SALLY Shaw lives and breathes art.

It is her pulse, her heartbeat.

Names of artists trip off her tongue as she talks enthusiastically about her hopes and expectations as the new director of Colchester's Firstsite gallery.

In its infancy, the gallery was lambasted for being elitist.

But this is a new era and elitism is anathema to Sally. She champions public art and inclusion above all else.

Former interim director Anthony Roberts took a hammer to the elitist ivory tower when he drove a white van into the foyer of Firstsite, quickly followed by installing crazy golf within the hallowed, angled walls.

In passing the baton to Sally, he has given it to the Usain Bolt of the popular art world.

She was described by Noorzaman Rashid, chairman of the Firstsite board, as "one of the brightest stars of the art world".

Her credentials are certainly impressive.

She was previously chairwoman of the London Contemporary Visual Arts Network and head of programme at Modern Art Oxford.

As senior Curator for Art on the London Underground, she programmed a broad range of ambitious and unconventional artist commissions for a daily audience of four million tube passengers.

She also led the Fourth Plinth programme in Trafalgar Square while working for the former London mayor Boris Johnson and worked on contemporary art commissions for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Her favourite of these was Jeremy Deller's bouncy castle in the shape of Stonehenge which, to her, epitomised all that is good in contemporary art.

"The thing I liked about that was most people did not know it was art work.

"They were just having a good time and then saw the art work.

"That has been on a world tour now and has been bounced on by one million people.

"It is iconic, it says something about British culture. It is also good fun."

Sally's love of art was nurtured at her mother, Madge's, knee.

"She was an art teacher. When I was about three I started painting, doing watercolours.

"I studied at the Chelsea College of Art. I wanted to do Public Art because I had had a negative experience of contemporary art galleries where I felt I did not fit in.

"I felt they were elitist for those who did not have a certain knowledge of art. I was put off contemporary art galleries for some time."

Public art, put simply, is art which is in the public domain be it a sculpture in a park, street art or a mosaic in the pavement.

It is about inclusion and public engagement and explains Sally's approach to her new role.

"I have to bring in lots of suggestions," said said.

"I see a lot of galleries which have lots of ideas about exhibitions but no-one comes in.

"I genuinely want lots of people to be excited about contemporary art. They is no reason why people should not be engaged.

"From my career, I understand how to design exhibitions and activities which have a significant impact on the community."

Sally heaped praise Mr Roberts under whose leadership Firstsite attracted 125,000 visitors last year and said her ambition was now to increase those numbers.

She also sees the gallery as a catalyst for tourism, education and investment.

Despite her experience, there is no vanity here, no sense of 'I know best'.

Rather Sally wants to hear others views, constantly, through conversations, in a bid to understand and get the best out of Colchester.

She is currently living in Poplar, east London, with her husband, the internationally recognised sculptor Brian Griffiths, and their baby daughter, Verna.

Sally said she felt the time was right to become director of Firstsite. Professionally, it is the culmination of her experience in London and regional art.

Personally, she feels strongly women can have a family and a significant and responsible job.

Sally, who is 40, is not from Essex - but is keen to learn and understand.

Her first exhibition will centre around Martin Parr who Sally describes as one of the best photographers alive.

The exhibition will be called the Essence of Essex and everyone will be encouraged to send in photographs which depict their view of Essex and which will be entered into an online competition. The best will be chosen to be displayed in the gallery.

"The idea is you can see all these different views of Essex.

"This will also be something I can learn from. I am asking for interpretations so I can translate that into a programme."

Sally added: "Firstsite is a place to generate new ideas. Everyone has a stake in it and it is my job to listen to everyone."

Conversations will be held with anyone and everyone including established Colchester art groups, visitors and funders including the major financial backer, the Arts Council.

It funds Firstsite to the tune of £814,000 a year but dropped the gallery from its national portfolio due to concerns over its financial viability.

"I have worked with the Arts Council in lots of other places. I talk to them all the time.

"I report to them weekly but it is a conversation. I try to keep in conversation at all times."

In Sally's world, art and life collide continually and the best of worlds is where they are indistinguishable.

"The best art makes you see the world differently. I like art when you can't tell where the real world and the art world starts and finishes."