Nearly 500 artworks will be on display to view and buy at NERAM's annual fundraising Packsaddle Exhibition, opening on Friday night.
"This is always one of the most exciting exhibitions of our annual calendar," gallery director Rachael Parsons said.
"It is one of the longest-running fundraising exhibitions of this kind in Australia, let alone regional Australia. It has an amazing reputation, and it's become embedded in the cultural lives of many people in Armidale."
This is the 34th time the Packsaddle volunteers have held the exhibition. Most of the proceeds go to buying artworks, but also support education programs and artists; fund lectures, renovation and conservation; and sponsor exhibitions.
The exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to collect contemporary art, Ms Parsons said. This year, the 475 works include etchings, collographs, linocuts, and aquatints; watercolours, acrylics, mixed media, collages, and sculptures.
"You name it, we've got it!" Packsaddler Glenda Kupczyk-Romanczuk said.
Being a Packsaddler is an expensive venture, she joked. "When you spend a month surrounded by these beautiful artworks, you always buy!"
Her own home has dozens of works she purchased at Packsaddle - but she always finds room to squeeze in one more.
"Packsaddle has been almost single-handedly responsible for some very significant collecting of arts in the region," Ms Parsons said. "You go to a lot of houses, and if they've got artwork on the wall, they would be able to point out a certain number that came from this exhibition."
The Packsaddlers source the artworks from commercial galleries, print suppliers, and artists.
This year, Cicada Press, from the University of New South Wales's Art and Design Department, has contributed for the first time. They include eminent artists - Reg Mombassa, Elisabeth Cummings, Euan Macleod - and their upcoming students.
"It's a very special important nurturing of new art," Ms Kupczyk-Romanczuk said.
The Packsaddlers select quite haphazardly. "We go to Sydney, we contact different people, we're promised things, and then they send something different, or they don't send it. So we don't actually know exactly what's coming until it arrives! The curator takes that pile of stuff, and turns it into a beautiful exhibition."
That curator is Belinda Hungerford, organising the exhibition for the first time.
"It is a mixed bag of works that has great appeal to many different people, so bringing that together in a harmonious way is the challenge!" she said.
Ms Hungerford has categorised the works by type - landscapes, still lives, or figurative works.
"Within those categories, you look at how the works talk to each other. That could be through subject manner or color, form, shapes."
Not all of the pieces are on display, due to space constraints. After the hectic opening night, the Packsaddlers bring up portfolios with photographs of works.
Some have to be culled from the main exhibition, but the Packsaddlers have what Ms Kupczyk-Romanczuk calls a little Salon des Refusés.
Artworks range at $38 for small-scale prints through to $6,000.
The Packsaddlers are collecting a stash of money towards buying a Grace Cossington Smith painting for the Hinton Collection, NERAM's foundation.
They donated $16,000 last year to NERAM's Adopt an Artwork program, restoring works in need of preservation; and funded EMANATE, an exhibition of recent graduates from Sydney's National Art School this year.
The Packsaddlers also fund three lectures each year to bring speakers to Armidale, and ensure locals are part of dialogues and ideas happening nationally. On Saturday, October 26, Michael Kempson from Cicada Press will deliver the F.T. Wimble lecture on the history of print.
Tasmanian print-maker Melissa Smith will open the exhibition on Friday night. Her work depicts changes in landscapes due to climate change, and has been a hit with New England audiences. She will give an artist's talk at 10.30am on Saturday, October 19.
For a change of pace, the Hinton Gallery will become a Roaring Twenties speakeasy on the night of Friday, October 25. "Darker, sexier, but enjoying what we have here in a different way," Ms Parsons said. NERAM will also launch its Hinton Whiskey and Yellow Gloves Gin, boutique spirits manufactured by Dobson's Distillery.
Packsaddle finishes with a 'pick up' party on Sunday, November 3, so people who have bought art can collect their acquisitions, have a glass of wine, and perhaps buy another artwork.