Backstage Pass with Jess Cuddihy

Jess Cuddihy, Education Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Art finalist, 2004

When I was sixteen I spent countless hours haunting the art block at school. Lunchtimes were consumed turning my myriad of teenage anxieties and torments into artworks, many of which, even after several years, still make me cringe. It was one of these particularly angsty pieces that won me a place as a finalist in the Education Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Art in 2004. Finalists were awarded with a one week, all expenses paid trip to Brisbane to visit universities and galleries.  The goal was to emerge us fully in the opportunities available if we chose to pursue visual arts at a tertiary level. As kids, many of us coming from small regional towns (myself from Mackay), we had no idea what was out there in the wider world.

I was inspired! After completing my secondary studies I decided to move to Brisbane to study photography at the Queensland College of Art. After graduating I worked in the industry for many years, mostly in photographic processing where I felt most at home mixing chemicals in dark rooms and wearing funky white gloves. When film usage began to decline I starting working with school photography and digital retouching companies. I loved working with children but photography wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I decided to take the plunge and go back to university. Two years later, with a Masters of Museum Studies under my belt I started the first day of my new career, and I had moved back up north!

I now work as the Education and Programs Officer for Townsville City Council’s Gallery Services which operates both Pinnacles Gallery and Perc Tucker Regional Gallery. As a part of my role I aid in facilitating visual arts education experiences in both galleries as well as organising extensive outreach programs within Townsville Region’s primary and secondary schools.

Jess Cuddihy giving a tour of George Gittoes: I Witness for students from St Margaret Mary’s College, March 2016

I applied for QAGOMA’s annual BackstagePass Internship program in 2015 and was delighted to find out I was successful. In early April 2016 I eagerly returned to Brisbane to start my two week placement. During my time at QAGOMA I worked with both the Learning and Public Programming Teams. Each day was a new and exciting learning experience and I could not have felt more welcome and accepted by the wonderful and friendly staff. I returned to Townsville filled with enthusiasm and passion and many, many pages of notes and ideas.

Jess Cuddihy, Education and Programs Officer

Without the opportunities afforded to me by my participation in either of these programs I would not be where I am today. Without the experience offered through the Minister’s Awards I would never have realised the multitude of avenues available in the arts industry. Similarly, my internship with QAGOMA has renewed my resolve and consolidated my love for my chosen career path. I plan on using the skills I have acquired to provide even better arts opportunities for my adopted home. The community in Townsville has been amazingly supportive in accepting me as one of their own and I have been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people through my work. Today I’m no longer the socially awkward teen seeking refuge in the sanctity of an art room; through my work I am the person helping that teen realise their potential.

Jess Cuddihy is Education and Programs Officer at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery and Pinnacles Gallery, Townsville

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Backstage Pass is a professional development opportunity for mid-career operational staff from regional Queensland art galleries

The Creative Generation Excellence Awards in Visual Art is an initiative of the Department of Education and Training, supported by QAGOMA