Former opera singer, publisher and long time CEO of Opera Australia, Adrian Collette, has been announced the new CEO of the Australia Council, the nation’s peak arts funding body, by the federal Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield. Collette replaces current CEO Mr Tony Grybowski whose term winds up on October 23.
For about the last five years, Collette has been located in Melbourne where he was Vice-Principal of Engagement at Melbourne University. (Don’t worry, no one else knows what that title means either.)
But during this time he has been a member of the Australia Council board and chair of the Australia Council’s Major Performing arts panel. As a result, Collette has observed first-hand the chaos unleashed on the arts sector by the previous art minister Senator George Brandis. Fortunately for Australia, Brandis was shuffled off-stage to London by previous PM Malcolm Turnbull after his bumbling attempt to lay waste to at least two-thirds of the arts sector.
Those anticipating another shake-up at the Australia Council might be either thrilled or disappointed by Collette’s appointment. In the past, his management style has been steady and cautious. He learnt how to negotiate the policies and whims of federal and state government ministers of both political stripes during his time as head of Opera Australia, the country’s most lavishly subsidised arts company.
This approach suggests the arts funding status quo will remain and so please the country’s most powerful companies that include Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, Circus Oz, the state theatre companies and orchestras. But it might not inspire hope for change among the small to medium arts companies.
Post the Brandis fiasco, this latter group have been increasingly agitating for a carving up of the funding pie. They want to do away with the guaranteed funding the big companies enjoy, while the small to medium minions compete for the few crumbs left.
Collette’s return to Sydney places him at the top of the pile in the Australian arts alongside the recently appointed new chairman Sam Walsh.
It may also once again place Collette in the firing line of the unelected leader of Sydney, conservative shock jock Alan Jones.
Jones seems to enjoy making arts leaders squirm for his large and elderly audience who might not attend as many opera opening nights as he does, but might hearing enjoy arts types being crucified on live radio.
If you thought Jones’ treatment of Louise Herron, CEO of the Sydney Opera House, was brutal during the recent re-branding of the national icon as a TAB off-shoot, it was relatively mild compared to his blistering 30 minute drawing and quartering of Collette.
In 2008, Jones was naturally outraged about something now long forgotten and, naturally, screamed for Collette’s head to roll.
A wounded Collette later told The Australian: “I was truly staggered that you could call this journalism or an interview. It was impossible to engage in any answer or consider any question when you were being used as a prop for Alan to rail against.”
All we can say is, good luck back in Sydney Adrian.