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Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards – Rupert Myer

Speeches and Opinions
Jan 29, 2016

The Federal Member for Mackellar, the Hon Bronwyn Bishop, representing the Prime Minister, The Hon Malcolm Turnbull, and the Minister for the Arts, Senator Mitch Fifield.

Louise Herron, CEO, Sydney Opera House.

Tonight’s award recipients, former recipients, artists from all over, Australia Council, Creative Partnership Australia and Ministry for the Arts colleagues, trustees of the SMF, board members of TMF, family members, all present.

I would like to acknowledge that we meet on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and I pay respects to elders past present and emerging.

I would like to thank Carrillo for the invitation to present these awards this evening.

Very shortly, I will be reading the citations. They are extraordinary, enlightening, exciting, brilliant.

Before doing so, I would like to say something about the awards and their role.

We are here as a consequence of a philanthropic act by our grandfather that has allowed our family, over decades now, with the support of management teams, to make grants and to support the community in many ways.

Having been established 50 years after his death, these awards honour our grandfather, Sidney Myer, who arrived in Australia in 1899. He was most certainly a refugee and, by the definitions that apply today to such migration, most probably an asylum seeker as well. I think it is relevant to consider his circumstances, and his strong desire to contribute to the cultural development of his adopted country.

It feels and is a bit awkward for me to heap praise on the Sidney Myer Fund. Nevertheless, I will break rank slightly to honour the role played across the arts by the Fund and the Myer Foundation.

I make the obvious fuzzy remarks of appreciation about my own family and the depth of real engagement with the arts that so many have: across and between different art forms, established and emerging, and in diverse geographies.

But the two philanthropic entities are more than just the family. They also reflect the managements over many decades. Nothing much happens without great management and the Fund and Foundation have had the good fortune of some great management teams including the present one.

Whilst the money is substantial and important and these awards are now unquestionably greatly respected, many of us have been moved by the number of times we have been told how respectful they are.

Respectful. Now there is a word that stares down time and history. Respectfulness for creative and artistic endeavour is a theme that has attached itself to these awards as revealed from the stories in the 30 Year book just published and the views of judges and panellists.

It is a theme that might more often be observed in public commentary about the arts. A recent instance makes a fine example of how we might observe respect being given.

Speaking last month at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and using his political capital and high office to pay deep respect to honour five performance artists, President Obama quoted President Kennedy’s remark:

There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts.

President Obama added:

I believe he was right. Our achievements as a country and as a culture go hand in hand. We honour five artists who have shaped and inspired us – helped to fortify our best instincts about ourselves.

What a great turn of phrase to express respect.

In this place, the Sydney Opera House, and on this occasion, an ideal moment is formed to dwell upon respect for artists, arts workers and arts organisations.

This is not about blind respect but respect borne of achievement, hard work, application, commitment.

We are occasionally confronted in public commentary by an absence of respect for the arts. At its most extreme, such commentary is hurtful, bullying, tormenting and contemptuous.

Respectfulness matters and it matters a lot. Creativity is a fragile flower. It needs care and time. There is often loneliness, anxiety and uncertainty, financial sacrifice, self-doubt and great courage is required. In the performing arts, intellectual application combines with physicality. This is demanding of the body and the mind, and the soul.

The gesture of respect to the artist, to the work, to the creative process is encouragement, support, protection, affirmation. Nurturing and practicing respect for the arts and for artists is critical to elevate the status of the arts, to drive ambition and to embed culture as being central to our lives.

The practical dimension of respect is one that Carrillo captures beautifully in the foreward to the book in which he writes that he hopes ‘it inspires you to go out and buy a ticket to one of their shows…’

And now to the awards:

2015 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award Facilitator Prize – Daniel Clarke

As Creative Producer and CEO of Theatre Works, Daniel Clarke has proven himself a most robust facilitator and a tireless forger of connections. After a successful period as director of Adelaide’s Feast Festival he took up his position at the St Kilda venue in 2011 and immediately set about not merely fulfilling his duties but expanding them to make Theatre Works one of the most dynamic and exciting venues in the country today.

