Support for emerging Melbourne artists protects important legacy

Six years ago, Rees Group managing director Justin Mastores FCPA was listening with interest to a business acquaintance tell him about a successful and long-running incubator project for artists. The project's board had the creative and fundraising side covered, he heard, but commercial acumen was also needed.

Convinced he could be of use, Mastores was recruited to the board of Gertrude Contemporary – which describes itself as a "dynamic centre for the production and presentation of contemporary art".

Set up 29 years ago in the heart of Melbourne's edgy art precinct of Fitzroy, Gertrude Contemporary offers emerging artists (in the first 15 years of their professional practice) one of 16 studios for two years, during which they receive practical support and professional advocacy.

In 1985 it was Australia's first combined gallery and studio complex, describing itself today as "valued nationally and respected internationally as a dynamic centre for the production and presentation of contemporary art".

As well as the studio program, Gertrude Contemporary presents about 20 exhibitions a year, featuring work by Australian and international artists, in three gallery spaces. There are also a host of programs to help educate and train creative professionals, and foster a creative community through partnerships with institutions around the world.

For Mastores, already a modest art collector, taking on the role has been an enriching experience both personally and professionally.

Within 12 months he had become treasurer and was on a very steep learning curve about the world of not-for-profits, particularly the issues and politics of government and philanthropic funding.

The business side of the organisation is run with extreme diligence and attention to detail, Mastores says. "We run the finances, cash flow projections and so on really tightly."

On the other side of the work-pleasure ledger for Mastores is participating in some of Gertrude Contemporary's activities. "For example, there's the annual event for Gertrude's Table, which is a patrons' program. You meet a diverse group from very different environments."

"Without people giving back to the community, Melbourne doesn't stay as the arts capital of Australia."
The organisation and its goals have become a cause passionately championed by Mastores. "Meeting influential business and community leaders and being able to promote the organisation and its need for support is very rewarding," he says.

"Without people giving back to the community, Melbourne doesn't stay as the arts capital of Australia. Unless you help foster this culture it's very difficult for an organisation like Gertrude to stay ahead in the constant battle for government funding and philanthropic dollars."

Mastores is reluctantly stepping down from the board after serving two terms. Refreshing the board gives the organisation a better chance to evolve, he says. But he'll miss it.

Free time

Taking on a directorship is usually limited to a meeting a month, plus time spent reading and digesting board papers. Adding the treasurer's role meant a little more time for Justin Mastores.

"Initially I spent more time getting up to speed, but now it's probably anywhere between eight and 16 hours a month," Mastores says.

"Sometimes, I'm more hands-on. This month, for example, I've spent quite a lot of time dealing with the chair and helping with press releases and just giving my opinion."

Mastores sets aside time during the working week for his tasks. "Mondays are sort of sacred in our office. We don't do any client work unless there's an emergency. We plan the week ahead, and I do anything I need to for Gertrude Contemporary.

"So I treat it very much like a block of time for a client. Gertrude doesn't get my 11pm-midnight time, it gets my time during the day, but I allocate it as a client and, ultimately, I donate my time to doing that," Mastores says.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK. 

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