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Goal 2: Engage with Audiences

  1. Present innovative and insightful exhibitions, complemented by associated public programs that attract and inspire audiences, ensuring that there is a balance between exhibitions with broad, popular appeal and exhibitions which attract various niche markets.
  2. Deliver a suite of personalised and informative visitor experiences that grow audiences and deepen their engagement with the Gallery.
  3. Engage with a national audience by providing exemplary and meaningful digital content which connects with the broadest possible online audience for portraiture.
  4. Provide creative touring programs that enrich the communities in which they are presented.
  5. Introduce portraiture to a new generation of Australians and generate relevant youth engagement.
  6. Ensure that accessibility and diversity inform all programming.
  7. Produce outstanding periodic/exhibition publications to promote and foster engagement with the Gallery and portraiture.


source: National Portrait Gallery of Australia Corporate Plan 2019-20

Number of temporary exhibitions delivered: target +6 outcome 8

Enhancements to collection displays annually: target 2 outcome 1

Number of people reached annually through onsite exhibitions, public and educational programs, the web and online programming: target 1,000,000 outcome 946,488*

Present a national travelling exhibition program at venues: target 8 venues outcome 8 venues

Provide educational programs which support the curriculum both onsite and through streaming technology: target 16,000 students, outcome 9,047 / 3,657 paid*

People participating in public programs: target 20,000 total / 4,000 paid, outcome 10,681 total / 1,104 paid

Visitors satisfied or very satisfied with their visit: target >90% outcome n/a**

Teachers reporting an overall positive experience: target 90% outcome n/a**

Students reporting an overall positive experience: target 80% outcome n/a**

Data collection: target 50% paid exhibitions / 15% general visits, outcome 100%

Exhibition-related publications: target +2 outcome 3

* Lower than target due to Gallery closure for two months.

** Due to closure for building rectification during 2019 and the impact of covid-19, robust results for satisfaction surveys could not be achieved.


Reach out to and engage all Australians

fresh faces

In 2019, the National Portrait Gallery established Fresh faces, a program to attract, retain and measure stronger engagement with people aged between 18 and 35. It commenced with 20 members who have met in person to share insights with the Gallery team about their appetite for engagement with cultural institutions and their consumption of media and the arts. Through a series of focus groups, we were able to glean valuable feedback from our Fresh Faces members and we were pleased to host them at an exclusive after-hours preview of The Look at the Gallery as well as at the opening of Women in Vogue. Along with many other activities, the work of this group has been interrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, however, we continue to communicate with our Fresh Faces members online.

Access and Learning

It would be an understatement to say that 2019- 20 has been an extraordinary year. At the start of the financial year, the Gallery was closed to the public for rectification works. From July to September 2019, as we worked out of Old Parliament House, we continued to run a series of Virtual Excursions to the Canberra Children’s Hospital and a variety of community hubs and schools around the country, beginning a fruitful relationship with the State Library of South Australia to whom we regularly deliver virtually.

We ran a series of Visual Thinking Strategies programs in local schools and conducted a major research project into the impact of the technique, the results of which show real gains in literacy and critical thinking in participants. We reached out to our audiences at home through a series of Virtual Excursions and undertook rigorous training in Audio-description techniques for the visually impaired.

During this period, we continued to deliver our family programs off site with the support and collaboration of our neighbour cultural institutions, with Little Faces for children six months to three years at the National Museum of Australia, and holding our Story Time program at Old Parliament House. The collaboration was a valuable staff exchange and allowed our collections to speak to one another powerfully. The Hyperconnected virtual tours for adults continued to be a means of keeping our visitors in touch with the Collection whilst unable to visit the Gallery. We were joined by remote and international visitors through these virtual tours.

The Gallery reopened in mid-September 2019 and we welcomed our return with two public celebrations. On 4 October 2019 we were thrilled to celebrate with the extraordinary performer, Paul Capsis, in our cabaret and canapés event, After Dark for adults. Capsis was supported by local musicians and played to a full house of over 250 patrons.

Our family program, the Spring Festival, featuring Balinese puppeteers, The Super Funky Artists, took place soon after. The festival was focussed on recycling and repurposing with all materials being preloved or cast out. Performances, tours, music and fun activities were inspired by the creations of the Super Funky Artists. In the lead up to the festival, local schools participated in the co-creation of a giant puppet with our Balinese guest artists.

A series of late-night events were held responding to Women in Vogue: Celebrating 60 years in Australia. Australian Dance Party performed Seamless which examined the fashion industry, a Tableau Vivant event was created, and hair and makeup and fashion were demonstrated.

Some of the artists and thinkers who gave talks and workshops throughout the year include: Charlotte Smith who spoke of the Darnell fashion collection; artist Wendy Sharpe describing her art practice; and, photographer Brenda L. Croft finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020. Artist Jess Herrington conducted a youth workshop for digital creators. Herrington also created an Instagram filter for @PortraitAU allowing young people to create digital self-portraits. We participated in ArtIRL Teen Takeover at the National Gallery of Australia using portrait filters created by Herrington in our ‘Portrait Booth’.

‘Slow looking’ tours proved extremely popular with visitors taking a deep dive into portraiture within the Eye to Eye exhibition while the Summer family space, Looking at You, Looking at Me allowed visitors of all ages to engage in art making and investigating portraiture interactively.

A highlight of the year was hosting part of the Meeting Place Conference 2019, Australia’s leading forum on arts, culture and disability.

Alongside the conference we held accessible tours of the collection including Auslan- interpreted and audio-described versions and a virtual tour for those elsewhere. We also introduced ‘relaxed mornings’ for those who prefer a quieter visitor experience and an autism friendly environment with low sensory spaces, quiet areas and a creative space for families. We held quarterly meetings with our Accessibility Advisory Board in line with our Accessibility Action Plan which is a Gallery wide initiative to make it truly accessible to all Australians and visitors.

Our award-winning App for young people, Headhunt! allows young people to take the lead and explore the Gallery, look closely at the portraits that intrigue them and delve into artistic elements and the stories of the people depicted. The app is now available off site through the App Store making it available to everyone, not just on site.

During the period of lockdown due to covid-19 we have deepened our practice in delivering virtually. We are now able to deliver from multiple locations with small groups of facilitators working together to deliver a live interactive program from multiple sites. Our use of green screen and Zoom technology has become more sophisticated and agile over this period and we are embarking on adapting further programs to the virtual model. We have delivered via Arts Access Australia to diverse audiences through our virtual model and continued our relationships with schools once they reopened.

The Access and Learning team have undertaken further training in Visual Thinking Strategies throughout the year and achieved Affiliation status with the organisation in the United States. This allows us to deliver training and programs to members of the public including school students, educators and museum professionals. We are the only museum with this status from Australasia.

The Gallery reopened to the public in a covid-19 safe manner on 6 June 2020. We have welcomed visitors back to exhibitions and established regular covid-19 safe on-site tours. Our visitor services team has adapted to online bookings and covid-19 safe practices whilst keeping the visitor experience warm and welcoming.

On-site and off-site visitors



Number of on-site visits to the Gallery



Number of off-site visits – travelling exhibition visitation

53,019 (11 venues)

13,387 (8 venues,

7 provided data)

Number of off-site visits – outward loans

397,155 (41 works)

1,387,717 (37 works)

Number of visits to the Gallery’s website



Number of page views (sessions) on the Gallery’s website



Number of participates in Virtual Excursions

2,840 (106 sessions)

1,692 (as per opposite)

Number of objects available online

2,527 of 2,904 (87%)

2,642 of 2,981 (88.63%)

* Due to closure for building rectification during 2019 and the impact of covid-19.

Digital access to the collection


During the covid-19 lockdown, the Gallery directed significant energy into boosting its online offerings for our visitors. Digital resources such as Portrait Stories (interviews with artists and subjects), Portrait magazine articles, previous exhibitions and essays were combined to produce The Amazing Face; A 14 day dive into portraiture.

Six Portrait Story interviews with artists and subjects, produced in-house with funds kindly provided by Tim Fairfax ac, were published this financial year with a further six in edit. These feature Olympic cyclist Anna Meares OAM in conversation with the photographer her of her portrait Narelle Autio, fashionista Carla Zampatti AC, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Professor Tilman Ruff AO, supermodel Anneliese Seubert, artist Dadang Christanto, and adventurer Jon Muir in conversation with the photographer of his portrait, Ian Darling AO.

This year the most popular portraits viewed on the National Portrait Gallery’s website were still ‘The Gladiators’, rugby greats Norm Provan and Arthur Summons, by John O’Gready and Tommy Woodcock and ‘Reckless’ taken by Bruce Postle; followed by the iconic portrait of Nick Cave by Howard Arkley and bust of Dr John Yu by Ah Xian.

The most viewed biographies of artists and subjects in our collection this year include photographer Olive Cotton, the aviatrix Maude Rose ‘Lores’ Bonney whose 122 birthday was marked by a Google ‘doodle’ on 20 November 2019 and referred traffic to the Gallery website, Junie Morosi who hit the news in February 2019, again referring traffic back to the Gallery website; artist of the Nick Cave portrait, Howard Arkley, and actress Deborah Mailman whose painting by Evert Ploeg remains a perennial favourite for our visitors.

social media

The Gallery continues to expand its social media activity recognising that these channels provide an opportunity to expand and diversify both our on-site and online audience. Concomitant with this investment in time is an investment in developing dynamic content to appeal to visitors who come to us via social media.

