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Kathy Keele Addresses The 17th Biennale Of Sydney

Speeches and Opinions
Oct 26, 2010

Kathy Keele, CEO of the Australia Council for the Arts, speaks at the 17th Biennale of Sydney. Addressing Australian and international artists and collaborators whose works features in the Biennale, Kathy announces the Nick Waterlow OAM Curatorial Fellowship.

Good afternoon, welcome to you all.

I acknowledge that we are on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and pay my respects to their elders, past and present…

And this is the right place to pay respects to Indigenous artists across this country, and welcome particularly the 41 Yolngu artists, whose memorial poles are such a magnificent part of this Biennale of Sydney.

Thank you Luca. It’s a pleasure to be introduced by another generation of Belgriorno-Nettis, by your generous family of Biennale supporters.

On behalf of the Australia Council of the Arts, today we want to acknowledge you the Australian and international artists and collaborators whose work features in this year’s Biennale.  This event, The Beauty of Distance, features 166 artists and collaborators from 36 different countries.

Welcome to Sydney, welcome to Australia, welcome to this 17th Biennale exhibition.

For some, it’s a surprise that Sydney is actually the fourth longest running Biennale in the world …after Venice (which got the head start in 1895); after Sao Paulo, and after Documenta in Kassel.

The Sydney Biennale was, in fact, born the same year as the Australia Council, when in 1973 the new Visual Arts Board gave one of our first grants to the inaugural Biennale. With Transfield and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we were delighted to be at the birth.  And we’re proud to be still partnering.

From the start, the aim of the Biennale has been to demystify contemporary art and to attract a broader audience – inspiring people to engage not only with art, but with the experience and ideas it can bring from around the world.

Now in its 37th year, the Biennale has grown into the largest and one of the most eagerly anticipated international contemporary art events. It positions Sydney internationally as a centre for culture and the arts.

The Art Newspaper said in 2008 that it is on the international list of the 200 most visited exhibitions.

And the Biennale’s achievement was recognized that year by two prestigious awards, for the ‘Australian Event of the Year’ and for ‘Best Cultural or Arts Event’.

Over 436 000 people attended that last Biennale. And partner venues, such as the Museum of Contemporary Art and Cockatoo Island – and what an exciting new venue that is! – herald new imaginative ways to further extend the reach and impact of the event, and bring new audiences.

All this is bringing a real economic benefit for Australia – now calculated to be $53 million.

The Biennale also has a history of showing artists early in their career and commissioning new works.

This year there are 22 new works by Australian artists in the exhibition and the Visual Arts Board is pleased to give added support to this aspect, by contributing to artist fees and production costs. It is one way the Australia Council underpins the development of artists’ careers and incomes – which is a key strategic priority for us.

The Biennale has also demonstrably increased the international profile of Australian artists.  We are witnesses to that growth, every alternate year at the Venice Biennale, where the Australia Council funds and manages our Australian representation. We’ve been doing that for almost as long as we’ve been partners with the Biennale of Sydney.

But as well as a funding relationship, the Biennale and the Australia Council share other bonds.

The Artistic Director of the 1979 Biennale European Dialogue was Nick Waterlow.

Nick went on to be the Director of our Visual Arts Board. An inspirational director, Nick was instrumental in establishing the pre-cursor to Artslaw, and, as many of you know, was a powerful advocate for the moral rights of artists.

Later Nick returned to the Biennale of Sydney, curating his two further Biennales. Even after that, Nick maintained his association in many ways, including chairing the Biennale selection committee in 2000.

He had an unyielding commitment and dedication to the arts. Only a fortnight before his untimely death, Nick was actively engaged with the Visual Arts Board in evaluating the current visual arts and craft strategy.

Today I want to announce a way the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and the Biennale of Sydney plan to honour the contribution that Nick made to both our organisations, and to Australia’s engagement with contemporary art.

And I’m delighted to have Nick’s son, Luke Waterlow, with us for the moment.

First though, I want to quote Professor Ted Snell, Chair of the Visual Arts Board, who is with us today.   Ted said this about Nick Waterlow…

‘While his accomplishments are legion, he wore them lightly. He was always enthused by the ideas and projects of others, always gracious when offering assistance to younger artists, always supporting and promoting Australian art

…and always prepared to take a stand.’

‘He was the quintessential mentor, the consummate curator, the always excitable and provocative conversationalist, a great museum director, a wily arts bureaucrat, a catalyst to every good idea …and an inspiration to us all.’

And so, on behalf of Ted Snell and the Visual Arts Board, and in partnership with the Biennale of Sydney, the Australia Council announces The Nick Waterlow OAM Curatorial Fellowship.

This curatorial fellowship will be awarded to a young curator who will be mentored by the Artistic Director of the Biennale over the two-year exhibition cycle.

The first fellowship will be awarded later this year to coincide with the appointment of the 2012 Artistic Director.

The recipient will work with the Artistic Director and exhibition team in the planning, administration, programming and delivery of the 2012 Biennale of Sydney. It’s a two-year full time fellowship position, providing a wonderful opportunity to be mentored by an international curator.

In its spirit and its name, I think you’ll agree that it’s very much the NICK WATERLOW Fellowship.

Now I just wish to congratulate the artistic director David Elliott and CEO Marah Braye on delivering the 17th Biennale of Sydney.

Enjoy lunch and thank you for being a part of The Beauty of Distance.

Full details for the Nick Waterlow OAM Fellowship, including the application process, deadlines and criteria will be released in July. For more infomation click here