Sam Walsh was announced by Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield today as the 13th chair of the Australia Council, taking over from Rupert Myer on July 1.
Walsh was Global CEO of Rio Tinto until his retirement in 2016. He has been involved in arts, charity and business organisations in Australia and the UK for many years.
He joined the Australia Council as a board member in 2016 and is the current chair of the Art Gallery of WA. He has been chair of Black Swan State Theatre, the WA Chamber of Arts and Culture, and chair of the Australian Business Arts Foundation.
In a statement released by the Australia Council, Walsh said he was honoured to be appointed as its next chair his “great personal love for the arts and belief in the essential role they play in the life of the nation”.
“I am following the heritage of an impressive history of Australia Council Chairs over the past 50 years and I look forward to building on the strong foundations created by my predecessors and the highly capable team at the Australia Council,” Walsh said.
Walsh will commence his three year term as chair from July 1.
Philanthropist Rupert Myer served as Australia Council Chair for two terms over six years. He had to endure one the most damaging and tumultuous periods in the organisation’s history. This was led by former arts minister Senator George Brandis who sought to strip its funding and replace it with grants bestowed to arts organisations from his own office, otherwise known as Brandis’ “slush fund”.
Brandis revealed his funding raid at the 2015 Federal Budget when $104 million was raided from the Australia Council to fund his folly known as the “National Program for Excellence in the Arts” (NPEA). He only told Myer of his ludicrous – and ill-fated – plan a few hours before it was announced at the Budget.
Brandis was replaced by Fifield as arts minister soon after Malcolm Turnbull deposed Tony Abbott as prime minister. The NPEA was removed and the part of the $104 million funds returned to the Council, but not without causing major damage to the small to medium arts organisations who were at the frontline of Brandis’ attacks.