In Art We Trust: New GPAC Leadership

From left - GPAC CEO Joel McGuinnes, Chair Lesley Alway, Member for Geelong Christine Couzens, and Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley.

When you live in a city that is changing the way that Geelong is changing, you notice some things more than others. You notice the increased traffic, that there are more people everywhere, almost all of the time. You notice the buildings that seem to sprout up like weeds after rain and you notice that a lot of people have come here from somewhere else.

What you don’t tend to notice as much is the role that culture and art has on this place we call home. It’s there; it’s always been there, ever since the very first people decided this was where they belonged.

More people go to arts and culture events than to sporting events in Geelong. Did you know that? Does it surprise you?

So, when we have a change of leadership at the helm of one of our most visible arts institutions, it matters.

Artist's impression of GPAC redevelopment. Supplied.

That Lesley Alway has been appointed as the new Chair of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre Trust is a position of trust both literally and figuratively. We have a trust in those that bridge the gap between the art we do and don’t have access to. It was a trust that we had in Michelle Quigley and Deakin Vice-Chancellor, Jane den Hollander, who stood in as interim Chair when Ms Quigley QC stepped down following her appointment as a Judge of the Victorian Supreme Court in December. It is a trust we had in Jill Smith, who left a wonderful and enduring legacy after 10 years as CEO of the organisation that led to the centre’s redevelopment, and that trust is now held by Joel McGuinness.

Ms Always comes with significant experience in the Victorian arts community as a former Director of Arts Victoria and CEO of the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne; and internationally her previous role as the Director of Asialink Arts, delivering cultural exchange programs between Australia and Asia. Her CV lists leadership roles in government, not-for-profit and private sectors. Currently, she is a Board Director of Opera Australia, Deputy Chair of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) and is a member of the Australia – ASEAN Council appointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Joel McGuinness. Supplied.

It is a big moment in time for the Geelong Performing Arts Centre and the arts in general in our city; it’s a time for new ideas, and when those ideas are formed through wide ranging experience and high calibre expertise, that trust that we have seems to be in good hands.

And that is important because we can’t afford to take culture and the arts for granted and we need them to thrive, not just survive.

There are wonderful and worldly quotable quotes on what art means to a city’s identity, but I’ve yet to come across one that resonated for me in quite the same way as this, from Iraqi-born, Cardiff-based artist, Rabad Ghazoul, on helping to organise a protest against the cutting of arts funding in Cardiff:

“Culture and art is not an add on. It’s not here to accessorize the city. It’s not an extra when we can afford it. It’s intrinsic to who we are, how we express ourselves, challenge each other, connect and create community.”

In art we trust.

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