Kate Daw, Head of VCA Art, on her vision for artists in Southbank

Dr Kate Daw. By Giulia McGauran.
Dr Kate Daw. By Giulia McGauran.

She’s an internationally-recognised visual artist whose work has featured in group and solo shows since 1992. The former Head of Painting, and recently-announced Head of VCA Art, outlines her vision for teaching, learning and promoting art at the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus.

By Dr Kate Daw, Head of VCA Art

My vision for VCA Art is based on a strong belief in our research outputs ­– such as our art production, in all its complex and various forms – having maximum engagement impact within our Faculty, the University, and more broadly across the global art environment. It should go without saying that the Victorian College of the Arts is a highly successful organisation in an extraordinary period of growth.

As the new Head of VCA Art, I’m completely dedicated to creating a work environment that is dynamic, agile and able to meet the many challenges that confront our sector, for staff – of course – but especially for our students.

I’m interested in enhanced relationships with the visual art sector, including galleries, art institutions, and funding bodies. The same goes for local and national government agencies, and other universities and art schools across the world. I’m also deeply interested in further developing relationships with patrons and philanthropists, which dovetails neatly with my other new role – which I started in January this year – as Associate Director for Partnerships and Projects.

Dr Kate Daw poses with a painting by Colleen Ahern for the Meet VCA Art feature, as part of the ART150 celebrations in 2017. By Giulia McGauran.

Who am I?

For those who don’t know, I’m an artist and educator who has exhibited work locally, nationally and internationally since 1992. Recent major projects include work shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, commissioned projects with ACCA, the Potter Museum and the NGV, The Biennale of Sydney, the India art fair and at Seven Art in Delhi. In 2006, I held a major solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in my home town of Perth.

Kate Daw, 2016. Lenci doll (Lenu and Lila). Oil paint on gesso sottile, 30cm x 40cm. Photo by Tobias Titz.

Also in 2006, I completed my PhD at the VCA. My research examined how narrative functions in contemporary art in a thesis titled the Between Space.

I’m interested in involving other people in my art practice, and have worked on collaborative projects with artists in India, Scotland and throughout Australia. I’ve worked on numerous large public projects with artist and designer Stewart Russell in the past decade.

I worked towards my MFA at the Glasgow School of Art, completing it at RMIT on my return to Australia in 1997. I have undertaken residencies at the Asialink studio in Baroda, India, the Glasgow School of Art, and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, among others.

Currently, I’m working with visual artists in India, and enjoy an active and ongoing relationship with a community of artists, writers and curators I have worked with over the past six years.

I have served on many key visual art boards, including the Visual Arts and Craft Board of the Australia Council and, most recently, the Gertrude Contemporary Board.


Studio-based learning has always been at the heart of VCA Art and will remain at the centre of our overall pedagogical approach. Indeed, VCA Art’s reputation rests on a national and growing international understanding that we are an art department in which all staff are practising artists of the highest calibre. Artists teaching students to become artists is a cherished value for me, as is a focus on innovative and diverse and interdisciplinary modes of art production.

The new vision outlined by the VCA’s recently-appointed Director Professor Jon Cattapan features two key aspects underpinning all strategies for the VCA:

  • The encouragement and support of porous relationships with other disciplines, universities and art industries.
  • An international focus with a commitment to high levels of exchange and engagement taking place between staff and students that will lead to active and productive creative relationships and strong research outputs.

Those two objectives are likewise central to my thinking. My vision as Head of VCA Art involves seeing – and believing in – culture as a force for positive change in the world. In practice, this will mean active promotion and lobbying for the impact and reach of culture and creativity as catalysts for positive societal change.

Kate Daw, 2016. Lenci doll. Oil paint on gesso sottile, 30cm x 40cm. Photo by Tobias Titz.

That will happen through increased public awareness and consolidation of our public programs and our research in all its forms. It will include the further building of our public profile at a Faculty, University, national and international level.

I strongly believe in the research outputs of VCA Art and, under my tenure, we will continue to build an international reputation for renowned visual art research, and success in ARC, Linkage and DECRA research opportunities and outcomes.

The research activities of our unique Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Developmentwill be brought further into VCA Art’s activities, and we will have two ongoing Indigenous staff join our team in the next three years.

All of the above, I hope, will lead to the creation of an internationally-recognised art hub in the southern hemisphere, grown through the commitment to, and engagement with, innovative, diverse and interdisciplinary modes of art production.

Kate Daw. Wallpaper installation, 2017. Sarah Scout presents. Photo by Christo Crocker.

How this will happen

We need to urgently effect some changes.

We understand our creative research outcomes often hold important findings for audiences, including businesses, policy makers, public sector organisations, artists, charities and the public. I think we need to commit to communicating and disseminating our research findings more effectively with these wide-ranging audiences, to maximise their impact on society.

In short, we need to tell our stories better in the wider community. I am regularly struck by the sheer density of artistic contribution we all make, most of it of an innovative and multidisciplinary nature, and this extraordinary work, its outputs and engagement needs to be better communicated both internally and externally to our industry, including to our students.

Related to this, we need increased support for our Research community.

We also have work to do with our digital and technological offerings and structure in VCA Art, and great work to do around the new, world-class print facility we have just opened. There are opportunities here for enterprise and, again, new opportunities to bring in the community in innovative and creative ways.

Dr Kate Daw prepares an installation work at the recent All the better to see you with: Fairy tales transformed exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. By Drew Echberg.

How I will lead

Based on my experience – including five years as the Head of Painting at VCA Art and, most recently, six months in the role of Acting Head – I have a strong sense of what this role requires. It’s about relationships and the ability to negotiate successfully on all levels with different people, often within the same hour, on matters that range from the pedagogical and research-based, operational, HR, art-world/industry to high-level patronage.

It’s about advocacy and ambassadorship and being able to have a vision and strategy and a good map.

Dr Kate Daw with her work at the recent Unfinished Business: Perspectives on art and feminism exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA). By Giulia McGauran.

I understand on a deep and experiential level how unique our institution is on a national and global level and, in particular, the extraordinary opportunities that have recently unfolded before us – such as the recently-opened facilities on our Southbank campus, including The Stables, and Buxton Contemporary.

In short, I understand where our future opportunities lie, and I understand and value our legacy.

In closing

To put it simply, we’ll build on the extraordinary gains we have made in the past decade with our sustainable ecology at VCA Art, our valued public programs, publications, honorary fellows and work done by the Margaret Lawrence Gallery and our Weekly Art Forum Series.

The right people will be doing the right jobs. Our relationships with our neighbours ­– ACCA, ACMI, and the NGV, among others – will become more fruitful and will appear in our curriculum, as will work done at Buxton Contemporary and the Ian Potter Museum of Art. Our strong focus on pedagogy will continue. That’s what we’re all here for after all – it underpins everything.

The future is indeed bright and it is my privilege to lead VCA Art at this time.