Arts Flashback

To celebrate Arts Victoria's 40th anniversary we've hit the archives
and uncovered some choice moments in the development of
Victoria's arts sector.

Click on the images below to view the stories and photo galleries, share them with others, and find out how Victoria grew to be the arts and cultural powerhouse it is today.


Bell-bottoms, handlebar moustaches, platform shoes, our daring approach to fashion (and facial hair) belied an era of serious social change and political drama in 1970s Australia.

We scrapped the White Australia Policy and welcomed an era of multiculturalism. Aussie troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and in 1975 our PM was controversially dismissed.

We had more leisure time that ever before. Norm coaxed us off the couch with Life. Be in it and we got fit. But when we weren't out BMXing, ten-pin bowling or roller-skating, we were listening to Skyhooks and Sherbet, tuning into the new world of FM radio, and watching Number 96 on our brand new colour TVs.

Here in Victoria, a creative community of artists, craftspeople, theatre-makers and musicians were laying the foundation of the mighty independent arts sector we enjoy today.

Premier Rupert Hamer put the arts firmly on the Government's agenda with the creation of Australia's first state Ministry for the Arts. Its first priorities? Getting the construction of Southbank's Arts Centre complex moving, creating a chain of regional performing arts centres, and bringing art out into the public.

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Paul Clarkson Photo:Terry Forester '1987'
Paul Clarkson Photo: Terry Forester 1987


Paul Clarkson appointed Ministry Director

Paul Clarkson AO was appointed Director of the Victorian Ministry for the Arts (later Arts Victoria), following the retirement of inaugural Director, Dr Eric Westbrook. During his 15 years at the helm, Paul led the Ministry through two changes of Government, the creation of Australia's first state cultural policy, and a name change!


Amongst his many achievements in the role, Paul was responsible for the introduction of peer panels for the assessment of arts grants, a system which is still in place today.

Paul said the process, which was inspired by a study trip to North America, ensured that applications for funding were assessed equitably, and took into account a breadth of views and expertise.

"It also had the secondary benefit of opening up the process to the industry. It meant that as we rolled over membership of the panels frequently, more people understood the process and it became transparent."

He cites this, alongside the development of a groundbreaking community arts program and the creation of Victoria's first cultural policy Mapping Our Culture (1991), as highlights of his directorship. However he singles out the achievement of building a unique team at the Ministry.

"I am pretty sure we had a reputation throughout Australia as the best arts department and it was because we had a team of dedicated people who were terrific in terms of their commitment and vision."

Major new developments of the period, such as the opening of Melbourne's Arts Centre and the establishment of the Melbourne Spoleto Festival (now Melbourne International Arts Festival), weren't without their challenges.

"I was fortunate enough to be attend [Victorian Arts Centre] Trust meetings for the last two years of construction and then for 12 years of operation. The building phase was an extraordinary period, with amazing industrial unrest and problems. There was nervousness in the arts community about the impact of this great new organisation on the artistic life of Melbourne, on their own operations and how it would be funded.

"The first [Trust] meeting I ever went to was [designer] John Truscott's first meeting: he had just arrived from America and [architect] Roy Grounds was there. The Trust was not happy with Roy's interiors, which were very architectural. George [Fairfax] convinced the Trust that John Truscott should be brought back from America to do the interiors. There was not enough in the budget to finance his vision, so the Trust decided to spend the total interiors allocation for the Arts Centre on what is now Hamer Hall and to fundraise the money to do all the theatres interiors. Which it did."

Likewise, the notion of staging an international arts festival in Melbourne was met with some apprehension.

"The union's view was that we could have an international arts festival as long as all the artists were Australian. Go figure. We had a major task in bringing the unions around, as did I in bringing the government to the funding table, which it agreed to. It was funded through an industry development budget and not the arts budget."

In his time as Director, Paul admired those in Victoria's arts sector who had a strong vision and drive, and kept pressure on the government for funding and support.

"People like Marjorie Johnson at the Meat Market Craft Centre. Premier Hamer had bought that difficult building, but Marjorie was wonderful in developing a vision for its use, and it is a great sadness that it did not blossom into something permanent. Others were Sue Walker at the Tapestry Workshop, Maudie Palmer at Heide, Jill Smith and Carillo Ganter at Playbox, and Helmut Bakaitas at St Martins Youth Arts Centre."

On the future of the arts in Victoria, Paul admits to a degree of pessimism.

"I think we are in a period where in terms of public policy at both at the federal and state levels the arts are not up there. You can see why – all the other areas such as health, education, transport and so on are all in such terrible straits financially. The cultural life of the city is deemed to be very good and very vibrant, but it's a question for the future of how it is all sustained.

"Fortunately we have an amazing range and quality of infrastructure and we have extraordinarily talented people. In the end I am sure the talent and creativity will triumph."

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