Artist Led – the role of artist-run activity for visual arts graduates

Dr Rachael Haynes

Independent artists are faced with a challenging and transforming landscape that requires adaptive resilience in order to thrive creatively, today and in the future. How do we, as tertiary educators, empower and enable artists to build strong and flexible, professional contemporary art practices? To address this issue, my current research draws models of praxis from artist-run initiatives (ARI) in the Visual Arts industry, specifically from my experience as director of Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space.

HOMEGROUND was an accumulative exhibition project. . . The participants in the project involved local artist-run initiatives. . . all of whom were founded by artists during their art school studies or soon after graduation

Boxcopy was founded by seven QUT art school graduates in 2007 in response to a lack of exhibiting opportunities for local, emerging artists and initially operated from the basement of a Queenslander house in New Farm, Brisbane. Functioning primarily as a collective until 2011, Boxcopy was the first participant of Metro Arts ARI-in-residence program, and then operated from a small gallery space in a CBD office building, as well as presenting numerous off-site projects. In 2012 Boxcopy became a non-profit organisation, and I took up the newly formed, volunteer role of Gallery Director - responsible for programming and funding, as well as the day-to-day management of the space. In this way, Boxcopy seems to present a particular ARI narrative if you like, from the temporary, domestic project space to the small-scale institutional gallery, and after ten years, is now one of Brisbane’s longest operating artist run spaces.

In 2016, I initiated a collaborative exhibition project at Boxcopy addressing current artist-run culture in Brisbane - HOMEGROUND. The gallery operated as a site for process-based and dialogic exchange between six local artist run initiatives, emphasising collaborative and speculative methods of working. In terms of the format, HOMEGROUND was an accumulative exhibition project, with each participating ARI in-residence for one week in succession, with the gallery open to the public each weekend. The participants in the project involved local artist-run initiatives - FAKE Estate, Clutch Collective, Cut Thumb ARI, The Laundry Artspace and Inhouse ARI – all of whom were founded by artists during their art school studies or soon after graduation (from 2012-2016). Like Boxcopy, this artist run activity is generated to provide a platform for experimental work, support local emerging artists, facilitate collaboration and initiate national dialogues.

Collaborative and dialogic methods formed the key approach to HOMEGROUND – with ongoing conversations and exchanges taking place between the participants. These discussions emphasised the responsive nature of the project, the necessity of adapting proposals and plans, and some of the potential challenges that could arise as each ARI added to the exhibition. The purpose of this curatorial method was to provide a structure for experimentation and speculative activity as artists collaborated and worked together – the physical gallery space providing a conduit for existing and new conversations and exchanges. This project demonstrated how ARIs like Boxcopy provide space for artists to play, test ideas, take creative risks, explore new directions in their practice and to connect with other practitioners and audiences.

Artist-run organisations are a vital element of the arts ecology and model ways of operating that are agile, responsive and adaptable

Artist-run organisations are a vital element of the arts ecology and model ways of operating that are agile, responsive and adaptable. The central ethos of ARIs is to be artist-focused, both in terms of programming and management, and they provide opportunities for artists to be self-determining and self-organised. They also provide open, social spaces connecting artists and creating communities of practitioners. For students and graduates, initiating and organising artist-run spaces can provide formative experience, for example in undertaking governance, curatorial, installation, promotional and administrative roles; and help to develop professional profiles, networks and employability. As well as providing this hands-on experience, artist-run activity has the potential to adapt, modify and reinvent institutional frameworks in order to create new ways of thinking, making and engaging with art. It demonstrates how artists working together can challenge and reimagine the present and future possibilities of organising and participating in the arts.


Dr Rachael Haynes is a Lecturer in Visual Arts, School of Creative Practice, at Queensland University of Technology, where she co-ordinates advanced studio art practice, and is a program leader for Socially and Ecologically Engaged Practices in the Creative Lab. Haynes is an artist, a founding member of the feminist art collective LEVEL and director of artist-run organisation Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space. Haynes’ feminist art practice acts as a zone of interdisciplinary production bringing together drawing and performative installations with social activism, pedagogy, curatorial and collaborative strategies. Haynes completed her PhD, reframing exhibition practice in terms of difference, with the support of an Australian Postgraduate Award for research in 2009, and her current research investigates feminist ethics and exhibition practice, specifically in the context of artist run spaces.