Jessica Bridgfoot has been watching the Bendigo Art Gallery grow since she was a child. Now she's bursting with excitement to take up the role of director.
Ms Bridgfoot was announced in the role on Thursday morning, a replacement for former director Karen Quinlan who left the gallery in late 2018.
It took the City of Greater Bendigo six months to find a new director, with two rounds of applications.
City of Greater Bendigo director strategy and growth Bernie O'Sullivan said Ms Bridgfoot's inspiring ideas, her ambition and poise set her apart from the other applicants.
Ms Bridgfoot said she would continue to focus on the gallery's niche of fashion, design and celebrity, while pushing the gallery into some "new and exciting places".
"We're very much in the fashion, design, celebrity space, we do it so well, and it's what brings people here to the gallery and it also allows us to really push the boundaries with the rest of our programming," Ms Bridgfoot said.
Ms Bridgfoot has worked at the Bendigo Art Gallery since 2016. Her background is in commercial galleries, with experience in public galleries and a passion for contemporary art.
Mr O'Sullivan said the selection team was proud to have found a Bendigo local with the depth, the vision, and the inspiring ideas to win the role of director.
Ms Bridgfoot grew up in Bendigo, before studying at Monash and Melbourne universities.
Mr O'Sullivan said the director role was among the most important in the city, with the gallery a cornerstone institution driving tourism, the broader business economy, and creative industries.
"We were taken aback with the level of interest in the director role and that was very exciting for us. It made for a hard job ... we've been pretty fussy about who will be the next director of the Bendigo Art Gallery," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"We went out that special person, to find a director that has that sparkle in their eye, that has that X-factor that will chart the next chapter in the Bendigo Art Gallery.
Ms Bridgfoot said her passion for the gallery may have set her apart from other candidates for the role. And, having been on team for three years, she knew what the opportunities were, she said.
"I grew up in Bendigo, I've got a great knowledge of the collection and gallery, and I've watched it grow over the years under Tony and then Karen," Ms Bridgfoot said.
"I feel like I'm in a really good position to move the gallery forward."
Ms Bridgfoot did have to apply for the role twice. The council re-advertised for the position of director in April, after the position was first advertised in December 2018.
When it came to the second round, Ms Bridgfoot thought, "I'll just throw my hat in the ring and see".
It paid off, and she "finally" got some face time with the interview panel, she said.
Mr O'Sullivan said at the end of the interview process Ms Bridgfoot was the standout candidate.
More than 50 people applied for the role, including many from central Victoria, Australia and overseas.
We're in contemporary times here, I think people don't just want passive experiences, they want to be part of the experience.Jessica Bridgfoot
"We were taken aback with the level of interest in the director role and that was very exciting for us," Mr O'Sullivan said.
"We were very particular, very fussy and wanted to make sure we got the right person. We're thinking five, 10, 15 years about how to make sure the Bendigo Art Gallery remains the premier art gallery in regional Victoria and across Australia.
"We now have an international reputation, the Bendigo Art Gallery and we want to make sure we're further growing that, and we think that Jessica Bridgfoot as the new director will absolutely take us on that journey."
Ms Bridgfoot flagged big plans for the future of Bendigo Art Gallery, including a possible new building in the long term.
"Our collection is growing, our audience is growing, there's definitely a demand there, we're outgrowing our building in a way," Ms Bridgfoot said.
"In the longer term that might look like a new building development.
"The plans are fluid at this stage but there is definite discussion."
Increased audience engagement, more interactive experiences as extensions to exhibitions, and more digital experiences would all take the gallery to the next level in the short term, she said.
Ms Bridgfoot said a project along these lines would come to the gallery this summer.
"We're in contemporary times here, people don't just want passive experiences, they want to be part of the experience," she said.
"We've demonstrated in the past when we have gone into that space that there's a big demand for it."
Ms Bridgfoot said she planned to build further international contacts, to bring new and exciting exhibitions to the gallery.
She acknowledge she had huge shoes to fill, in the wake of longetime director Karen Quinlan. But, Ms Bridgfoot said Ms Quinland had built a terrific team, with real creative talent and great ideas.
Ms Bridgfoot said she felt supported and confident in the future of Bendigo Art Gallery.
"The legacy that Karen Quinlan has left and built over her 18 years as director has absolutely demonstrated I think what [the gallery's] role is," Ms Bridgfoot said
"We're not only a leading cultural institution, but we're a leading economic driver for the community and I absolutely respect that, and I look forward to growing that."
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