A statement on NGV’s ‘Bowery Ball’:

Following the National Gallery of Victoria’s event ‘Bowery Ball’ held on 22 Mar 2024, The Stitchery Collective feel compelled to make a statement distancing ourselves and our arts practice from this program, which we are not involved in.

As many of our community will know, The Stitchery Collective have been running Bowery parties since 2016, recently holding our sixth iteration in September 2023 as part of Brisbane Festival. These events have been produced with a variety of collaborators and been hosted at a range of Meanjin venues. We are proud to have made special experiences and welcoming spaces where our community can connect, dress up, and celebrate the cultural legacy of the incredible Leigh Bowery.

For those who don’t know us: we are a femme/queer arts collective that has been running since 2010. We have had solo exhibitions at regional and local galleries, commissioned to design programming and interactive pieces for the majority of major institutions in Meanjin and represented Australia at the Venice Biennale for Children’s Art. We have published peer-reviewed journal articles about our arts practice, and our work, particularly in regard to this Bowery party series, has been featured and cited in books and articles written by others.

While we are not claiming any kind of ownership over Leigh Bowery’s work or memory, we are disappointed with the NGV and their approach to this program. This is primarily due to the fact that prior to the event we had pitched this idea to them. We feel it’s important to lay out a timeline of our interactions with the gallery.

January 2021: Excited by the success of the series, The Stitchery Collective pitched a Bowery party to NGV as a potential collaboration. We emailed a pitch document to the NGV, enthusiasm was shown, and the potential for future collaboration was discussed. The conversation concluded by NGV representatives saying they looked forward to discussing this idea further and will keep us updated.

May 2022: We had not heard from the NGV for months and thought nothing of it, until through conversations with industry partners, we learnt that the NGV were intending to host a ‘Bowery Ball’ party themselves. This was particularly surprising as at that moment, we were in discussions with another party to host the first ever Naarm based Bowery event, to similarly be titled ‘Bowery Ball’. We were shocked by this news, but wondered if somewhere there had been a miscommunication to our deficit. We waited for more information.

19 August 2022: The NGV published a media release publicly committing them to hosting a ‘Bowery Ball’. This media release was reproduced on several online press platforms. We had not been contacted by the NGV prior to this media release, nor were we included as potential collaborators, consultants, or as an example of this event being held previously.

22 August 2022: The Stitchery Collective sent an email to the NGV raising concerns over their planned program, including but not limited to, the lack of communication and consultation with us, the potential damage to or encroachment on our IP, the potential damage to our future arts practice, and the damage to income already caused by this announcement.

The NGV executive management team responded to this email, and said they saw no crossover in programming elements that we had drawn to their attention between our event and theirs. While through our conversation back and forward over email they suggested involving us in aspects of programming adjacent to the event, we did not consider this a genuine attempt to collaborate with us in a meaningful way. While disappointed in their response, ultimately we decided then we would not pursue legal action or raise our grievances via other channels as we didn’t have the resources to do so as a small not-for-profit arts collective, and the event itself had not actually been announced.

24 Nov 2023: Over 12 months later, the NGV officially announced their ‘Bowery Ball’ event. The program pitch remained unchanged from their original announcement in Aug 2022. The visuals used to promote the event bear resemblance to ours (e.g., a figure encased in animal print – similar to Bowerytopia 2021, a glitter curtain backdrop – similar to a set design feature from every event since our 2016 Bowery Bowl). The event was promoted with copy including “a late-night queer extravaganza like no other”.

On the NGV Instagram post announcing the Bowery Ball (see their post from 24 November, 2023), multiple comments tagged The Stitchery Collective, questioning whether we were involved in this event. We would like to clarify we are not involved, and we did not take part in any meaningful consultation with the NGV prior to the event announcement, despite our attempts to do so.

22 March 2024: NGV held the event. Contradicting what we were told by the NGV in August 2022, we believe the event appears to directly appropriate elements of our programming, such as the set design. 


We are making this statement now to address the questions and concerns our community and supporters have sent us, and acknowledge how grateful we are for your support at a really tricky time for our collective. We have no issue with the beautiful performers and audiences of the NGV event, we are just deeply disappointed with the NVG and its leadership team, and hope by making this public we can help other small collectives or solo artists who face similar issues in the future.

Further to this, we did not post this statement earlier as we genuinely did not wish to force artists, performers and attendees connected to the NGV event to be faced with a moral decision of supporting us. We support artists, we support the queer community, and we support anyone joyously engaging with the legacy of Leigh Bowery. What we don’t support is large institutions conducting their engagement programming via anything less than best practice. We hope this becomes a case study of how things should have been done better, specifically; via consultation, collaboration, and pivoting direction in engagement design when new information is learnt. This is the bare minimum we should expect from cultural institutions which are meant to be sector leaders.

The Stitchery Collective live and work on the sovereign, unceded lands of the Yuggera and Turrbal people in Meanjin/ Magandjin, and the lands of Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nations. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and express our deepest thanks to the First Nations people who have been part of our practice.

The Stitchery Collective would also like to address that this ‘conflict’ is insignificant in light of the atrocities of genocide being committed against the people of Palestine. Our collective supports calls for ceasefire now, and will continue to stand against genocide in all its forms.

The Stitchery Collective are members of The Arts Law Centre of Australia, who we give our thanks to for assisting us in this process.

A huge thank you to Sullivan for assisting us in this challenging situation.