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 the Melbourne Campus at Bundoora. Ever since, arts and culture at La Trobe has evolved with the times, driven by passionate people and strong community relationships.

Students were familiar with living and studying alongside art when La Trobe’s first official art exhibition was held in the Borchardt Library in 1972. By 1979, Emeritus Professor Peter Tomory, foundation professor of art history, 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 transformative, equitable education, bringing artists-in-residence and cultural 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. In 1991–92, the gallery and collections moved to Glenn College, which was already being used as a museum of prehistory and anthropology.

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.

In 2005, under the leadership of Managing Curator Ewa Kozlowski, the Peter Elliott-designed Visual Arts Centre (VAC) was opened in View Street, Bendigo, opposite the Bendigo Art Gallery and Capital Theatre. The VAC became the hub of La Trobe’s cultural programming and the local community benefited from its gallery, print workshop, auditorium and artist residencies. At the Melbourne Campus, 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). Michael Brennan became acting artistic director in early 2014.

La Trobe Art Institute was established in 2013 under the direction of Associate Professor Neil Fettling, as part of La Trobe’s efforts to strengthen its visual arts and education programs in regional Victoria. It was an entity within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, overseeing the operations of the then School of Visual Art and Design, LUMA and the VAC.

In 2016, Karen Quinlan, then director of Bendigo Art Gallery, took over the La Trobe Art Institute director’s post. La Trobe Art Institute was resituated within the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, retaining management of LUMA and the VAC. Following adoption of the 2016 Art Strategy, LUMA was closed late that year, and its spaces converted to collection storage. In 2017, the Visual Arts Centre changed its name to La Trobe Art Institute after becoming the primary premises of the new unit.

Today, La Trobe’s arts and culture programs extend across Victoria, connecting our Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Shepparton and Mildura campuses. Current director, Bala Starr, leads a team based at the contemporary art centre in Bendigo and at the Melbourne Campus, which houses the majority of La Trobe's art collections.