Rupert Myer AO
Chair, Australia Council for the Arts
Rupert Myer with that “permanent charm of youth” one would dare say, is the representation of adrenaline in its purest form. With a smile that powerfully inspires, he operates on a currency of ideas. Born with philanthropy in his blood and art advocator with the nose of a bloodhound, Australia watches as he changes the landscape and profile of the Australian art and culture scene leading it to a platform of whole new dynamics. Over coffee at The Westin Singapore, Rupert shares his philosophy of living life in parallel streams. “My personal passions all intersect and don’t remain parallel or stagnant. Of course this will cause a terrible muddle at times, but that is part of the pleasure of being able to exchange and share ideas.”
“Philanthropy is not only financial support but what you give of yourself as well.”
What Rupert stands for in business, philanthropy and the arts today carries the inevitable influence of his family’s history. Rupert’s grandfather Sidney Myer, businessman, philanthropist, arrived in Melbourne from Belarus in 1899. It was here in Melbourne that Sidney Myer laid the blueprints that brought the Myer name to fame. In business, he established Australia’s icon of department stores, Myer. Today Rupert is the only family member who sits on the Board of Myer Holdings. His grandparents in their trans-Pacific crossings between San Francisco and Melbourne fired the passion for collecting art with their collection of Chinese antiquities and jade. Sidney Myer was a man “who was incredibly engaged in the community and felt a great sense of pleasure in supporting different initiatives. He never talked about it as giving back, it was just giving as an act of generosity” says Rupert of his grandfather.
Later generations have continued with this interest of engaging in various philanthropic and business initiatives but the arts have always been of specific interest. In particular was Sidney Myer’s love of concert music being played outdoors, which led to the founding of the Sidney Myer Free Concerts. His estate was bequeathed with sufficient funds for such performances. Today the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of world-renowned conductors to about 40 000 people for 3 nights a year – for free.
Those who have observed him will say “Don’t be fooled, as he can be extremely analytical and tough where he needs to be”
As Chairman of the Australia Council for the Arts, these qualities would be expected. Rupert explains the strategy employed to steer Australian international art forward. According to him, “Australian art in all its forms is now more visible and recognised. There is a sense in which Australia comes across as an ambitious nation culturally and there is a wide array of opportunities for artists. There is the undeniable presence of Australia in contemporary dance, ballet, the visual arts, music, literature and theatre and there are many Australian arts professionals holding senior positions with the world’s great institutions”
The Australia Council is the Commonwealth Government’s principal arts funding agency. Rupert explains, “Our responsibility is to fund new and emerging art and administer the funding of major performing arts companies. As a national funding body we have a responsibility to focus on the whole country and entire arts sector. What’s changed in the last couple of years is that it is no longer easy to talk exclusively about individual arts because of the incredible fusion happening across and between different art forms.” For example, he explains, “in Melbourne last year, I attended a Victorian Opera production in collaboration with Malthouse Theatre. It was an operatic performance of “The Riders” by Tim Winton with original libretto and music compositions. A group of highly creative artists chose to tell the story through the medium of opera though, they were not handed the opera art form to start with. What is it called? Prior to now, public funding for such a production would have required multiple submissions to different funding sources. Now, this can be done through one process. ”
These are indeed very vibrant and exciting times internationally as can be seen in the Venice Biennale which is a great showcase for Australian artists.” This time Rupert says with pride, “the Biennale curator invited 7 Australian artists to participate and in addition to this there are about another 2 dozen Australian artists taking part. Senior Australian curator – Alexi Glass Kantor – who runs Artspace in Sydney, curated Art Basel Hong Kong’s Encounters, the 2015 edition, so it was all the more exciting for Australia”
A related area of focus is to encourage and facilitate international curators to visit and work in Australia and to give Australians the opportunity to enjoy contemporary international art. The Australia Council, together with the New South Wales government, co-funds the Sydney Biennale, which is a platform for programs by international artists.
Under Rupert’s chairmanship, the Australia Council has adopted an ‘artist-centric’ approach that ensures that the support and promotion of artists and their work is the priority. “This complements our system of arms length from Government, peer assessment, which means funding applications are assessed by people with expertise or knowledge in arts practice and the arts sector who are best placed to make a determination of the merit of artistic proposals.” Rupert states that the Council is ultimately responsible to the Australian government, Australian artists and the people.
“If you put your hand up early on in life for a role in the arts, the experience you get in that position helps you make your own luck when being considered for other roles”
His first involvement in the arena of art and culture began when he was asked to join the National Gallery of Victoria Foundation in early 1990s. It was rather unusual as he was the youngest Board member then.
From there he went on to chair the Foundation and serve as trustee of the Gallery and then as Board member of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney.
In 2001 he was asked to chair a Commonwealth Government inquiry into the contemporary visual arts and crafts sector which made recommendations for the structure and levels of government funding of the sector, legislation, copyright, re-sale royalty, artists’ incomes and training and private sector support for the arts. Many of the recommendations were adopted by government…
What’s in store?
In the future one can expect Rupert to continue to energetically pursue the Australia Council’s strategic plans to support and promote Australian art and artists at home and internationally. At the same time, his business interests, enjoying time with friends, and most importantly with his family, will be part of his ‘parallel streaming’.
Rupert 的祖父 Sidney Myer，一名长袖善舞的商人和慈善家，1899年来到墨尔本，原籍白俄罗斯。祖父奠定他们家族的成名蓝图，在经营中，他建立了澳大利亚百货商场的图标 – Myer。今天 Rupert 是唯一在 Myer 控股董事会的家族成员。
另外，由于 Sidney Myer 热爱户外音乐会，继而促成“ Sidney Myer 免费乐团”的成立。他的遗产捐赠资金足以支持这样的表演。今天，墨尔本交响乐团由世界著名指挥家带领，一年3次为约4万人提供免费演出。
作为澳大利亚议会艺术委员会主席，Rupert Myer 解析澳大利亚艺术朝国际前进的策略。“澳大利亚艺术的形式和定位更加明显和确定，雄心勃勃的国家文化和各色艺术家共冶一炉。我们有当代舞、芭蕾舞和视觉艺术。另外，音乐，文学和戏剧皆有不可忽视的存在，许多澳大利亚艺术专业人员正在全球最好的机构担任高级职务。”
他自豪的说，在威尼斯双年展，共有数十名澳大利亚艺术家参加，而澳大利亚籍高级策展人 – Alexi Glass Kantor ，策划了2015年香港巴塞尔艺术节，让本国艺术更大放异彩。
Rupert认为，理事会必须向澳大利亚政府、艺术家和人民负责到底。“如果你扮演某个角色，那么你造就了本身丰富经验，会在其他角色方面更显得游刃有余。”他第一次站上艺术文化的舞台，始于1990年初加入维多利亚国家美术馆，当时他是最年轻的董事会成员，作为开端，Rupert Myer 也陆续成为基金会主席悉尼现代艺术博物馆的董事会成员等。