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.


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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 Aussie troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, and in 1975 our PM was controversially dismissed.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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Victorian Ministry for the Arts Annual Report (cover) 1979/80
Ken Russell's Madame Butterfly, Victoria State Opera, performed at Spoleto Festival 1986


Inaugural Spoleto Festival

Melbourne's annual international arts festival, now known as Melbourne Festival, started life as 'Spoleto Melbourne – Festival of Three Worlds' in 1986, and was presented alongside sister events in Spoleto, Italy and Charleston, United States.


The inaugural Artistic Director was Italian Maestro Gian Carlo Menotti, and his first festival program included international performances from The Royal National Ballet of Spain, New York's Nikolais Dance Theatre and the Washington State Opera, alongside Australian companies such as Sydney Dance Company, Danceworks and Circus Oz.

There were world premiere productions from local theatre companies including MTC, Playbox, Antill, the Church and Home-Cooking. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performed a series of schools concerts; Astra choir presented a mobile concert in Collins Street; and the Victorian State Opera staged Madame Butterfly, directed by British film director, Ken Russell, whose work also featured in the festival's film program.

The visual arts program included exhibitions of sculpture, photography, painting and contemporary Italian furniture design.

The first Melbourne Writers' Festival was held in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival, and companion events, Spoleto Fringe and Piccolo Spoleto, a celebration of Melbourne's diverse cultures, were also launched.

Gian Carlo Menotti retired as Artistic Director at the conclusion of the third annual Spoleto Festival in September 1988, and designer, creative director and Academy Award winner, John Truscott, was appointed his successor. After three festivals he was followed by Richard Wherrett AM (1992-93), Leo Schofield AM (1994-96), Clifford Hocking AM (1997), Sue Nattrass (1998-99), Jonathan Mills AO (2000-01), Robyn Archer AO (2002-04), Kristy Edmunds (2005-08) and Brett Sheehy AO (2009-12). Each has each put a distinctive stamp on the festival, which was renamed Melbourne International Festival of the Arts in 1990, and is now known as Melbourne Festival.

Josephine Ridge was appointed Creative Director for the 2013 festival and beyond.

Each year Melbourne Festival presents a 17-day program of international and Australian arts, across dance, theatre, music, visual art, multimedia, and outdoor events. It continues to bring a wide array of leading international artists and arts companies to Melbourne and provides a platform for Australia's best.

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