David Campbell never intended to stay at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) for a decade. He also didn’t initially see himself putting down roots in Tasmania when he started as Mona’s senior designer in September 2011.
“When I first moved here I was planning to get back to Melbourne as soon as possible, but Hobart has become an amazing city. It’s really blossomed over the last 10 years,” said Campbell, who recently left Mona after a decade at David Walsh’s private and popular museum.
So why does he continue? “Ten years is a very long time. A very long time to work exclusively in pink and black,” he laughed, referencing Mona’s well-established visual brand.
“We actually use other colors and we actually use other fonts,” he continued after a while.
“At my going away party I was saying it was time for me to see some other fonts. It’s a bit of a deal breaker I guess. I had an amazing run, it was an amazing experience to build and live, but after 10 years, it’s time for a new challenge.
Successes and regrets
During her decade at Mona, Campbell has worked on a range of projects and brands, including Moorilla Winery, Moo Brew and the summer festival, Mona Foma, as well as core activities such as the museum’s many major exhibitions . What are some of his accomplishments he is most proud of during this time?
“I think I’m part of the team that developed this brand. With Mona now, people look at it and they know the style, they know the look, they know the voice, but it takes hard work, thought and effort, so creating this visual language is something fantastic,” he said.
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When prompted to name another highlight, Campbell named Mona’s line of bestselling books.
‘[Mona owner] David Walsh made an offhand comment that we’re not going to make money off the books so I thought I’d prove him wrong. I went there and found a really strong concept called MONA’S ARTwhich was a series that looked at the Mona collection and totally reinterpreted it in weird and fun ways,” Campbell explained.
“We have released a book called ART OF MONA giving shit to Elizabeth; we published a book called MONA’S ART It’s probably immoral; a book called MONA’S ART It’s probably not art; and a book titled MONA’S ART that your child could have made.
“This series of books has been hugely popular and brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization while being a really fun and interesting take on the collection. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, I think,” he said.
After finishing at Mona a few weeks ago, Campbell expressed regret that he couldn’t work on future projects in the design pipeline.
“We are doing a caravan park, for example, which will arrive in the next two years. We have a lot of cool design ideas for it, which I really wanted to do, but I would have to wait another few years for that to happen, so I’m sorry to miss that.
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He also reflected on perhaps the biggest challenge Mona’s team faced during their time at the museum: the backlash over Santiago Sierra’s story. Union Flag project, a hugely controversial piece of artwork that was meant to be part of Dark Mofo 2021 before being canceled after outrage from the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
“The most difficult thing was during the Union Flag project. Obviously, as a designer, I have no control over curatorial decisions about the work, but seeing the payoff – the well-deserved payoff – what it did was definitely the hardest part of my stay at Mona’s,” Campbell said.
The backlash led Mona as a whole to have a kind of “identity crisis, really,” he continued.
“We thought maybe we were separated from society. It was always this independent organization that, because it was privately funded, could get away with a lot, with a lot of impunity and stay out of what was going on – but it clearly wasn’t the case.
Advice for his youth
Having previously worked as a magazine designer, at the Melbourne Fringe Festival and the Australian Center for the Moving Image (ACMI) among other organizations before starting at Mona, Campbell has accumulated considerable experience as a designer.
What did he learn during this time that he wished he had known at the start of his career?
“To have more confidence in your youthful energy and ideas,” he replies quickly. ‘Have more confidence in your actual work. Whereas now I’ve had the chance to work with some of the greatest artists in the world – and to find that they’re just as unconfident, confused and exploratory as the rest of us has been a truly delightful thing to see. .
What does the future hold?
Although he initially only saw himself based in Hobart for a few years, Campbell said he now intends to stay in the Tasmanian capital for the foreseeable future.
“Even a few years ago, I probably should have left [once I finished at Mona] but now that everyone is used to working remotely, it is now so common for people to work on a project somewhere else,” he said.
“I have a great comfortable base here. I can fly to Melbourne in an hour, fly to Sydney in an hour and a half, and it is now expected that you can work remotely and work distributively. So yeah, I think I’ll be staying here a little longer, actually.
Campbell had intended to take several months off before embarking on new projects, but has already found that plan difficult to maintain.
“I’m really looking forward to embarking on new creative endeavors – partnering with other arts organizations and using all the experience and skills I’ve learned from Mona moving forward. I have already started working, making ticketing software and some projects with artists who have been in contact. So my vacation plan is not working as well as I hoped,” he laughed.
“But I will try to remain silent for at least another month. And after that, there are a lot of former Mona staffers looking to associate and make plans. So I think the next plan is to work with new organizations, a whole new color line, new creative direction and new ideas.