“Sometimes that time isn’t a few days or a few weeks. Sometimes it’s a few years or a few decades. We at the national gallery collect for 500 years. Something that might be damaged today might not show those signs of damage for 50 years. We have to be very careful.”
Mr Mitzevich said the gallery would reopen on Tuesday. He was not able to put a number on lost revenue as a result of the two-day closure, which occurred while the gallery hosts a major Matisse and Picasso exhibition.
“It would be material. However. the calamity that the fire has caused across the country does [make it] pale in comparison,” he said. “We have to take lessons from all of the things we’re experiencing and it will really inform how we do things in the future.”
The NGA isn’t the only Australian gallery to be grappling with climate change and the nation’s bushfire crisis. On Monday, Albury experienced air quality that was worse than in Canberra. Bree Pickering, the director of the Murray Art Museum Albury, said the gallery would “double-down” on its emergency management plan while also servicing the community’s needs.
“On those really hot days we’re a refuge from the heat for a lot of people who don’t have access to airconditioning or homes,” she said. “Over the last few days, we’ve had people come through who’ve actually been displaced by the fires and needing to talk about that. So we’re an open piece of infrastructure.”
The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, which will soon host the National Photographic Portrait Prize, has been keeping its gallery doors closed as much as possible to deal with smoke from nearby bushfires.
“In future years we will be programming our exhibition space through summer to focus on exhibitions that can’t be damaged by smoke, and also limiting the travelling exhibition works in our store areas,” a spokeswoman for the Blue Mountains City Council said. “We have opened our storage areas for residents to store their precious artworks during the worst fire threat periods, so they can have peace of mind that their most valuable artworks are safe.”
In north-east Victoria, Corryong’s Show And Tell Gallery sheltered around 30 people on New Year’s Eve as a bushfire bore down on the small high country town. Director Joshua Collings said he lost his home in the blaze but was grateful the double-brick gallery was able to house people until they moved to the local evacuation centre.
Mr Collings said before the blaze he was planning on opening a new gallery space. He expects those plans to be put on hold for at least another two years.
“Music is thriving right now because people are doing charity events,” he said. “How do we have exhibitions? That’s what we need right now. Not to be forgotten.”
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald