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Betty Churcher AO

1931 – 2015

Betty (Elizabeth) Churcher AO (1931-2015), gallery director, author, painter and lecturer, was educated in Brisbane before studying at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1955 she married English artist Roy Churcher and two years later they returned to Brisbane, where they had four sons. Throughout the 1960s Churcher worked as a high school art teacher, and from 1972 to 1975 she was an art critic for the Australian. At the age of 44, when she had been working for some years at the Kelvin Grove CAE, she returned to London to study art history at the Courtauld Institute. She finished up at Kelvin Grove in 1978, and from 1981 to 1987 she taught at the Dean School of Art and Design at the Preston/ Phillip Institute of Technology. In 1987, by which time she had spent three years as the Deputy Chairman of the Australia Council and four as the Chair of the Visual Arts Board, she was 'headhunted' by Robert Holmes à Court to become director of the Art Gallery of WA. She thus became the first female director of an Australian state gallery. After three years in Perth she moved to Canberra to succeed James Mollison as second Director of the National Gallery of Australia, heading the institution from 1990 to 1997. She is the author of Understanding Art (1974), which won a London Times Literary Award, and Molvig: The lost Antipodean (1984). Churcher has been a member of many cultural and heritage boards and committees. She won the 1989 Australian Institute of Management Award for Women, and the 1996 Australian Newspaper's Australian of the Year Award. Since 1998 she has been an Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Cross Cultural Research at the Australian National University, and has presented three television series on art: Take Five, Eye to Eye and Proud Possessors.

Updated 2018