David Gonski gathers patrons for UK-Australia arts season

24.06.21 | Press

David Gonski gathers patrons for UK-Australia arts season

Australian Financial Review 24 June 2021

First came the free trade deal between Britain and Australia, now comes the biggest ever organised cultural exchange between the countries.

The UK/Australia season, a collaboration between the British Council and the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), will from September see artists, thought-leaders and academics of both nations collaborate to create a season of work spanning theatre, film, visual arts, dance, design, architecture, music, literature and higher education.

All of the projects will respond to the question “who are we now?“, reflecting on both nations’ history and examining their present and future relationship.

David Gonski, the investment banker and prolific director who will act as co-chair of the season, stressed that the question was an open one.

“There’s no designation as to what anyone should say or do,” he said.

“You can be a republican, non-republican, whatever you like. We want to promote the relationship for the good of both countries, and part of that is bringing up to date our concept of what the relationship is.”

More than 200 live and digital events are planned for the UK/Australia Season. Among those showcasing British culture in Australia is an Adelaide Festival 2022 collaboration with Chineke! Orchestra, the first professional orchestra in Europe comprising a majority of black and Asian musicians.

Meanwhile, BAFTA-winning artist Chris Watson will work with the Wiradjuri community to develop an audio project based on recordings of its native language being spoken on country. An entire village in the Riverina, Muttama – which sits on a creek that remains an important pathway for the Wiradjuri – will be transformed into a “listening site” for the project.

‘Pivotal point’ in relationship
In Britain, Sydney-based artist Keg De Souza will transform Inverleith House, in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, into “Climate House”, a temporary place for “explorers, scientists, artists and thinkers” to interrogate the impact of climate change.

The British Film Institute and ACMI, Australia’s national museum of screen culture, will jointly curate programs across film, performance and moving image art that explore the themes of representation and identity behind the “who are we now?” question.

Then, early next year, the Australian World Orchestra, a “pick-up” orchestra of the best Australian musicians playing in orchestras across the world, will perform in Britain under renowned conductor Zubin Mehta.

Gonski took on the co-chairmanship of the season – his British counterpart being Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman – at the invitation of Australia’s High Commissioner to Britain, George Brandis, shortly after planning began for the cultural exchange in 2018.

The inveterate networker put together a patrons board, spread across two countries, which has raised nearly $2 million towards the collaboration to date.

“I’m the president of an art gallery and the chancellor of a university, so I’ve got an interest in helping these conversations and collaborations to happen,” Mr Gonski said.

Britain had been running such “seasons” with other countries for about 10 years, says the British Council’s director in Australia, Helen Salmon, initiating them when it felt the relationship with that nation was at a “pivotal point”. China, Mexico and Japan are previous partners.

Ms Salmon acknowledged that following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, and eventual departure last year, the relationship with Australia had assumed renewed importance.

“If the past year has taught us anything, it is our deep yearning for connection,” she said.

“I’m inspired to see our two nations emerging from opposite sides of the globe to share experiences … We are in a liminal period, and it will be our artists and thinkers who help us make sense of things.”

Michael Bailey writes on entrepreneurship and the arts. He is also responsible for the Financial Review’s Rich Lists. He is based in Sydney. Connect with Michael on Twitter. Email Michael at m.bailey@afr.com

Sir Lloyd Dorfman and David Gonski AO Co-Chairs, Helen Salmon Season Director
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Vision Statement from UK/Australia Season Directors

The fact that the UK/Australia Season even exists at this moment is extraordinary. Yet here we are, emerging from opposite sides of the globe to share experiences, to collaborate, to re-imagine.

David Gonski gathers patrons for UK-Australia arts season

First came the free trade deal between Britain and Australia, now comes the biggest ever organised cultural exchange between the countries.
Australian Financial Review 24 June 2021.