A phoenix rises and another bird spreads its wings

A new organisation comes out of the ashes of Adelaide’s two contemporary art spaces CACSA and AEAF while a Sydney institution adds a Melbourne branch.
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Christian Lock installing the inaugural exhibition at ACE Open; supplied

ACE Open is South Australia’s newest contemporary art organisation, located in Adelaide. It has risen out of the ashes of the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF), organisations that folded under government funding cuts last year, despite their almost 120-year history.

Read: Enough! is the message from 38 visual art signatories

The announcement of the new organisation’s name coincided with the Hong Kong art fairs last week, where CEO / Director Liz Nowell was touting ACE Open’s vision to art world heavy weights.

Perhaps that international outlook offers a hint of what might be to come for Adelaide Just as Alexie Glass-Kantor of Artspace, another independent Contemporary Art Organisations (CAO), has made a global impact as curator Art Basel HKs Encounters section, ACE is clearly looking beyond Adelaide for impact. Hong Kong has become an important meeting place for curators and collectors, and to debut ACE Open at the event signals a level of ambition.

Read: Building Empire – Australians in Hong Kong

Nowell told ArtsHub: ‘I feel we have a role to play in building the sector that goes beyond the remit of other contemporary art organisations. Our organisation is very different (to Artspace), as is our context, our landscape and our circumstances. Our focus will be to look at contemporary art that is critical and engaged but also connected with the local – for me that is really important.

‘It is important to bring opportunities and visibility to artists in South Australia, rather than expect them to move to get that, which is what has historically happened. ACE Open will provide them with more connections nationally and internationally.’

Nowell said that ACE Open’s focus will be very much on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists, women artists and South Australian artists.

A key aspect of the organisation will be its ability to bridge contemporary practice with communities, and its team has been selected to fit that remit. The other touchstone is its vision to take a proactive role in developing artist’s careers through long-term engagement, stepping beyond mere venue.

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the ACE Open acronym – what does it stand for, and why chose an acronym when it doesn’t have an ascribed meaning?The mystery is intentional.

‘Rather than attribute words to those letters, we have decided to leave it open – for it to have a “non fixed” meaning so, like contemporary art, it is capable of shifting and constantly evolving,’ explained Nowell.

‘While it is Adelaide Contemporary Experimental (coming out of its past legacy organisations), I like the idea of it being the Art Centre for Everyone.’

Nowell said that the ACE Open Board wanted the name and its branding to reflect a responsiveness to the world in which we live.  ‘The rare opportunity to establish a new contemporary art organisation offers us a chance to rethink the way in which contemporary art is presented and contextualised, and so we have deliberately chosen a name that creates room for a multiplicity of interpretations,’ said Nowell. 

‘We are still in the early stages of developing the organisation and its branding – we are only ten weeks old,’ reminded Nowell.

It takes more than a name change to create something new out of two incredibly long histories, and to offer a “clean slate” for new conversations.

‘It is very clean,’ said Nowell emphatically, adding that she was not a fan of that term.

‘I think we have a responsibility to honor the legacy of CACSA and AEAF, and to respect the communities that started those organisations and their memberships. The best way to do that is by being fearless and taking creative risks – they were both trail-blazers.’

ACE Open is located in the former AEAF site at the Lion Arts Centre in Adelaide, which hosts a sizeable gallery, artist studios, an apartment, a workshop and a multi-purpose retail space.

‘That is where we will stay,’ confirmed Nowell, adding that no decision has been made on the Porter Street Property and former home of CACSA.

Nowell returned to South Australia from interstate in 2015 to take on CACSA Directorship, just months before the organisation folded.

No former AEAF staff members have transferred to the new organisation.  The ACE Open team includes Curator Toby Chapman, who was most recently the Creative Producer at Information & Cultural Exchange (ICE) in Parramatta, NSW; Business and Operations Manager, Sarita Burnett; Public Programs Coordinator and Weekend Gallery Manager, Vivian Cooper, and Marketing and Communications Manager, Stephanie Lyall.

The team brings experience from previous roles at NGV, TATE, MCA, Next Wave, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art and the Adelaide Festival.

ACE Open used Hong Kong as a moment to launch the first issue of Broadsheet under the new organisation and to reinstate that critical foundation as a cornerstone of its future.

‘We are definitely committed to continuing it, but we need to step back a bit and bring it in line to reflect the goals and aspirations of ACE more closely – it will change,’ said Nowell. 

The ACE team

ACE Open is currently supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, and is in the second year of a 4-year funding agreement that was transferred over from AEAF to the new organisation.

Nowell further confirmed that Arts South Australia have maintained a combined level of funding this year (formerly received by CASCA and AEAF), towards establishing the new organisation.

‘That has given us a lot of confidence and investment in the organisation to build it up, and we will be looking in the following year at more sustainable and diverse funding streams such as philanthropy, sponsorship and partnerships,’ said Nowell.

Collaboration and partnerships are a big part of that new model for moving forward. Nowell said the organisation’s name is a very placard for openness.

ACE Open is already laying plans to work with the OzAsia Festival, SALA Festival, Tarnanthi festival of Indigenous art, and are looking at further collaborations.

ACE Open will be officially launched in July 2017. It has started to roll out pre-programs as a soft opening, including Christian Lock’s exhibition BLACKFLAG (showing through 24 April), followed by 24 Frames Per Second, touring from Sydney’s Carriageworks (18 May-1 July).

ACE Open is located at the Lion Arts Centre, North Terrace (West End) Adelaide, South Australia.

The ACE Open team

Artbank to open in Melbourne

Artbank has announced that it will take up residence in a purpose-built warehouse space in Collingwood. The new Melbourne facility will be designed by Fitzroy architecture studio Edition Office (formerly Room 11 Melbourne), led by Aaron Roberts and Kim Bridgland.

While the national art leasing agency has operated out of a showroom in Armadale for more than a decade, and the move is part of a growing strategy to build Artbank’s audience reach.

Approximately 30% of Artbank’s clients are in Melbourne.

‘Artbank is in a unique position to not only connect audiences through our leasing program, but to also reimagine how a collection held on behalf of the Australian public can be an inclusive part of mainstream society,’ said Artbank Director, Tony Stephens.

Artbank was established in 1980 and today holds one of the largest and most significant collections of Australian art in the world, and operates as a self-funded art-rental program.

Construction is expected to be complete on the Collingwood site by late 2017, with a full program of launch events to be announced.  


Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina