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2018 Australia Council Awards – Rupert Myer AO

Speeches and Opinions
Mar 20, 2018

Thank you, Uncle Allen, for your warm welcome and Matthew Doyle for the yidaki sweep and thank you Lee-Ann for guiding us through this evening!

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, on whose land we meet. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples here today.

We are honoured to be in good company tonight. I welcome our distinguished award recipients, the Federal Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke and NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin, as well as an impressive group of Australian artists, arts leaders, and arts supporters.  I am very pleased to welcome you on behalf of the Board and staff of the Australia Council.

Last year we celebrated the recipients of the 2017 Australia Council Awards individually at arts events throughout the year, but I would like the acknowledge them as a group – Kate Grenville, Lyn Williams, Stephen Page, Madeline Flynn, Susan Cohn, Rosemary Myers, Steve Mayer-Miller and Ali Khadim.

As we are able to bring the awards together again this year, I am reminded how fortunate Australia is to have such breadth and diversity of artistic talent and cultural depth, led by the unique arts and cultures of our First Nations communities and enriched by the diverse peoples who have made Australia home.

Against a background of vibrant new performances across the country, arts and writers festivals, biennials, triennials and biennales and contemporary exhibitions everywhere, new spaces for contemporary art, everyday work in communities, tonight we celebrate 8 exceptional Australians. 8 colleagues, friends and luminaries who have each, in their own inimitable ways, contributed so significantly to their area of practice and to enriching our creative and cultural life.

Nigel Helyer, Pat Brassington, Phillip Adams, Edwin Kemp Attrill, Christian Ramillo, Liza Lim, Bruce Pascoe and Liz Jones…what a privilege to have this line up of artists in one place, being celebrated for their contribution to their art forms and to the way Australian arts and culture is appreciated internationally.  And we honour and recognise the training and education, time, skill, devotion, persistence, resilience, tenacity, triumph, failure, rebuilding, energy expended, generosity.

Individually and collectively they epitomise what we aspire to in the arts. Each has pushed the boundaries of their practice, broken down disciplines, thinking and borders in their collaborations, and found new ways to tell stories and engage audiences. When we talk about cultural ambition, this is what it looks like. Artists who are not content with the status quo in any dimension of their practice and beyond. They are makers, advocates, disrupters and influencers.

But, there is something more.  My friend Juliet Darling expressed in beautifully when we met recently:

Great art shows us how to feel; how to face our feelings and our actions.  It is both passionate and objective.  The artist struggles in solitude with something to say.  Art is not an escape from life, but a plunge into life, into reality.  It is always the voice of an individual, never the voice of a country

However, their impact is universal.  The Australia Council’s research has reminded us in the past year that Australians benefit from the arts in powerful ways, and it is individual artists who are always at the centre.  Artists’ minds, talent and creativity give us different perspectives and other glimpses of the human condition, our environment, our culture, our belonging.  Their work enables us to lead our lives more fully, with greater empathy, with richer and more intense experiences.  More broadly, the arts contribute to more creative and connected communities, they can improve the outcomes across almost every part of life, and they strengthen our position as a diverse, inclusive and innovative nation.

I am conscious that there might be some who’d say, “Well he would say that, he’s the Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts.  What else could he say?” So why do I feel so confident that what I am asserting is reliable?  That research that we publish shows some remarkable numbers and proves up that almost all Australians participate in the arts in some manner either through live events, reading books, creatively participating ourselves and in attending First Nation Arts.

We are drowning in data that positions the arts as central to our lives which so summarily debunks any nonsense about arts and culture being for the privileged few.  Widespread, engaged, inclusive, arts and culture are experienced and valued in some measure by all of us and that experience is as relevant in our everyday as it is in the nation’s ballot boxes.  The issues that appeal to electorates are ones that are often defined in our cultural experiences and memories. And this is as true in regional Australia as it is in the big cities.

As we gather here tonight to celebrate strong independent voices from across geography and art form, we do so recognising the different artistic and  cultural languages and expressions, their generosity, freshness, insightfulness.

The Australia Council awards are an important way that we can champion the achievement and contribution of our leading artists. I am delighted to be celebrating the extraordinary contributions of our 2018 award recipients and look forward hearing from each of them.

It is now my great pleasure to introduce Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield.  Senator Fifield is a constant presence in the sector, visible at arts events across the nation, encouraging his parliamentary colleagues to participate more fully in the cultural life of the nation and deeply appreciative of and knowledgeable about the benefits of the arts across communities. Would you join me in welcoming Senator Fifield.


Rupert Myer AO, Chair, Australia Council for the Arts