Social media channels are a significant driver of traffic to portrait.gov.au (sessions referred from social increased 4.4 per cent on the previous year). Compared with the previous financial year, the Gallery’s social channels achieved a 70 per cent increase in engagements and a 17 per cent increase in audience growth. Social media gave us a voice when the Gallery was closed for rectification and also when the Gallery closed as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

Virtual Excursions

Virtual Excursions and Virtual Public Programs 2019-2020

No. Attendees

Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - ATSI


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - History


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - NAIDOC


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - NPPP


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - Civics and Citizenship


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - Visual Arts


Attendance rates for Virtual Excursion - So Fine


Attendance rates for Virtual - Public Tour


Attendance rates for Virtual - Public Program




Exhibition program

onsite exhibition program

The Gallery continued to develop an inventive and engaging exhibition program in Canberra this year.

Women in Vogue showcased 60 years of the Vogue Australia archive, together with a special tribute to some of the remarkable Australian women who featured in the pages of Vogue, including Kylie Minogue and Elle Macpherson.

In spite of closures due to building rectification works and covid-19, the Gallery was able to present crowd favourites to audiences in Canberra. In August 2019, during the rectification closure, the Gallery opened ICONS at Parliament House in Canberra, which also celebrated the Gallery’s twentieth birthday. ICONS brought together a group of iconic, contemporary photographic portraits that boldly communicated determination and individuality. The Gallery’s ‘Prize season’ commenced on 6 March 2020 with the ever-popular National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020 and the inaugural Darling Portrait Prize. The prize season was extended into September 2020 to account for the temporary closure due to covid-19.

The building rectification works undertaken in 2019 provided an opportunity to reimagine the Gallery’s permanent collection displays.

On reopening in September, the collection display galleries featured two new collection- based exhibitions: Primed: some Prime Ministers and The Look. Displayed in the Marilyn Darling Gallery, Primed featured portraits of Australian prime ministers from the collection, with the contrasting sizes, moods and mediums of the portraits – paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures in bronze, iron and plaster – reflecting the variety of portraits in the collection as a whole and putting a distinct Gallery twist on the concept of institutional portraiture. The Look was comprised of 68 of the Collection’s most striking photographic portraits and presented a slick and beguiling celebration of the style and substance of both the artists and the subjects captured in the selection. The Look was also a celebration of the place of photography in contemporary portrait practice and, once again, enabled the Gallery to highlight the richness and diversity of the collection and our unique interpretive approach.

Other features of the collection displays during the reporting period included a retrospective of the Gallery’s commissioning program, with an installation in gallery two showcasing 25 of the more than 80 portraits commissioned over the past 20 years.

Highlighting the significant support of the donors who have contributed to the realisation of the Gallery’s commissioning program, this display featured at least one portrait commission for every year between 1999 and 2019: from the first two commissioned works to enter the collection (Cathy Freeman by Kerrie Lester and Nick Cave by Howard Arkley, both 1999) to a selection of works created for the exhibition 20/20: Celebrating twenty years with twenty new portrait commissions.

The selection included paintings, sculpture, photography, textiles and digital media and incorporated sketches and studies for some of the Gallery’s most enduringly popular portraits including HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark by Jiawei Shen (2005) and eX de Medici’s portrait of the band Midnight Oil, Nothing’s as precious as a hole in the ground (2001). Digital portraits of Cate Blanchett and Layne Beachley

  • both commissioned for the launch of the Gallery building on King Edward Terrace in 2008
  • created a link between gallery two and The Look in the Ian Potter Gallery.

Displays in the A & S Liangis Gallery included a focus on the emergence of photography in the mid-nineteenth century; on early women’s rights campaigners represented in the collection; and a salon-style installation of portrait busts. The reinstallation in the Robert Oatley Gallery was drawn exclusively from the Gallery’s own holdings of pre-1850s material to focus attention on the success of the Gallery’s development and augmentation of its colonial- era collection since 2009. Moving away slightly from the thematic and chronological frames that formerly shaped the exhibitions in the Robert Oatley Gallery, the reopening display allowed the collection to speak for itself, with works grouped according to medium or collection area. From these three groups – works on paper, paintings and sculpture – multiple stories and themes emerged: the complexity of interactions and partnerships between European newcomers and First Nations peoples, for example; the significance of ex-convict artists to the visual record of colonial Australia; and the aspirations and motivations driving artistic production in the colonies prior to the advent of photography. In a celebration of the richness of our growing collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century prints, the eastern wall of the Gallery featured a map formed of portraits of individuals after whom Australian places are named; while the northern half of the space presented a selection of paintings, pastels and watercolours which were entirely Australian-made – and which thereby demonstrate the diversity of practitioners, sitters and stories populating early Australian portraiture.

