Sam Walsh AO appointed as Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts


Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield announced on 21 April that Sam Walsh AO has been appointed the next Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts. Walsh succeeds outgoing Chair Rupert Myer AO and will commence a three-year term on 1 July.

With a business background ranging across the mining and auto industries, Walsh brings with him longstanding experience in leadership and governance, most recently as Chief Executive Officer of Rio Tinto (2013-2016) and current Chair of the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

Throughout his career, Walsh has maintained a strong interest in the arts and previous roles have also included Chair of the Australian Business Arts Foundation, Chair of the Black Swan State Theatre in Perth and Chair of the Commissioning Panel for Australian representation at the Venice Biennale. In 2011, Walsh was awarded the Richard Pratt Business Arts Leadership Award for his work fostering business investment in the arts.

Walsh has been actively involved with the Australia Council since October 2016 when he commenced as a member of the Board. In a statement issued by the Australia Council on 21 April, Walsh said, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my immediate predecessor Rupert Myer AO and I thank him for his significant contribution as Chair during the last six years. I feel very confident about a smooth changeover with Rupert and the support of CEO Tony Grybowski.”

Outgoing Chair Myer congratulated Walsh on his appointment stating, “With his depth of experience in cultural leadership roles in performing arts organisations, art galleries, cultural philanthropy and arts advocacy, Sam is eminently qualified for the position and will bring local, national and international experience to the role.”

Over his two consecutive terms as Chair, Myer guided the Australia Council through significant changes which encompassed the $104.7 million funding cuts delivered in 2015 by then federal Arts Minister George Brandis.

Arguably one of the most turbulent times in the funding body’s history, the now defunct National Programme for Excellence in the Arts developed by Brandis delivered a catastrophic blow to independent artists and the small to medium arts sector.

NAVA executive director Esther Anatolitis praised Myer’s resilience and achievements, highlighting the Visual Arts & Crafts Strategy he spearheaded for its “transformative impact on our field and on the ambition with which artists and makers approach their work.” On Walsh’s appointment as Chair, Anatolitis went on to say, “The sector will most particularly welcome his commitment to work closely with government to avoid any future damage from unexpected and divisive policy changes. Together with Deputy Chair, Narungga, Wirangu and Wotjobaluk woman Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, [the Board] stand ready to guide the Australia Council through its next challenges.”

News Words by Briony Downes