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BIFB appoints new CEO

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) has appointed Vanessa Gerrans as CEO, taking over the role from Fiona Sweet, who retired in December.

Vanessa Gerrans. Photo: Alice Miles. Source: BIFB.

Gerrans is moving to Ballarat from Victoria’s South West, where she spent six years working as the Warrnambool Art Gallery director.

‘I really enjoy being in a regional place – to me, that’s really exciting,’ Gerrans told the ABC. ‘Ballarat is growing and the council are really supportive of culture and what what that can do for a city and a place and the people.’

The next Biennale is scheduled to take place in 2023, and in off season Gerrans will continue to develop the new National Centre for Photography.

‘One of the immediate tasks is to transform a heritage building into what will become the National Centre for Photography,’ Gerrans said. ‘I’m very much looking forward to building new relationships and meeting the people at BIFB, who I’m sure are passionate about their culture and their place.’

It was announced in November 2020 that the National Centre for Photography secured a $6.7 million Victorian State Government grant. The space is housed in the 1860s heritage-listed Union Bank building on Lydiard Street, which was purchased by BIFB in 2018 for $1.3 million.

Here’s more info about Gerrans from a career bio taken from the Public Galleries of Australia website:

‘Since 2015 she has reinvigorated the gallery’s role as a cultural custodian of the region through her innovative and dynamic (public and exhibition) programs and contribution to reimagining the city centre. Prior to WAG Vanessa worked at the RMIT Gallery where, for over a decade, she curated and collaborated on diverse exhibition programs including major retrospectives and innovative contemporary shows.

Vanessa has completed several highly successful public art, infrastructure and renovation projects for cultural institutions in Victoria and gained substantial philanthropic support for her work. She has curated over 100 exhibitions and published extensively for catalogues on contemporary art and literature.

Her insight into ways to enrich the community in South West Victoria and further engender WAG’s role has seen Vanessa working with the Robotics Academy to support the potential of girls in STEAM learning; the LGBTIQA+ community, and Elders of the Maar Nation to stimulate opportunities for engagement and create a sense of place and purpose to benefit youth, education, environment and local economies.

In an opening address to BIFB’s e-mail subscribers, Gerrans acknowledges the hard work done by both Sweet and founding director, Jeff Moorfoot.

‘I warmly acknowledge the work of Jeff Moorfoot OAM starting the organisation in 2005 then bringing the festival to Ballarat in 2009 to achieve significant growth from its inception in Daylesford,’ she wrote in the e-mail. ‘Appointed in 2015, Fiona Sweet elevated the status of the festival to international level increasing visitation and is instrumental in the visionary purchase of the Union Bank building in the heritage precinct of Lydiard Street, Ballarat.’

(Jeff Moorfoot would argue, with history on his side, that the BIFB had already gained a reputation as an event of international standing well before the arrival of Fiona Sweet.)

Sweet, who retired three months earlier than expected and before the conclusion of the last festival, also held the role of Creative Director. It’s unknown if another appointment is on the way.

Both Moorfoot and Sweet had contrasting philosophies on how to run the festival. Moorfoot’s festival was an underfunded grassroots event which brought the photographic community together to celebrate the medium; while Sweet secured mouth-watering levels of financial support to executive a polished event and grow BIFB as an institution.

Both hit quite different KPIs, but it’s fair to say they both performed exceedingly well at their roles.

Inside Imaging will look on with interest with how the next BIFB chapter unfolds.

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