Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Art Exhibitions Australia

An Art Exhibitions Australia success: Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris. Source: Art Gallery of NSW.

Gina Fairley, Art’s multi-million dollar mile high club, ArtsHub, 28 July 2015

A foreign company has brought culture to 6.6 million Australians through a unique sponsorship partnering suggested by its Aussie competitor.

Blockbuster exhibitions and major international collections are big business for our cultural institutions.

Key to bringing these exhibitions to our shores is Art Exhibitions Australia Limited (AEA), a non-profit organisation company that was formed 35 years ago as the International Cultural Corporation of Australia (ICCA). It started with $1 million seed funding from the federal government over four years (1980-1981).

CEO Carol Henry told ArtsHub that the instruction was to ‘never come back’.

Today, AEA is a multi-million dollar company with an annual sponsorship intake in the vicinity of $65-68 million, and a Rolodex of contacts that reaches to the top offices of the world’s art museums.

It has been involved in staging 83 exhibitions across Australia, making it a great, though hidden, successes of the Australian cultural sector.

AEA has colloquially been tagged “the blockbuster broker”, responsible for not only the transportation of priceless trophy artworks, but managing their insurance, and procuring sponsorship needed to brings these works to Australia.

When AEA mounts an exhibition, it takes all the financial risk.

In some cases AEA will not only manage the transportation of the artworks, but also curators and conservators; it will often look after marketing and merchandising, and even additional security as it did with the Dutch Masters exhibition. In return the gallery buys in and profit shares the exhibition.

It is a successful business model for a company that does not have a website, employs just six staff, and yet has $10-11 million in its coffers.

Henry told ArtsHub: ‘The projects that we take on are $9-10 million budgets, so this allows us to take them on … Our focus is very much on sponsorship.’

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2019
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