The walls of Peter Mac are dotted with an eclectic mix of Australian art by some of the nation’s best known contemporary artists. 

With its grand, light-filled atrium and glass panelling, the Peter Mac building allows works of art to be viewed from above, below and across the space. 

The works brighten up the wards and halls, stimulating conversation and offering patients and their families a brief diversion during cancer treatment.

They also help people find their way around Peter Mac and provide a pop of colour as the lift doors open.

Each piece in the collection of more than 900 works has been generously donated to Peter Mac through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, which encourages gifts of art from private collectors to public galleries, museums, libraries and hospitals.

We sat down with Peter Mac’s art curator Svetlana Karovich to find out more about the collection and her work acquiring stunning works for Peter Mac. 

Tell us about your time as art curator at Peter Mac. 

I have been with Peter Mac for 18 years, which is quite amazing when I think about it myself. When I first came we had about 60 artworks and over my 18-year journey the collection is now up to something like 900 plus artworks. It's been very rewarding to be able to develop the collection and to be able to acquire works for the enjoyment of so many patients and staff.

A visit to Peter Mac is synonymous with coming face-to-face with artworks wherever you're going - including at our satellite centres in the suburbs and regional Victoria.

Art at Peter Mac isn’t just front of house or at the main reception desks - it's actually throughout the whole building including throughout the wards. We’re also working on getting it into the consult rooms. The collection plays a vital role in humanising the medical setting, even in a building as beautiful and grand as Peter Mac.

Why is it important to have art at Peter Mac?

I love how art can take patients away from their thoughts about cancer - even fleetingly - to give them a moment of beauty and something to talk about with their family and friends. 

People who are treated here often come for days, weeks, months or even years, and with that regular attendance they really start noticing the art. It’s so widely displayed that there is something new to discover every time. 

The works also have a secondary function in helping people navigate the building. People might get out of the lift and know they are in the right place by seeing the big yellow tapestry or whichever work it may be. 

What is involved in your role at Peter Mac?

My role is to help grow the collection but there are no funds for acquiring work, so all the works are donated through the cultural gifts program. It's a question of trying to locate who may have artworks - whether it's an artist, collector or a corporation – and bringing it to their attention that it can be donated to a hospital. When people may think of donating artwork, a hospital may not be the first place that comes to mind. 

There are many artists who are really keen to have their works displayed here as they love that it makes a difference to patients’ lives. One artist who has been very generous over the years Dean Bowen. He has donated a series of works (displayed on level four) and it’s really lovely to have a whole collection of art from one artist together in one place as we are often not in a position to exhibit a group of an artist’s work because donations are usually single works from a particular collector or private individual.

Part of my role is also to assess the suitability of an artwork and decide where it might best be displayed. One of the things that I've enjoyed over the years - and it's been important to me – is speaking with people around the centre to try to work out what art may work well in a particular area.

Why is the Peter Mac building such a good space for displaying art?

As the building has a central atrium you can see works that are on the opposite side of the building or on a completely different level. Patients can even see into areas that they don’t need to go and see the artworks on display. There is a real conversation going on across the void and many artworks speak to each other across the space. 

Due to the glass roof, the art also changes incredibly depending on the season and whether and it’s sunny or cloudy. The difference in light can really change the way the art looks and I never tire of that. 

And the fact that these are original artworks by many of our best-known painters there is something about the actual contact with an original work that is immeasurably different to looking at a Monet poster in a metal frame.