NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Vale Ted Snell, AM CitWA

by Clive Barstow and Paul Uhlmann

Image Source University of Western Australia, Facebook

It is with great sadness that our lifelong colleague and mentor in the arts, Professor Ted Snell passed away on the 26th of September 2023 at the young age of 74. Ted was highly regarded both nationally and internationally for advancing the status of the visual arts in our universities and within the public domain. His tireless work over his lifetime as an artist, writer, curator, and educator together with his enduring generosity of spirit and commitment to supporting artists in their early careers gained Ted the love and respect of everyone who came into contact with him.

Ted was born in Geraldton Western Australia in 1949. His studies included a period in the UK to complete an Associateship in Art Teaching followed by postgraduate studies in Birmingham. On return to WA he began his teaching career at The West Australian Institute of Technology, now Curtin University, where he eventually became Dean of the School of Art and where he gained his Doctor of Philosophy. In 2008, he was conferred AM (Order of Australia) for his contribution to the arts and education in Australia.

Ted was a driving force for art and performance in the West where he worked in various capacities for all the Universities in WA. He was restless in his energy, charismatic, and positive. His enthusiasm was infectious and he was much loved by his students and colleagues; when Ted had an idea you knew it would happen. He always advocated for a strong and united community of artists irrespective of his institutional alignment and took this advocacy into his many substantial roles on the national stage as Chair of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council, Chair of the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools, Chair of Artbank, Chair of the Asialink Visual Arts Advisory Committee and as a Board member of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA). In 2009 he was appointed Winthrop Professor and Director of the Cultural Precinct at the University of Western Australia, a position he held for many years alongside his role as Director, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery (LWAG) at the University of Western Australia (UWA). He curated many standout exhibitions during this period and set a high benchmark of excellence where he often ensured that emerging artists were given a platform and celebrated.

Current Chair, University Art Museums Australia (UAMA) and Director, Griffith University Art Museum, Angela Goddard, told ArtsHub: ‘Ted was pivotal to the conception and formation of UAMA – he worked tirelessly on benchmarking, writing and agitating for the community of university art museums in Australia, highlighting their significant contributions to our intellectual and cultural life.’ His work with UAMA ensured that artists, students, and educators had access to a network of professional galleries at a time when many of our institutions were looking to ‘repurpose’ these spaces based on cost efficiency measures. Ted stood for what he believed in and fought for recognition in the toughest of times.  

Ted wrote articles for lead journals, such as Art and Australia, and Artlink, was a regular art critic for The Australian and more recently was a prolific contributor to The Conversation. His insights launched the careers of many diverse artists, whilst ensuring that more established artists were not overlooked, and importantly, situated them in an art history context, thereby enhancing their reputation and educating the public on the true value of creative endeavor. In this steady manner he advocated for the power of art to change lives and to make positive change for society. He published books on art that are united in their appreciation of art as a wellspring of creative energy and healing power. A recent monograph and exhibition on Perth’s ‘Walking Man,’ the ‘outsider’ artist Ross Seaton, summed up this appreciation. A documentary about this project can be viewed on ABC iView:

Ted was made honorary professor of art at Edith Cowan University in 2020 and in his short time with the school his influence on our students and staff has been profound. He initiated a number of events including among others, The Dark Side that partnered with the National Art School on the vital importance of art for mental health:  Ted also mentored emerging curators to capture the vibrancy across current practice within an area of focus within the visual arts.

His contribution to the arts in Australia over many years cannot be understated. He has been a towering force in getting us to where we are, a strong and united community that is proud of its achievements, and for those of who have been touched by his wisdom and clarity of mind, he will always be in our thoughts.

Ted was a great figure of a man, a genuine, generous leader who will leave an important legacy, and one that will live on for generations. Ted was a visionary but above all he was a friend, mentor and inspiration, and his loss will be felt for many years and by everyone who was lucky enough to have known him. Our thoughts are with his family at this time of deep sorrow. 

Clive Barstow is Professor of Art at Edith Cowan University. Paul Uhlmann is Coordinator of Visual Arts at Edith Cowan University

Sources: Fairley, G. Vale Ted Snell-‘a force in the west’ Arts Hub 28th September 2023

Image Source: University of Western Australia, Facebook.

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