Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (SCCI)

29 March 2021

Gene Sherman AM.jpg
© Rita Zimmerman, 2014

Dr Gene Sherman AM has been a supporter of CIMAM since 2011. She is Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of SCCI: Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas – a new approach to conferencing and conversations surrounding fashion, architecture and their relationships with other forms of cultural expression. From her base in Australia, Dr Sherman has conducted more than three decades' work in the region's culture and art sectors, via SCCI: Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas (2018-2022), through the preceding exhibiting Foundation SCAF: Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (2007-2017) and its commercial predecessor Sherman Galleries (1986-2006). We are pleased to make available to CIMAM members and followers Dr Sherman's inspiring career and endeavours, including the motivators that continue to inform her dedication to fostering the arts.

November 2020

What is your activity's nature, and through what actions and projects are you linked to the world of culture and art?

My professional life started in academia. My discipline was French literature with a special focus on the first half of the twentieth century.

After completing a PhD and teaching in the sector for 17 years, I was forced to dramatically rethink career options. Australia, where I had been living for five years, had reset its focus and, at government level, had pivoted from a historical UK orientation to prioritising commerce & culture in the Asia Pacific region.

I was obliged to make my first pivot: I transformed a life-long passion for art and art history into a new professional pathway and opened the commercial Sherman Galleries (1986-2007) – heavily invested in exhibiting artists from Asia and Australia.

In 2008, the two-site Galleries transformed into a family-funded, not-for-profit Foundation SCAF (Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation). During the ensuing decade (2008-2017) thirty seven major projects across art, architecture, fashion film & design were mounted and exhibited - the majority of which were newly commissioned, large scale complex installations.

Dr Gene Sherman AM with Angelica Cheung, Editor-in-Chief, Vogue China (Credit: Daniel Asher-Smith, 2019)

Under SCAF's umbrella, architectural pavilions designed by practitioners from Japan, Vietnam, Israel and Australia were designed and produced by the SCAF team, a fashion exhibition from Tokyo - reprised and heavily edited - was brought to Sydney, film projects were curated and created, and in some cases touring venues organised. All projects were accompanied by scholarly, visually compelling catalogues and a Culture & Ideas Forum was initiated, pertaining to the particularities of each artist/designer/filmmaker’s vision and cultural context.

In relation to SCAF's outreach remit, joint projects with the Canberra National Portrait Gallery (Go Figure, Sept 2012 – Feb 2013), the Art Gallery of NSW (Go East, May – Jul 2015) and the National Art School (Feel & Think: A New Era in Tokyo Fashion, June – August 2013, and Fiona Tan: Coming Home, March – June 2010) added to the depth and richness of the programme.

What are your company's values, mission, and vision, and at what level does modern and contemporary art intervene as a channel or platform to communicate your value proposition?

SCCI, launched in 2018, was conceived as an intensive knowledge exchange forum wherein ideas (both historical and contemporary) around architecture and fashion were (and are currently) explored in relation to other forms of cultural expression, including literature, film and the visual and performing arts.

Ethical considerations and a continuing attention to social justice issues underpin the Foundation’s modus vivendi with the plight of textile workers, disaster relief & affordable housing plus discussions around waste and mounting landfill - infiltrating many of the speaker topics.

Dr Gene Sherman AM introduced (Art)chitecture, SCCI Architecture Hub 2019 (Credit: Daniel Asher-Smith, 2019)

Two ten day Hubs, (conferences), convened annually comprise some 50 speakers each - attracting 1,500 live audience attendees in deliberately orchestrated intimate sessions.

Approximately ten international keynote speakers are included in each Hub, with the remaining Australia-wide interlocutors grouped in cross disciplinary panels. Five University partners, the City of Sydney and international Government agencies, plus a group of loyal Patrons, participate as sponsors & ambassadors. A circle of expert Global Emissaries assist with international connections and generous advice.

In 2020, during Covid times, the SCCI live Hub format was unable to be activated. Yet another pivot became necessary and a substantial rethink led to the creation of twenty 40-60 minute documentary films – some of which were shot in Tokyo (in Japanese) and London, with post production, including editing, translation and subtitling, accomplished by an increasingly upskilled Sydney-based SCCI team. (20 films are available online here)

What is your mission to support the art sector and contemporary art museums in particular, and what results would you like to see your contribution achieve in the future?

I have served on multiple Arts Boards related to the Museum sector over thirty five years, including: the National Portrait Gallery (Board Member and Deputy Chair, 2009-2015); Powerhouse Museum Trust (1995-2001); The University of Sydney's Power Institute (Deputy Chair, 1996-2006); Melbourne University's Australian Institute of Art History (AIAH, 2010-2019), the Bundanon Trust (1995-2002) and the National Gallery of Australia Foundation (2000 to 2009).

As of 2021, I have been asked to join the newly formed Asialink Advisory Board at Melbourne University as one of three experts in their Culture section, working alongside specialised advisors invited to represent Education, Diplomacy and the Business sector.

Photo Daniel Asher Smith_Small.jpg
Dr Gene Sherman AM addresses the audience prior to a keynote presentation by Kengo Kuma (Credit: Daniel Asher-Smith, 2018)

My husband Brian and I are in the process of consolidating our 900 work, 53-years-in-the-making contemporary art collection, gifting segments to various institutions and deaccessioning a number of works via sales. I certainly plan on contributing to the sector post the planned conclusion of SCCI at the end of 2022.

Which of CIMAM´s projects are most suited to developing your action plan to support the sector of museums and collections of modern and contemporary art?

Museums are my abiding interest and especially so where their exhibitions research & education programmes coincide. Once my involvement as director and producer in cultural programming comes to an end in early 2023, I hope to continue contributing to the sector in multiple ways via board participation, writing, teaching and philanthropy.

Dr Gene Sherman AM