Betty Churcher, Former Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Is Dead

Betty Churcher, photo by Adama Knott, Image via the National Portrait Gallery

Australia is mourning the loss of one of its best-loved arts administrators: Betty Churcher, also known as “Betty Blockbuster.”

A ground-breaking director of the National Gallery of Australia, Churcher earned her endearing nickname by organising blockbuster art shows that boosted the institution’s public appeal and transformed it into a truly significant cultural landmark.

Brisbane-born Churcher passed away on Monday evening at the age of 84 after battling cancer.

The Australian Associated Press reports that Churcher once described her own life as “busy, long, fruitful and without regrets.” Originally trained as an artist, Churcher gave up painting in favor of teaching and later took up arts administration.

Churcher first made her mark at the Art Gallery of Western Australia where she was appointed director in 1987. She became the first female director of the National Gallery of Australia between 1990-1997 and made Australian art history with popular shows that drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Canberra gallery.

“She had this uncanny ability to understand that this had to be her strategy … that the National Gallery needs to be out there in the public eye,” said Alan Dodge, a former senior colleague at the NGA  to The Australian

Churcher further broadened Australia’s art audience by hosting television shows about art, such as “Take Five” and “Hidden Treasures.”

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