Art History Chapter

During 2017, La Trobe University’s Art History Alumni chapter have gathered data and oral histories to create an online historical record of Art History at La Trobe including the contributions of world class curators, educators, researchers and writers.

Over La Trobe’s 50 year history, the Art History department has produced many world class curators, educators, researchers and writers.

Read Changing Seasons: The Story of Art History at La Trobe

A synopsis of Changing Seasons: The Story of Art History at La Trobe

When celebrated art curator Peter Tomory joined La Trobe as Professor of the History of Art in 1972, his vision was for a department different to any other in Australia, where students would learn the entirety of Western art history, from ancient to medieval, through the renaissance and into the contemporary. He gathered a faculty of experts, and together they built an internationally renowned art history department at La Trobe.

The department’s early life was characterised by a strong sense of community and academic achievement. Beyond the classroom, department life was filled with social events for first year students, postgraduates and staff alike. Research flourished too, with steady staff output supported by the university through a sabbatical leave and funding. The Trendall Centre and Artist in Residence programme provided yet another avenue for staff to engage with the environment of innovation and experimentation characteristic of the early years of La Trobe.

The end of 1987 saw the end of Tomory’s time at La Trobe. Faculty members stepped into the administrative role and kept things going until, after three years, Nigel Morgan came on board as Professor of Art History in 1991. Morgan was a distinguished academic and his efficient and organised approach to his role made him the perfect addition to the faculty at a time of great change. However, university-wide changes to the academic structures affected Art History, and Morgan’s increasing frustration at having to forego teaching and research for administration led him back to Cambridge.

Funding was becoming scarce and the early 2000s saw Art History’s dedicated group of tutors diminish. Staff cuts were next, and 2003 marked the beginning of the end for the original core group of academics. By the end of 2007, Art History was left with only honorary staff, and an era had ended. It was difficult to separate the discipline of Art History from the people who brought it to life, and it was a challenging time for everyone.

2007 may have marked the end of an era for Art History at La Trobe, but it was certainly not the end of the programme. In 2008, La Trobe was lucky to bring on board Lisa Beaven, a well-renowned and well-travelled academic who would take on a leading role as teacher and advocate. In 2008, Caroline Jordan joined Beaven, and between themselves and historian Diane Kirkby, already a well-established member of the History department, they continued to deliver the breadth of subjects and enjoyable curriculum that had always been the focus of the faculty.

New staff coincided with yet more administrative change and in 2008 Art History ceased to exist as a discipline in its own right, and was enveloped by the discipline of History. Not deterred, Art History and History staff worked together to develop a curriculum that would encourage history students to engage with art history and provide an outlet for students wishing to pursue an art history education. With diminished staff and an ever-decreasing budget, the support of past students and faculty members was invaluable.

Whilst student numbers and engagement had never been a problem for Art History at La Trobe, the university succumbed to institutional and funding pressures and on June 20, 2012 a document was sent to staff announcing that 2012 would be the final year of Art History at La Trobe. The response from the community was swift and overwhelmingly supportive of La Trobe’s Art History programme, with calls for the university to reverse their decision and keep the discipline alive. Unfortunately, the campaign to keep Art History alive at La Trobe, passionate and thorough though it was, was ultimately unsuccessful and 2012 marked the final year that La Trobe University officially offered Art History as a standalone subject.

But that’s not where our story ends. For years, the Art History alumni chapter has maintained a community around Art History at La Trobe, with a full calendar of events that bring people together to share in the outstanding achievements of past students and staff, and to connect with the arts more broadly. In the meantime, academics were working tirelessly in their campaign to bring the discipline back, and in 2018 we will see the reinstatement of four subjects to comprise a minor in Art History at La Trobe.

This project was supported by a grant from the Pitch Your Project committee for the 50 Years of La Trobe Celebrations. The history has been researched and written by Livia Kenney.

We'd love to hear about your experience of Art History at La Trobe. To add to the story, or for any amendments, send an email to


The Art History Alumni chapter was formed by graduates of La Trobe's Art History program. Anyone with an interest in art is welcome to join, particularly current and former La Trobe Visual Arts students.

The chapter organises an annual program of activities including visits to artists' studios and workshops, lectures by art historians, visits to public and private galleries, discussions with art industry experts, and informal, social gatherings with fellow members.

The chapter also raises funds to support art, and art students, at La Trobe

How to join

You can join or renew your membership via AlumniConnect. AlumniConnect allows you to update your contact details, join chapters and register for events.

Simply register for AlumniConnect (or login if you already have an account) and click on the Chapters and Networks section.

If you need help with AlumniConnect, please contact us on 1300 737 133 or +61 3 9479 2011, or email

Alternately, you can download the Art History chapter membership form using the link below

Download the membership form in PDF format (206kb)


The chapter has previously awarded the following annual prizes

  • La Trobe University NGV Summer School Prize ($500) - awarded to a student who is an active participant and willing to engage in all activities with a sense of enquiry about contemporary art and the issues embedded
  • Acquisitive Prize ($1,000) – awarded to a final year student to acquire a piece of their art work for the La Trobe University art collection.

Committee members

Chair Sandra Nicholson
Secretary Robyn Walton
Committee Members

Michael Moignard
Felicity Renowden
Esther Theiler
Elizabeth Trenerry
Frank Heckes
Cristin Wilkinson (AAO)

Contact: Sandra Nicholson

Committee meetings

The chapter committee meet six times each year. Meetings are held on the second Friday of every second month.

For more information about committee meetings or copies of minutes from previous years, please contact


Recent events

  • 2 February 2017: Summer School Presentation and David Hockney Exhibition
  • 10 February 2017: Annual General Meeting and talk on Leonard French 'Four Seasons' by Cameron Wood
  • 12 March 2017: Frames tour with John Payne at the NGV
  • 9 June 2017: Committee meeting and guided tour of the Charles Blackman Schoolgirls exhibition at Heide Museum of Modern Art
  • 21 July 2017: Discovering Dobell Exhibition at TarraWarra Museum of Art, Healesville