History of galleries, arts and culture at La Trobe

La Trobe University’s art collection was established by architect Roy Simpson in 1968 before a single stone was laid on the site of our Bundoora Campus. Ever since, the visual arts at La Trobe has evolved to match the times, driven by passionate people and a strong sense of connection between the University and the Victorian community.

Students were used to living and studying among art when La Trobe’s first official art exhibition was held in the Borchardt Library in 1972. By 1979 Professor Peter Tomory, previously director of Auckland Art Gallery, was overseeing the establishment of a dedicated exhibition space in the Union Building foyer. But it wasn’t until 1982 that the university’s first art gallery was built at Chisholm College. The purpose-built hexagonal building stayed true to the founders’ vision for democratised, art-filled education and brought artists-in-residence and industry events right to students’ doors. One year later, a second gallery space was created in the undercroft of the David Myers Building. The first exhibition in this space, Works from the University Collection, included art by Charles Blackman, John Coburn, Leonard French, William Frater and Tom Roberts. In 1984, schools liaison officer and artist John Waterhouse was appointed La Trobe’s first salaried curator. Rhonda Noble served as his part-time curatorial assistant until 1990 when Waterhouse retired and she became the full time curator of art works.

La Trobe’s arts program extends across Victoria, connecting our Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton and Mildura campuses. In 1991, the Bendigo College of Advanced Education became part of La Trobe University and brought with it the FM Courtis Collection of Australian art. By 1994 La Trobe’s growing art collections needed a new home, and the La Trobe University Art Museum was established.

Under the leadership of Managing Curator Ewa Kozlowski, the Visual Arts Centre (VAC) was opened in View Street, Bendigo, opposite the Bendigo Art Gallery and Capital Theatre, in 2005. The VAC became the hub of La Trobe’s cultural programming and the local community benefited from its gallery, print workshop, lecture theatre and artist residencies. Back in Bundoora, Vincent Alessi became managing curator of the La Trobe University Art Museum, which in 2009 was re-named La Trobe University Museum of Art (LUMA).

In 2013, La Trobe Art Institute was established under the direction of Associate Professor Neil Fettling, firming up the role of Bendigo as the home of the arts at La Trobe. In 2016, Karen Quinlan, then director of Bendigo Art Gallery, took over the La Trobe Art Institute director’s post and a restructure led to the closure of LUMA and the consolidation of the VAC into La Trobe Art Institute.