Clarke has also relentlessly commissioned new work from Australian artists throughout his tenure at Theatreworks, and has helped develop the careers of a great number of significant emerging and midcareer performance makers, including THE RABBLE, Elbow Room, Nicola Gunn, Adena Jacobs, Little Ones Theatre, Sisters Grimm and Gary Abrahams and many, many more. Each have been 3 given both the freedom to push themselves in new directions and the security to take these risks, and the success rate of these ventures has been surprisingly high by any measure. Dan has provided opportunities for artists that didn’t exist beforehand. The most recent example is the Director’s Lab program at Melbourne Festival in partnership with Lincoln Centre Theatre in the US, and he has also helped create the Festival of Live Art along with a festival of new writing and has collaborated with a staggering number of already established festivals, companies and institutions across the country. In this he has proven a model facilitator, recognising that the nurturing of networks and communities achieves much more than supporting individuals alone can.

Dan has invested in the long-term development of Theatre Works with only very modest resources at his disposal, and has always maintained good humour and a broad generosity of spirit. This is reflected in the forthcoming Theatre Works program for 2016 and the judging panel looks forward to Arts Centre Melbourne incorporating his skillset and attitude into their programming team when he takes up his new position there shortly.

2015 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Group Award Winners – MOFO & DARK MOFO

MOFO is the Museum of Old and New Art’s January festival of music and art and DARK MOFO is the winter celebration of the dark, large-scale public art, food, music, light, film and noise created by Leigh Carmichael. 2016 marks the eighth MOFO and will see the fourth DARK MOFO in July.

MOFO, helmed by Brian Ritchie, is celebrated today for its combination of bold music and cross artform programming which provides a long weekend of high art and popular culture. MOFO’s aesthetic is irreverent and eclectic, combining eminent and emerging artists in a mash up of music styles, visual arts and performance. The festival has attracted thousands of visitors to the city of Hobart – many for the first time. In fact, almost half of attendees visit from outside of Tasmania. MOFO has become one of the state’s most highly anticipated annual events, with attendances doubling since 2012.

DARK MOFO, MOFO’s brooding younger sibling expands Hobart’s cultural calendar through its ten day celebration coinciding with the winter solstice. Creative Director, Leigh Carmichael instigated DARK MOFO in 2013 and it immediately turned the very notion of what an Australian arts festival can be on its head. Cold, dark and windy are not the conditions one usually associates with Australian festivals, but it is these very characteristics which DARK MOFO embraced in celebrating Hobart and its greater community.

MOFO and DARK MOFO, together, have bookended a major cultural and economic injection into Hobart and Tasmania over the past decade. They have revitalised the community’s sense of self and broadened international notions of Tasmania beyond tigers and trees. MOFO and DARK MOFO are festivals that all Australians are proud of Brian and Leigh have both given much in service of their respective visions.

Many have tried to do something new in Australia and many have tried to bring art forth where it once was lagging. Few have done so as successfully as Leigh and Brian and we look forward to attending many more MOFOs and DARK MOFOs in years to come.

2015 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Individual Award Winner – Ursula Yovich

Few artists have performed in North Arnhem Land, The Melbourne Cricket Ground, Carnegie Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. In fact, if any have, they haven’t done so with the class and charisma that Ursula Yovich brings to the stage each and every time she steps upon it.

Named as one of the 21 Most Iconic Women of the Australian Stage, Page and Screen by The Age, a five time Helpmann nominee, Burarra and Serbian woman, Ursula is one of the most treasured artists of her generation.

Ursula has been a part of many of the last decades’ most successful stage shows, TV series and films. Australia, Jindabyne, Redfern Now, Wheat Street, The Sapphires, The Sunshine Club, One Night The Moon, Waltzing the Wilara, Barefoot Divas, Pecan Summer — Australia’s first Indigenous Opera — Secret River and Mother Courage are just some of the works that have helped define the most recent era of Australian performing arts and Ursula has played a part in all of them.

Ursula has been embraced by audiences all over the world for her stagecraft and skill. She was awarded a Helpmann Award in 2007 for her performance in Capricornia and has since been nominated again for her role in The Jerry Springer Opera, The Wizard of Oz and again in 2011 for her one-woman show Magpie Blues.

Ursula exemplifies what courageous, honest, respectful public contribution looks like. Her acknowledgement of her heritage, its complexity and the frustrating context in which she often finds herself being portrayed make Ursula one of our most important artists.

Her skill and experience in a range of artforms makes her a worthy recipient of this Award and her passionate commitment to contemporary political issues make her someone the judging panel looks to for leadership on issues that many find challenging.

Rupert Myer