An interview with David Forrest, co-director of Gallery East for 16 years and chairman of The Association of Western Australian Art Galleries for 14 years.
WABN: Describe a day at work.
DF: “I have to do the million and one practical details to organise the next exhibition and the one after that; as well as accounting for the most recent show and talking to visitors to the current one.”
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
DF: “For my part, self motivation is something I never have to think about; it is all about doing the job as brilliantly as possible. I ran a lot of teams in my life in the government in England and also here. My experience is that running a team has to involve very clear with defined strategies.
“People should have clearly defined areas of authorities; human relations in any team are pretty crucial.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career?
DF: “Taking over the running of the gallery on the death of my partner only three months after arriving in Australia and with no experience in running a business, let alone an art gallery. The demands of setting up exhibitions forced me to plan for the future and apply my administration skills to these new circumstances. The experience, support and advice of friends and other gallery owners was invaluable.”
WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for within your team members?
DF: “With my co-director, the most important thing is the ability to recognise, harness and marry our respective strengths and skills.
“When I recruit people, I recruit according to their skills; people have to respect other people’s skills.
“I do believe strongly that there has to be somebody at the top and install a clear leadership to pull everything together. There must be a clear way forward otherwise you don’t get anywhere. One of the differences I find with government is that there is already an acceptance of authority because of a structure that is, by definition, hierarchical.
“In the arts world, clearly you need a chairperson, a secretary, but we are all equals and bring experience. In the arts sector the leader has to earn the trust to take the rest of the team with him.”
WABN: Can you name a highlight in your career?
DF: “Before leaving my job with the British government I was awarded the Commander of the Order of British Empire.
“Another highlight is the gallery’s increased sales; increased exposure and increased prestige. The commercial art gallery is a difficult area because the success depends on many factors.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
DF: “The relatively low level of interest and investment in first-class contemporary art in WA. Over the years, The Association of Western Australian Art Galleries, of which I am chairman, has developed many strategies to broaden awareness and to encourage people to invest in their own contemporary culture.
“We have 26 members, which include public art galleries. Our publication goes out to 6,000 people every quarter, we have an annual art fair and do some work with Artsource as well.”
WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector? How do you deal with them?
DF: “The bureaucratic overkill in WA. Dealing with the state government here involves so much more bureaucracy than England, their requirements are just excessive.”
WABN: What were you doing before your current position?
DF: “I was the CEO of a UK government department responsible for the oversight of charities in England and Wales.”