Liz Nowell, Director

Naomi Keyte, MELALEUCA

Naomi Keyte, MELALEUCA

Liz Nowell is a curator, director and total powerhouse. She is re-imagining the way we experience art and the cultural values it carries. We are so impressed with how she is carving out a new space for art and artists in the community. Thanks Liz! 

What do you do?

I am the Director of South Australia's newest visual art organisation, ACE Open. Based in the Adelaide's CBD, we house a large gallery, smaller project space, 5 day studios and a residential studio. As well as presenting and supporting contemporary art and artists through our annual exhibition program, we also publish Broadsheet Journal, a free tri-annual publication which has been around since the 1950s.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

Without delving too deep into Buddhist philosphy, put simply, my life is an endless pursuit of truth - be it personal, emotional, political or philosophical. An impossible and exhausting task, I know. But trying to understand the true nature of how things are underpins every aspect of my life and work. Other hot tips: be kind, patient, compassionate and try not to make decisions out of fear.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

- Enrolling in an Art History post-graduate degree: I was 21 and had recently graduated from a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and Politics. Of course, like most B.A. graduates, I couldn't get a job in either field and wound up feeling pretty sorry for myself. That was, until I took a chance and enrolled in Art History. It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

- Working with proppaNOW artist collective: Shortly after graduating, I landed my first curatorial gig and was invited by Paul Grabowsky, then Adelaide Festival Director, to curate a show for the 2010 festival. I ended up working with proppaNOW, a Brisbane based artist collective that includes artists such as Richard Bell, Jennifer Herd, Tony Albert, Megan Cope and Vernon Ah Kee. It was by the far the biggest project I'd ever undertaken in my then very brief career, and I really credit proppaNOW with being my earliest mentors in the industry. They were instrumental in showing me the ropes; pulling me into line where need be, and high-fiving me when I got things right.

- Travelling to Nepal when I was 24: It was a classic case of disillusioned-mid-twenties-white-girl-attempts-to-find-herself-through-international-travel* (not dissimilar to The Sari Incident of 1999™), but nonetheless one of the most defining experiences of my life. The whole time I was there I stayed at Neydo Tashi Choeling Monastery, located in the Kathmandu Valley. It was isolating and I was bored and I was nervous and I felt very uncomfortable sitting with myself for two months. But I did it. And now I know I can pretty much do anything, because that was TOUGH.

*I did not find myself, and most likely never will.

Mike Parr, Malevich (A Political Arm), performance for as long as possible.

Mike Parr, Malevich (A Political Arm), performance for as long as possible.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

My friend once said 'experience is what you get when you don't get what you want'. It's a good reminder that discomfort often leads to growth (unless of course, you've got a gnarly blister on your heel. In that case, I recommend paw paw and a bandaid over self discovery).

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

Currently, my main focus is getting ACE Open up and running - we only came into being 3 months ago, and for the next little while we're very much a work in progress while we build our vision, identity and launch our programs. It's a rare opportunity to completely reimagine an organisation from the outset, particularly at this moment in time when our world - and our sector - is evolving so rapidly. In a way, this is a really great time for the team and I to pause, revaluate and build an organisation that better reflects contemporary arts practice today. Needless to say, its tremendously exciting, not only for me, but for Adelaide and for the broader arts community. In terms of the artistic program I'm thrilled to be co-curating an exhibition with the wonderful and dynamic Kimberley Moulton, Yorta Yorta Curator for the TARNANTHI Festival in October. On a more personal note, in June this year I have been invited by the Goethe Institut as the Australian representative on an international delegation to documenta in Kassel and Athens. I'm really looking forward to spending time with the group and seeing whats happening over in Europe.

What is your dream project?

Co-curating an exhibition with Bob Murphy which features artworks by all the players from the Western Bulldogs.

What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?

Can I offer you a foot rub?

What places are important to you?

I feel my best self in the big smoke or under an expansive, open sky. eg New York/Alice Springs. Sydney/Aurukun. Istanbul/Andamooka. Also my bed. I love spending time working, reading and drinking cups of tea from the comfort of my bedroom.

What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?

I feel that too often contemporary art is contextualised and positioned within a Western/patri-centric framework. I'd like to see that change. I'd like to see our idea of curatorial rigour, scholarship and criticality embrace and respect more diverse pedagogies, knowledge systems and ways of experiencing the world. That of course includes the voices of women and the many other people often sidelined by hegemonic narratives.

How can we find our more about your work? or @ace_open or @liznowell

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

Venerable Robina Courtin.


Image by  Jessica Clark

Image by Jessica Clark

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

I do and always have. Working in an executive role as a young woman comes with its own unique challenges and is best understood by others in a similar position, so I often turn to female friends and peers for advice. The arts is a generous industry and a lot of women I look up to have invested time and energy into supporting me throughout my career. Girls rule.

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

Man, that's a toughie! In terms of 'defining', one of the more seminal experiences in my life was visiting Cockatoo Island for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney. I remember two works that left me speechless: TV Moore's Escape Carnival and Mike Parr's Mirror/Arse, which comprised of 17 works exhibited in a derelict building on the island. Another really moving experience was seeing Dolly Parton play at her theme park, Dollywood, in 2015. It was a small concert - only about 1500 people - and far out, she was good. No musician has ever made me laugh or cry more than Dolly.


Emmaline Zanelli, Please Touch, Untitled (Antisocial), 2015

Emmaline Zanelli, Please Touch, Untitled (Antisocial), 2015

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

Listening to: Draw Your (S)words; Holly Throsby; Naomi Keyte; Barnsey; Tina Arena; Mike Noga.

Reading: My diary, crafted by Noun Movement Books; The Helen 100 by Helen Razer; Decolonizing Solidarity by Clare Landing; The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

Looking at: Julia Robinson; Emmaline Zanelli (who had a show at ACE Open this May); Elizabeth Newman; Yhonnie Scarce; Doris Salcedo; Hossein Valamanesh; Teresa Margolles; Nyapanyapa Yunupingu; Heath Franco; Kaylene Whiskey.

Watching: The happiest day of my life on repeat and set to Celine Dion; Mona Haydar (over and over - this is badass).

What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?

You mean, aside from the details of The Sari Incident of 1999™?

Launch of Christian Lock: BLACKFLAG at ACE Open, March 2017, by  Jessica Clark

Launch of Christian Lock: BLACKFLAG at ACE Open, March 2017, by Jessica Clark

ACE Open staff L-R: Steph Lyall, Toby Chapman, Sarita Burnett, Vivian Cooper and Liz Nowell by  Jessica Clark

ACE Open staff L-R: Steph Lyall, Toby Chapman, Sarita Burnett, Vivian Cooper and Liz Nowell by Jessica Clark