Arts and culture as important as sport

Mathew Westwood, ‘Tony Abbott says arts and culture as important as sport’, The Australian, 30 September 2014

TONY Abbott has told a private dinner of arts leaders that art and culture are as important to Australia as sporting achievements.

Hours after he returned to Canberra from the UN in New York, the Prime Minister on Sunday met 12 senior arts figures for informal talks on the arts sector.

Among the guests were the Queensland Ballet’s Li Cunxin, Opera Australia’s Lyndon Terracini and National Gallery of Australia chairman Allan Myers and director Ron Radford, who retires from the gallery today.

Arts Minister George Brandis also attended the dinner in the Prime Minister’s private dining room at Parliament House.

Mr Abbott told guests that he wanted to learn from the arts sector, and heard a discussion about its successes and challenges. The conversation included the importance of private-sector support for the arts, and the international role of arts organisations in cultural diplomacy.

Virginia Lovett, executive director of Melbourne Theatre Company, said Mr Abbott spoke with enthusiasm for the arts.

“It was encouraging that the Prime Minister had people from the sector around the table and was listening,” Ms Lovett said.

“It’s not often you have an opportunity to sit down with the Prime Minister.”

The guests included John Bell, founder of Bell Shake-speare, Paul Dyer, founder of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Andre Gremillet, managing director of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and Rory Jeffes, executive director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Joining them were David McAllister, artistic director of the Australian Ballet, Patrick McIntyre, executive director of Sydney Theatre Company, and Angus Trumble, director of the National Portrait Gallery.

Mr Jeffes said Mr Abbott spoke with conviction about the importance of the arts and to Australia’s image as a modern and sophisticated nation.

“He recognises that a society’s artistic endeavours are a facet of what makes a strong and cohesive community,” he said. “He applauded the strategies employed by a number of organisations to extend their reach and engage with as broad a range of Australians as possible, including the importance of regional access and touring.”