Art Month Sydney’s Festival Director on the Artists to Watch and Events to Check Out

March 4 to 28 in Sydney is Art Month —  a city-wide festival that celebrates contemporary art, artists and galleries through exhibitions, workshops, panel discussions, artist studio visits, tours, precinct nights and parties.

In 2020, Art Month was able to execute just two weeks of its program before falling victim to the closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, however, it’s full speed ahead with no shortage of opportunities to begin your art collection, or expand your existing one, or to learn more about the various mediums while exploring the numerous galleries Sydney has to offer. 

Speaking to The Latch, Art Month Festival Director Emma O’Neill explained, “There is a certain trepidation that comes with holding a month of events a year on from that, but we are tracking so well in Sydney, and there’s a real thirst for getting out and about. People still aren’t travelling, so there’s a keenness to explore their city, which is amazing.”

O’Neill holds a prestigious position for someone just 30-years-old. Now in her second year as Festival Director, O’Neill previously worked for Christie’s Southeast Asian Art department before returning to Sydney and being appointed the editor of Art Collector Magazine. After a few years in that role, she landed a job as Art Month Sydney’s marketing and communications manager before working her way up to the title she now holds. 

Emma O’Neill photographed by Louise Daniels

For O’Neill, her mission as Festival Director after a year as challenging as 2020, was twofold. “It’s really about bringing the attention back to the galleries as well as providing opportunities for curators and artists to have paid opportunities to work. Those artists were hit really hard last year, so that’s been a real focus,” she said. 

No matter how knowledgeable you are in the field of art, or how new you are to it, O’Neill assures there is something for everyone. For example, on Sunday, March 14 at 10am at 17b Oxford Street, Director of Goulburn Regional Art Gallery Gina Mobayed will talk about the journey of collecting art. 

“The Collectors Space exhibition is all about spotlighting some really interesting collectors, said O’Neill. “And she’s chosen arts leaders and artists from all over New South Wales, and hand-picked from their private collections. She will be speaking to what’s on show there. She’s called it ‘You Never Forget Your First’, which is a bit cheeky and a bit of fun.

“She’ll speak to the first works that they acquired, and their collecting journey ever since — it’s just a really sexy show.”

If you prefer your art served with a side of something to munch on, then “Art Chats and Snacks” at 6:30pm on March 17 is right up your alley. “We’ve got beautiful wines and beautiful cheese boards to accompany an artist’s talk happening between two artists, Lill Colgan and Sidney McMahon,” explained O’Neill. “I think that people are very accustomed and very comfortable going out for dinner, and having a beautiful meal, so we’ve given them access to these artists in conversation by bringing some beautiful food to those scenarios.” 

Each year, Art Month also hosts its legendary art walks, through its Art at Night Events. There are still three events on the calendar for anyone who loves the idea of whiling away a blissful afternoon wandering around eclectic galleries in some of Sydney’s most enticing suburbs. 

On March 13, festival-goers can attend the East Sydney iteration, which will take in 13 galleries over the course of several hours. 

“We’re kind of leaning into the slow pace that COVID has brought on and it’s a long wander from 3pm to 7pm through those spaces. And then at the end, we’ve got a lovely evening at Firstdraft curated by Collective: Frenzy and featuring some incredible artists, projections facilitated by Epson, and beers by Atomic,” O’Neill said. 

She continued, “Then we’ve got Chippendale & Redfern on March 20 and that’s got 18 spaces, and again another kind of slow, long, wander through those incredible varied spaces that ends at the The Green, Central Park Mall where there’ll be a pop-up bar and music and again, large scale projections by Blak Douglas and Indigenous artists.” 

For the final instalment, art lovers can head to Paddington & Woolhara for closing night. “The Paddington event ends at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, which is one of the most important galleries in Sydney and they’ve been incredibly supportive of Art Month Sydney, through the years,” O’Neill said.”That’s going to be curated by Sidney McMahon and featuring poetry and projections and some cocktails, by Poor Toms Gin.” 

With over 150 artists being celebrated at this year’s Art Month, it was perhaps a little cheeky to ask O’Neil to highlight just a few for readers of The Latch to look out for, but nevertheless, she did her best to oblige. 

“Rochelle Haley, Fiona Lowry and Rainbow Chan are definitely ones to watch,” said O’Neill. “There’s an opportunity to explore their studios this Saturday, 13 March from 2 to 3pm at Artspace (51 Cowper Wharf Roadway, Woolloomooloo).” 

She continued. “In terms of the Parramatta Artist Studios, the artists to watch are Akil Ahamat, who has got this incredible kind of sound bath on display in the Paramount House Hotel (Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills), Tully Arnot has his mechanical butterfly hanging in the windows and Sofiyah Ruqayah has an artwork in one of the hotel rooms. So that’s just a sample of six out of the more than 150 artists that we are showcasing through the month.” 

And if you are ready to take your love of art to the next level by buying a piece or two, but feel intimidated at the prospect, O’Neil explains that you are not alone and to follow a very simple rule of thumb. 

“It’s just about picking up a work that you really connect with,” she said. “It’s about love at first sight and wanting to live with that piece of work.” 

Art Month Sydney runs from March 4 to 28. For more information please visit the official website here and purchase tickets through Eventbrite (links throughout article.) 

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