The transmission and influence of modern art movements in Australia were highlighted in the John Schaeffer Gallery with works by artists such as Grace Cossington Smith, Olive Cotton, Max Dupain, Arthur Boyd, John Brack and Charles Blackman; and a series of artist feature walls presented the works of preeminent portraitist Judy Cassab and expressionist painters William Dobell and Clifton Pugh. Self portraits by artists including Cassab, Cossington-Smith, Janet Dawson and Nora Heysen underlined the significance and prominence of women in twentieth century Australian art.

The Tim Fairfax Gallery documented the flourishing of social and cultural diversity in Australia from the second half of the twentieth century onwards, showcasing a multiplicity of sitters and artists and a corresponding diversity of mediums and approaches to portraiture.

Groups of works by Rick Amor and Eric Smith were featured along with works by artists as distinguished as Jenny Sages, Nicholas Harding, Evert Ploeg, James Gleeson, John Brack, Bert Flugelman and Jeffrey Smart.

travelling exhibition program

It was an exciting and eventful period for the Gallery’s Travelling Exhibition program, with exhibitions touring to eight venues in rural and regional Australia where more than 13,000 visitors took advantage of the opportunity to experience our collection and exhibitions in person. The outbreak of covid-19 meant that exhibitions were cancelled with planned venues in Bunbury and Kalgoorlie (WA) and Griffith (NSW), however our Travelling Exhibitions team is working with these venues to host future exhibitions.

The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2019 (NPPP 2019) toured to three venues, and yet again proved incredibly popular with host organisations and the public. We were fortunate to work with the Goldfields Arts Centre in Kalgoorlie for the first time, bringing NPPP 2019 to new audiences in regional Western Australia. The NPPP 2019 tour also included Geraldton Regional Art Gallery and the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in New South Wales.

The year also saw The Look presented at Geelong Gallery where it received wonderful reviews from both staff and the public, despite its time being cut short by the closure of galleries nationally due to covid-19. The Look will continue its tour with three further venues in Queensland and New South Wales in the 2020-21 period.

A collaborative project between the National Film and Sound Archive and the Gallery produced the exhibition Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits, which commenced touring in 2018-19. The final venues on this very successful and well received tour this year were Bathurst Regional Art Gallery in New South Wales and Geraldton Regional Art Gallery in Western Australia. A continuation of this glamourous collaboration was Starstruck: On Location, a smaller venue-led travelling exhibition which visited two venues in this period: Shoalhaven Regional Gallery (NSW) and Mildura Arts Centre (VIC).

This year, once again, the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program (NCITO) has contributed to the delivery and success of the Gallery’s Travelling Exhibition program.

CASE STUDY: Engaging with audiences As Australia’s home of portraiture, the Gallery was excited to establish the inaugural Darling Portrait Prize in 2020. This grand new annual prize for painted portraits was only made possible because of the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation.

The judges were our Gallery’s Director, Karen Quinlan AM, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, Tony Ellwood AM, and Professor Denis Ferris, Head of the School of Art and Design at the Australian National University.

The winner of the $75,000 prize was Riverina-based Anthea da Silva with her painting of the ‘high priestess’ of Australian contemporary dance, Dr Elizabeth Cameron Dalman OAM. The

$10,000 People’s Choice Award, supported by the Liangis family, went to David Darcy for his painting of farmer and environmentalist Wendy Bowman. High Commendations were awarded to Sibone Heary for her self-portrait, titled The In between, Sean Hutton for his portrait of installation artist Tamara Dean, and David Darcy.

The Judges were impressed with the exceptional quality of the entrants. Forty finalists were selected from the competitive field of 331 entrants. Entries were received from every State and Territory in Australia.

The feedback from artists has been extremely positive, with many high-profile artists entering the prize. The Darling Portrait Prize has helped to strengthen the Gallery’s strong relationship with the arts community and our reputation as a national institution that believes in its dual role of supporting artists and sitters. Audiences were also incredibly engaged with the prize, with images of our finalists works featuring heavily in our most engaging social media posts and overwhelming positive feedback from visitors to the exhibition. The Gallery is thrilled at the prospect of continuing to support this important addition to the annual prize calendar.

The occasion of the Darling Portrait Prize launch was marked by a wonderful dinner with the finalists, their sitters, and the Gallery’s special guests.