Setting a time to meet future Govett-Brewster Art Gallery director Rhana Devenport during the opening week of the Sydney Biennale was not easy.

Although her appointment was announced in April, she has a contract with the Biennale that will keep her frantically busy until August, after which she plans to spend two weeks recuperating on a beach before moving to New Plymouth.

Our interview eventually starts almost an hour late, due to Devenport spending most of the day photocopying exhibition pamphlets - the initial shipment of 5000, intended to last the first week, was used up by the end of the first day.

Although she is the manager of public and education programmes, including publications, she doesn't mind getting hands-on when the going gets tough. In fact, it's one of the reasons she took on the job in 2005 after 10 years at the helm of the Queensland Art Gallery's Asia-Pacific Triennial (APT).

"When I left I had a desire to work firstly independently and then with a smaller organisation," she says.

As an independent event, the Biennale has a relatively small team of 16 core staff - about the same as the Govett-Brewster - compared to the significant in-house resources the APT can draw from the Queensland Art Gallery.

But Devenport says there are advantages to working with a tight team. "I think, given that it's one of the oldest [biennales] - it has been around for 30 years - it has a wonderful legacy but it can absolutely reinvent itself if it wants to. I'm dying to see the next three biennales."

With more than 70 of the 2006 Biennale's 85 artists arriving from all over the world for the opening, to do talks and three consecutive symposiums, Devenport says this is the most expansive yet.

"I think it harks back sometimes to those early ones which are visionary in the sense that it was the inception of the project and there's a certain ambition in that."

Between leaving the APT in 2004 and joining the Biennale team, Devenport worked as an independent curator, working on shows in Lithuania, Havana and Sydney.

She also had a three-month stint as curator-in-residence at Artspace in Auckland, where she enjoyed working in a team of three, an encounter she says played a vital role in getting her into the Govett-Brewster.

"If I hadn't had that experience, I don't think Govett would have happened. And I think it was a way for me to immerse myself in three shows I was really proud of. But also Artspace were fantastic in travelling me around the country to meet that younger generation of artists. In so doing I got to meet all the professionals and I was constantly surprised and delighted and interested in what I was seeing.

"I have a certain foundation, which [also] builds on the 10 years working for the APT, but that was very specific. And it got me really interested."

She says she also found a momentum in the New Zealand art scene that isn't repeated in Australia.

"It's a sort of enormous and genuine interest in ideas and artists and developments that are happening elsewhere. Australians are interested in international artists and ideas, surely and sincerely, but I think New Zealand has a real hunger."

Between APTs, Devenport also became a de facto contemporary design curator for the Queensland Art Gallery, collecting work for the gallery and organising exhibitions - as well as helping establish the Australian Centre of Asia-Pacific Art, that provides a platform for the APT and Queensland Art Gallery.

She says this focus on the Asia-Pacific region gives Brisbane, a city not renowned as a cultural centre, a strategic edge, an approach that is echoed in the Govett-Brewster's long-standing interest in the Pacific Rim.

"Brisbane is not always on the highest agenda of essential places to go. There is Sydney, Melbourne, and then you make a decision, really, where else to go. But people who are interested in contemporary Asia-Pacific will come there because of that reason alone.

"The same with the Govett Brewster in New Plymouth - I think it's fantastic - a very small, extremely beautiful place with this amazingly visionary organisation that is so well known.

"The Govett Brewster has been equally smart in having a focus, again with Pacific Rim, with contemporary art, with the whole relationship with Len Lye. There's a marrying of certain sensibilities and certain practices that nowhere else in the world has. So it's about uniqueness - you can't be everything to everybody."

As if Devenport's new job wasn't already exciting enough, two weeks ago the New Plymouth District Council agreed to provide operating costs for the proposed $10 million Len Lye Centre. She already has the ideal person to staff it in Harvard-graduate and Len Lye expert Tyler Cann.

Having already been at the forefront of exhibiting art from the Asia Pacific region, Devenport should be comfortable in her new role. But she says there is still uncharted territory.

"There is still so much work to be done, there's no way I'm relying on my experience because everything changes every day and if we are engaged with the contemporary, it's about that kind of constant research and dialogue."

* Andrew Clifford flew to Sydney with Qantas and stayed at the Sheraton Four Points, courtesy of Tourism New South Wales.