It is an absolute pleasure to be here this evening – in this globally recognised centre for excellence in design and craftsmanship; in the very heart of Adelaide’s West End arts precinct; in a city that is energised with arts and culture, on the very cusp of ‘Mad March’.
It is an absolute privilege to be standing on Kaurna land. I pay my respect to the Kaurna peoples’ custodianship of this land. I pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging. And I pay my respect to the strength and vibrancy of their continuing living culture.
It is an absolute honour to open CONCRETE, the final exhibition in Jam Factory’s acclaimed ‘art design architecture’ series, which has celebrated the links between these three disciplines through the very materials that surround us: WOOD, GLASS, STEEL, and culminating with CONCRETE.
As I mulled over what I could possibly say about ‘concrete’ to a gathering of expert, highly informed practitioners, I was struck by a very personal thought:
For 16 years, I reflected, as CEO of our national opera company, I worked under the inspiring sails of the Sydney Opera House. Whatever the challenges of the day, it was always a joy to walk across that concourse, under the spell of those magnificent white sails. And the most profound technical challenge that had to be overcome to build the Sydney Opera House was, of course, just how to pre-cast its massive and inspiring concrete sails – all movement and aspiration. Could there be a more dramatic example of ambitious form and function; of the material and the aesthetic? Built on a site sacred to the Gadigal people, those famous sails are now lit up every day of the year by projections of outstanding First Nations arts.
And this put me in mind of so many other profoundly important public buildings, built in the second half of the 20th Century; all expressing cultural confidence and ambition – the Southbank precinct of Brisbane, home to QAGOMA and QPAC. (QPAC, which is is exploring the songlines of the area through Fred Leone’s story – Beneath the Concrete.)
Or, Melbourne’s Arts Centre – Roy Ground’s homage to pure geometric forms, almost perfected but ultimately compromised by trying to found the State Theatre in the Yarra mud!
By contrast, I think of the creative re-use of structures designed purely for their function – the ghostly majesty of our regional grain silos and the enterprising silo art trail that has been created in regional West Australia, where old grain silos are being transformed into giant works of art, bringing both beauty and abundant tourism to rural areas.
And here, in Adelaide, I see the dynamism of concrete everywhere.
In 1973 (the same year as the JamFactory was established) I was young and impressionable when the striking roof of the Adelaide Festival Centre emerged, signalling (along with Don Dunstan’s hot pants) an efflorescence of art and creativity in this city.
I am told that Concrete has a rare quality: it gains strength over time! It’s complex, resistant and powerful; and its appeal lies in its durability, abundance and versatility. So now, prepare yourself for a shameless segue! (I’m the very new CEO of the Australia Council, so surely I can claim an early indulgence? And there’s nothing more indulgent than a gratuitous segue!)
‘Complex; resistant; powerful; durable; abundant and versatile’ – sounds like what we want, and have, in the arts.
It’s central to my mission as the new CEO of the Australia Council to ensure that there is greater recognition of the true public value of arts and creativity in this country.
I know that I am preaching to the converted in this room when I say that the arts make our individual lives better and build stronger, more cohesive communities. They help us understand ourselves and develop new ideas. They contribute to our health and wellbeing; and are fundamental to our education. They shape how we are seen by others and our international reputation. They make our cities more livable and our lives more meaningful. They help us understand our past and present, and imagine our future.
I believe that arts and creativity have immense potential to shape our national story in all its increasing complexity, and to help lead this country to a better version of itself.
We can ensure that Australia’s rich diversity is truly reflected across the breadth of our arts.
And we can move arts, culture and creativity out of the fringes, to the very centre of good policy-making.
The CONCRETE exhibition we celebrate tonight is a potent example of the extraordinary artistry and skill that Australia is home to.
The Australia Council has a longstanding relationship with the JamFactory, and I look forward to building my own relationship with this unique organisation.
I also look forward to contributing to the structures and strength of this vibrant creative sector – a complex, resistant, durable, abundant and versatile sector.
And then, JamFactory is moving the immovable – showcasing vibrant art, design and architecture across five states.
I am delighted to open CONCRETE, and please join with me in congratulating all those involved.
May we all gain strength over time!
 Badu Gili – meaning ‘water light’ – is a daily experience that explores ancient First Nations stories in a spectacular seven-minute projection. They illuminate the Opera House’s eastern Bennelong sail year-round at sunset and 9pm. https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/visit-us/BaduGili.html
 Fred Leone, Beneath the Concrete. Songlines and Dreamtime: Stories that Survived the Test of Time, Queensland Performing Arts Centre. https://www.qpac.com.au/the-creatory/people-places/beneath-the-concrete-by-fred-leone/
 FORM’s PUBLIC Silo Trail. https://www.publicsilotrail.com/