She is known for her determination, tenacious work ethic and colourful wardrobe. But what Liz Ann Macgregor is most passionate about is linking artists with audiences. As the Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, she has transformed the MCA into a thriving public gallery, with artists at its heart.
Liz Ann began her career in the art world as curator – and driver – for the Scottish Arts Council’s travelling gallery. Using a converted bus to take exhibitions to local villages, inner city estates, schools, hospitals and prisons, she discovered her love for introducing new audiences to the work of living artists. Indeed it was meeting a group of young Scottish artists that fired her passion for contemporary art, having trained as an art historian at Edinburgh University. Her next stop was the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1985, and in 1989 she became director of one of the UK’s leading contemporary art galleries, the Ikon Gallery. Under her leadership, the gallery moved to new premises and developed a reputation for showing artists from around the world and from different backgrounds, responding to the cultural diversity of the city of Birmingham.
In 1999, Liz Ann moved to Sydney to take up the directorship of the Museum of Contemporary Art at a time when the Museum was facing great challenges. She negotiated a sponsorship deal with Telstra in 2000 to introduce free admission and since then attendances have increased dramatically, doubling initially and continuing to climb each year. A new funding deal with the NSW Government and the Australia Council to replace the University of Sydney gave the Museum financial stability and encouraged further private sector support. But it was all about art: her passion for bringing artists work into the wider public arena has led her to establish programs not only at Circular Quay but also in Western Sydney and across the state.
The redevelopment, completed in March 2012, was a crucial part of Liz Ann’s vision of connecting audiences with artists. As well as new galleries for the collection and exhibitions, a series of new commissions puts artists centre stage in the building. The MCA’s new National Centre for Creative Learning and its continued commitment to outreach programs are critical to her concern for future generations. Liz Ann has also spearheaded the campaign to develop the MCA’s national and international profile, as Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art dedicated to exhibiting and collecting contemporary art.
She is a regular contributor to conferences, seminars, radio and television programs on arts issues and is currently on the board of Fauna and Flora International Australia, the Council of Australian Art Museum Directors and was elected to the board of CIMAM last year.
In 2003, Elizabeth Ann was awarded the Centenary Medal for services to the Australian public and contemporary art and in 2007 she won the Significant Innovation category in the Equity Trustees Not for Profit CEO awards. In 2008 she was awarded the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award – part of her prize included having a vine named after her – and the Australia Business Arts Foundation Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Arts Business Leadership Award. In 2011 she received an OBE in the Queen’s birthday honour list and the Australia Council Visual Arts Medal.
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