Jessica says that the role of director/curator at Northart inspired them on a number of levels. “Being based on the North Shore, we are aware of the importance of quality art experiences for our local audience, as well as the need for local artists and creatives to have a facility to exhibit their work and engage with their community. We felt that our skills dovetailed well into the role. As a duo we offer the gallery two unique yet cohesive perspectives. While the concept of dual directorship is relatively new to art galleries in New Zealand, our appointment reflects the progressive nature of the Northart board.”
Jessica says they are committed to further establishing Northart as the go-to destination for quality art experiences on the North Shore. “Our aim is to bring opportunities to artists and creatives, and experiences to our audiences through engagement with all contemporary art practices.
“We see Northart as a facility that can bring appreciation of art to our community at all levels, from those who are new to art, to experienced practitioners. In visiting an exhibition, event, or class at Northart, the public can engage with current conversations on contemporary life through art, learn about the creative process or simply enjoy an artist’s perspective on the world. Art and creativity are powerful tools through which we can better understand each other.”
Jonathan and Jessica are working with a number of artists to develop exhibitions for 2020 and beyond. Their first projects will be with Auckland artists Roy Good, Luise Fong, Elliot Collins, Paul Nathan and Kiran McKinnon, with special exhibitions planned for the Auckland Festival of Photography and Auckland Art Week in June and October.
In the near future, they will send out a ‘Call for Proposals’ giving artists the opportunity to present a concept for an exhibition at Northart. “We are excited to learn more about each artist’s practice and develop links between these artists through our curatorial process.”
They are also keen to engage with art lovers from across the Shore. “Alongside our funders, members and volunteers form the Northart community,” says Jessica. “We are eager to hear from them and others keen to offer their support. Becoming a Northart member or volunteer brings numerous benefits, including opportunities to exhibit, work with other artists, and be part of your local arts facility. If you are interested in getting involved, we’d love to hear from you.”
Under Jonathan and Jessica, Northart will move to a monthly exhibition programme, with opening events on the first Sunday of every month. Each exhibition will include a programme of artist talks and events, chances for the public to engage with the exhibiting artists to learn more about what drives their creative work.
“We are fortunate to have two large gallery spaces and a prominent window space overlooking Ernie Mays Square meaning that we offer multiple exhibition viewing spaces. The large window spaces also allow for viewing of art at a distance.”
During the lockdown period, and any further period of physical distancing, they are looking at ways to support Northart’s artists and encourage audience engagement and learning through online programming. “Given that our public gallery facilities will be closed for an unspecified period of time, we are brainstorming ways through which our audience can interact through us via our social media channels, website and online activities. We are keen to engage with our community and hear their ideas on ways that Northart can encourage people to keep looking at art, and for practitioners to keep making art. Creativity and connection is vital in times like these.”
Northart is a community funded organisation, receiving funding from several organisations, including The Lion Foundation, Kaipatiki Local Board, Birkenhead Licensing Trust and Creative New Zealand.