WARRNAMBOOL Art Gallery director John Cunningham and his team have given themselves 1000 days to make the WAG be the best gallery of its size in Victoria and establish it as an art and cultural destination.
Once this goal is reached Mr Cunningham and his team will go one step further and aim to make the gallery the finest of its size in Australia.
Mr Cunningham’s passion and dedication for the gallery’s new strategy is evident and he has thrown himself into the role since moving from Ireland in January 2011.
There, he was the art director at Letterkenny Regional Cultural Centre in Ireland and heard about the job vacancy at Warrnambool gallery from three different Australian friends — one in Sydney, one in Melbourne and another living in Ireland.
He asked one of them “Where and what is Warrnambool? I’m not even sure I pronounced it properly”, he said, recalling the first time he heard about his now home town.
Mr Cunningham looked at the job advertisement and liked what he saw.
“In my diary I had written down what I wanted to do and whoever had written the advert had pretty much written verbatim what I was looking for, so I applied and I did a 40-minute phone interview. It was at three or four (o’clock) in the morning for me, and two weeks later I came out here for a chat,” he said.
In October 2010, Mr Cunningham came to Australia for a second interview to discuss the role, spending much of his time travelling to and from the south-west.
“If I go 500 kilometres south of Warrnambool into the ocean I’m exactly halfway around the world from where I started,” Mr Cunningham said.
“Everybody was really accommodating. I got tours of Tower Hill, the Great Ocean Road, taken out for dinner. It was great, it was a really favourable impression,” he said.
Since his arrival Mr Cunningham has been busy working on the gallery’s new five-year strategy, bright branding and a renewed attitude to arts and culture in the city. He launched the strategy in September last year.
He said the aim was to bring attention to issues that reflected the community now and give a historical reference so in 100 years people will know who lived here and what their concerns were.
In years to come, Mr Cunningham hopes that when people think of culture in Victoria outside metropolitan Melbourne, Warrnambool will be their first thought.
“Culture is part of a larger thing that binds communities together and I felt it the very first day I was here and I still feel it,” he said. “The potential is enormous ... I actually in many ways think people don’t understand their own potential. It’s mind boggling as a city and as a region.
“We’re sit on the largest lava field in the world. It should be designated UNESCO world heritage site, the whole region. We have some of the finest food security, the finest produce, and the finest cuisine.”
His partner Aoife Dalton joined him in Warrnambool in mid-2011 and the couple have been blown away by the hospitality they have experienced since arriving.
Mr Cunningham said the transition to Australia was “remarkably easy” for the pair.
“It was great. I couldn’t imagine before I arrived here that people would be so accommodating and so generous. I literally got hundreds of invitations to dinner the first month I was here, I was actually taken aback. It threw me off.People were concerned what I was doing this day, or that day, or a national holiday. They were really accommodating,” he said.
The couple enjoy spending time outdoors, going out for dinner and catching up with friends.
They live in the city and do not need a car, preferring to walk wherever they’re going.
“We need to get the message out that this is a fantastic place. I would encourage anyone to live here, the quality of life is outstanding. It’s tremendous,” he said.
The couple were granted permanent residency last August and are looking to buy a house in Warrnambool.
“It’s a great joy just being here,” Mr Cunningham said.
“Everything is new to us.”
Read more stories about why people love living in the south-west by picking up a copy of The Standard’s Live Work Invest magazine from local council offices.