Wangaratta Art Gallery presents a diverse program of national, state and regionally significant exhibitions, events, workshops and artist-led projects. Across three exhibition spaces, the program showcases the work of regional artists alongside work by national and internationally renowned artists and national touring exhibitions from across Australia.
Established in 1987, Wangaratta’s unique regional gallery is housed in a heritage building located in the creative arts precinct, adjacent to the Wangaratta Performing Arts and Conference Centre and a short walk from the CBD. The spacious interior and the decorative timber ceiling offers a distinctive and rare experience for the gallery visitor.
Wangaratta Art Gallery has a particular collection emphasis on textile art developed through te most significant acquisitive award for textile art in Australia, the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award. The gallery also collects small sculpture, significant works of art from and about the north-east Victoria region and works by state and national artists of significance.
The Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award (WCTA) is a biennial award and exhibition that celebrates the diversity and strength of Australia’s contemporary textile artistry. Celebrating its eighth iteration in 2023, the WCTA is a biennial nationally significant award with a commitment towards the advancement and growth of contemporary textile practice.
Building on Wangaratta’s textile manufacturing history and strong textile craft traditions, the WCTA is a $40,000 acquisitive prize that commits to the advancement and growth of contemporary textiles as well as capturing the current state of play for contemporary textile practice in Australia.
The gallery is supported by the Wangaratta Art Gallery Friends Inc., a non-profit volunteer group that act as gallery supporters and ambassadors. The Friends assist with the gallery’s volunteer staffing, fundraising and events. They offer an annual student art award to encourage creative practice and play a significant role in developing the collection through acquisitions.
The first building on the site of the gallery buildings is thought to have been St Paul’s Presbyterian Church which was erected in 1864 where the current Wangaratta Art Gallery Gallery2 is located, under the leadership of the first minister Rev. John Robertson. In 1898, urged by the church treasurer, William Bickerton, a new church building was erected to the front of the site, which now houses the main building of Wangaratta Art Gallery. The building was opened and dedicated on 26 March 1899 by Rev Professor McDonald of Ormond College. Among the building’s most magnificent features are the beautifully crafted timber ceiling and its windows. Unfortunately, further detail relating to the erection of the building and its early history were lost in a fire in the early 1900s.
In 1928 the original church building at the rear of the current gallery was demolished and a new building was erected on the site, later to become a Sunday school hall with adjacent meeting rooms. The new building was opened in 1929 by the senior elder, Mr Walter Swan at a cost of £2729.
In 1957 the interior of the main building was renovated and enlarged by architect, K Murray Forster of Brighton. The additions included two vestries (now staff offices), apse (the elevated space in the gallery) and choir stalls (the large alcove in the rear right of the gallery). In the same year three stained glass windows, the central one depicting Christ on the resurrection day, were installed above the communion table in the apse. Three other stained glass windows were installed in the choir in 1958. The additions were roofed in slate to match the original. The Sunday school buildings also gained a new kitchen and toilets at this time.
In 1977 the building passed from Presbyterian hands and became part of the Uniting Church of Australia. Eight years later in 1985, the complex of buildings was sold by the Uniting Church to the Rural City of Wangaratta (then known as the City of Wangaratta). The Uniting Church, in agreement with Council, retained ownership of the stained glass windows above the sanctuary, the bell and the pipe organ. These were all installed at the Emmanuel Uniting Church in Rowan Street, Wangaratta. The removed windows were replaced with glass to match the remaining windows of the former church.
The Rural City of Wangaratta refurbished the building in 1987 to become a gallery. Since the establishment of the gallery, the complex of buildings has been connected by a covered walkway with new lighting, air-conditioning and ultra violet light reduction blinds being installed to bring the main building up to the required standard for exhibitions. Modernisation of the parts of the rear buildings and landscaping of the grounds to complement the usage of the building as a gallery, have also been important developments.
Today the building retains the integrity of the original yet provides a magnificent gallery space much admired by visitors.
Exterior view of Wangaratta Art Gallery. Photo Ewen Bell. The Tucker Portraits, installation view, Interior of Gallery 1 and Exterior view of Gallery 2. Photos Jeremy Weihrauch.