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International Society of Performing Arts Fellowship Announcement 3 June 2016 – Dr Wendy Were

Speeches and Opinions
Jun 29, 2016

I would like to begin by also acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet – the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal people here today.

Well. On Wednesday, Claire Spencer noted in her opening remarks that arts funding in Australia has a rather high profile right now.

Our international visitors are now no doubt now aware, if they weren’t already, of the immediate challenges faced by the Australian arts sector.

There is no question that there is a need for significantly greater investment in the arts in this country.

The arguments for public investment in the arts are many – the value multi-faceted, intrinsic and instrumental. All of us here know this. We live this. However, many remain who question the value of public investment in the arts, have little awareness or appreciation for the work and impact of artists, and the Australia Council. How we address these gaps is embedded in our advocacy and the communications which support it.

The changes to the Council’s budget last May occurred just months after we’d launched a new strategy and a new arts funding framework. Both were shaped from the ground up, by, with and for the sector, built from deep consultation and sector input. A reimagining of the government’s arms’ length peer assessed arts funding and advisory body, as imagined by the art sector.

I can tell you that we are seeing that the model works. We are receiving more diverse applications, with more first time applicants. There is a much higher level of investment in the art of our first peoples. New voices are being heard – though it’s clear we still have a long way to go before the art we see on our stages is truly representative, as Annette Shun Wah put it on Wednesday, of the people we see on the street.

The budget cuts mean that our framework does not have the investment with which it was designed to be delivered. This is the truth with which we are all contending.

We have such a strong and vibrant arts culture in this country. But the reality is that there are many more excellent and deserving artists and organisations than we currently have the capacity to support. This is cold comfort to those excellent organisations and why continued advocacy for increased investment is pressing and urgent.

And we know that investment in the arts has an extraordinary rate of return. Making a case for the arts and measuring impact in our communities over time is more vital than ever. Council’s role in research and advocacy has never been more important, as a strategically developed evidence base for the arts will play a pivotal role in the case for greater public investment.

We are acutely aware, also, of the key role that the Australia Council has played in international development for Australian arts. The Council has been the lead public investor in Australian international arts activity, supporting artists and arts organisations to take up the creative, economic, and development opportunities offered by international mobility.

We’ve been widely viewed as a best practice arts council by the international arts community and our peers. The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies – IFACCA – made a submission in support of the Australia Council’s work through the Senate Inquiry process of last year, as did many international partners and presenting organisations. This was deeply appreciated. As many of you are here today, this is an opportunity to say thank you.

International arts activity takes time, money and collaborative networks. Over the years, we have built strong relationships with many international partners including:


  • a long term – now seven-year – partnership with IETM
  • a new three-year partnership with PS122 in New York via their COIL Festival
  • new partnerships coordinating the presence of First Nations artists from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan and the US
  • a wonderful reciprocal partnership with the National Arts Council Singapore on contemporary dance
  • and of course, our partnership with ISPA on the regional fellowships.


A number of people who shaped this work at Council over the years are in this room today – among them Collette Brennan, Karilyn Brown, Fenn Gordon, Elaine Chia. Their contribution to the Council’s international vision has been enormous. I’m reminded, almost daily, that I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Resilience, as we all know, is a well-honed feature of the arts community, but there are limits. One pressure point that has been thrown into stark relief over the last year has been the strength and fragility of our international arts engagement. The sudden dearth of available funding for international presentation that happened in the month following the May 2015 budget, and the uncertainty of organisational and project funding, has been devastating to the long term plans of regularly touring organisations and artists. The deep and lasting relationships, built up with international presenters over decades, forged on trust and reliability, have been jeopardised.

The long game we are all playing in international arts development has been significantly tested. Maintaining the important ground we have made with over two decades of sustained investment is an urgent priority. We have been working to ensure that the good work of many years – Council’s work and the work of the sector we serve – will not be undone.

The Australian Performing Arts Market in February was again a resounding success in stimulating global interest in Australian work. But it couldn’t have happened at a more uncertain time. Recognising urgent need and current constraints in both Australia Council and Catalyst funding with regard to quick response, we immediately allocated some of the partial return of funds from the Ministry for the Arts to create the APAM presentation fund. Not to follow through on the opportunities that were generated at APAM would have been disastrous. The relationships of many years had to be sustained. The response to our call for applications after APAM was resounding, and we’ve received well over $1m of applications which we’re assessing next week, and we’ll be announcing as quickly as we can. It’s what we can do, in the here and the now.

Our International Development Managers

While funding remains an important element of support for international work, equally important is advice and introductions, made possible through market intelligence and established networks to fast track the international aspirations of Australian artists. We continue our work in supporting our artists to develop relationships and seek international opportunities not only in the established markets of North America and western Europe but increasingly in our own neighbourhood, the source of much potential and richness. Here at ISPA are two of the Australia Council’s three International Development Managers.

Rosie Hinde and Kathryn Deyell are part of the team we’ve been building to respond to the need for an ongoing and active presence in key international markets.

The International Development Managers are “connectors”. They build networks and relationships. They share market intelligence. They assist Australian artists to engage internationally. They work to increase audiences for Australian arts in key international markets.

Our International Development Managers are focussed on opportunities in three, albeit very large, regions:


  • North and South Asia,
  • North America and
  • Western and Northern Europe.


Continuing support programs

We also continue to deliver important support programs, such as our Regional Presenters program that has just been launched last month. Remember Go See – the fund that enabled presenters to travel to see work? This is better. It is an audience and presenter development program designed to allow regional arts presenters to plan a year’s travel, seeing Australian works and building networks with producers. It aims to build programming skills to attract, diversify and retain audiences in regional areas and to enable a much greater diversity of work to reach the audiences who hunger for it. It’s another ‘long game’ investment for development over time.

Launching the ISPA fellowship

And today I can announce that the Australia Council is, right here and now, opening the call for applications for the next round of the Australia Council ISPA Regional Fellowship Program.

This program is about making Australian performing arts leaders as strong, resilient and creative as possible, global in their outlook and networks.

Four of our five past ISPA fellows are with us at this Congress. Their feedback about their three-year engagement with ISPA has been overwhelmingly positive and the benefits of this investment in our people simply undeniable. We can’t not do this again. And so we are.

About the Regional Fellowship Program

The regional fellowship program provides an opportunity to engage with ideas, thinkers and leaders from the world’s most significant performing arts organisations.

We are looking for another five mid-career leaders from Australia’s performing arts community.

They will join, at last count, a cohort of 52 fellows from around the world.

The five successful fellows will receive:


  • three years membership and full registration to the New York ISPA Congress starting from Jan 2017
  • admission to the one-day arts management seminar prior to the congress
  • funds to assist with travel and accommodation when attending the Congress; and
  • pairing with an ISPA member as a mentor.


Applications open today – right now, in fact – and the deadline is the 30th June. More information is now online at the ISPA and Council websites.

Arts investment needs to be consistent and transparent. It needs to be long term in its strategy and responsive in its delivery. It’s best when unfettered by agendas and made by those with deep knowledge of arts practice.

It’s been quite a year. Perhaps it’s one we’d all like to reimagine.

In fact, Wesley Enoch already has done this for us. After the four year announcements, he said “this is not the week the Arts died in this country. This is a week we will look back on and say it was the week we found our voice. It was the week we stepped up and not down.”

In Australia we expect that our artists will exercise freedom of expression, and be recognised for being fearless and taking risks as they develop and present inspiring, high quality work across national and international borders. Australians are increasingly looking for opportunities to access and participate in the arts, as audiences and creators. We are committed to ensuring that diversity amongst our artists, artistic practice, and audiences is supported and celebrated, and that our art reflects our diverse nation.

And at Council, we continue to advocate for increased investment in the arts. There are challenges still to come and much to be done. I’ve tried to share some light today whilst acknowledging the shade. This is a time of transition, some intended, much not, during which we are seeing the resilience and passion of the arts as a community.