That was the year that was: 2018's biggest news stories

Richard Watts

From political dramas to sudden resignations, and scandals to celebrations, we look back on the events that had the sector talking in 2018.
That was the year that was: 2018's biggest news stories

Image via Shutterstock

It's been a busy year...

January

The year opened on a bright note with the refurbished Joan Sutherland Theatre open for business at Sydney Opera House following a $71 million dollar upgrade, but quickly descended into rancour. Following harassment claims, actor Craig McLachlan departed the Rocky Horror Show; the resulting court case is still dragging on in December. On a brighter note, Country Arts SA celebrated its silver jubilee and musical Muriel’s Wedding dominated the Sydney Theatre Awards.   

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FEBRUARY

The impact of the #MeToo movement continued to be felt in Australia as Screen Australia published the final draft of its Code of Conduct to Assist the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, and Arts South Australia took a proactive stance on bullying and sexual harassment in the sector.

In Melbourne, Sarah Krasnostein won the prestigious $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, for her work The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster, with women and non-binary writers dominating in every category at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards; and Creative Victoria won the tender for the 2020, 2022 and 2024 Australian Performing Arts Market.

Elsewhere, a new Executive Director and Artistic Director at State Opera SA promised to ‘wrench the company into the 21st century’; the Queensland Government committed an extra $2.16 million over four years to help Opera Queensland return to three mainstage Brisbane seasons from 2019 and related activities; Queensland Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Sydney Theatre Company announced a new partnership with Contemporary Asian Australian Performance designed to foster the careers of Asian-Australian directors; and we learned more about Buxton Contemporary, Melbourne’s newest art gallery, ahead of its March opening.

 

The trailer for Soda_Jerk’s TERROR NULLIUS.

MARCH

In the lead-up to the South Australian election on 17 March, the Liberal Party opposition announced their policy of building a National Aboriginal Arts Centre and Gallery (rather than the mooted Adelaide Contemporary) should they win power. At an election debate later that month a bipartisan promise was made by the major parties to increase funding for SA artists by $1 million.

La Mama’s Liz Jones, BalletLab’s Phillip Adams and visual artist Pat Brassington were among the eight artists honoured in the 2018 Australia Council Awards, while Soda_Jerk’s provocative TERROR NULLIUS shocked one of its major backers, the Ian Potter Cultural Trust shortly before its premiere. In a statement the Trust said ‘it does not wish to be associated with the marketing or publicity promoting this production,’ despite having contributed financially to the project through the $100,000 Ian Potter Moving Image Commission, a collaboration between ACMI and The Ian Potter Cultural Trust. 

In brighter news, NSW Minister for the Arts Don Harwin announced a new, $1 million fund for emerging artists across Western Sydney, and the #safetheatres movement was given added impetus following a significant, artist-led gathering in Melbourne.

APRIL

Following a five-year hiatus and considerable turmoil, Newcastle Art Gallery reinstated its Director in early March; Nick Mitzevich was announced as the new head of the National Gallery of Australia; Sam Walsh AO was announced as the new Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts; and at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Director and CEO Dr Natasha Cica quietly resigned in the wake of 'an exodus of staff' in previous months.

In other news, Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum’s contentious relocation to Parramatta was confirmed; and in Perth, artists were up in arms as events management company JumpClimb entered voluntary administration, owing $200,000 in unpaid artists’ fees. Magician and mentalist Matt Tarrant was one of the artists left out of pocket. ‘This income was my lifeline for the next six months, it was paying for my rent, food, living expenses and my wedding. It's now gone, and I am left with nothing,’ he told ArtsHub.

This year's Federal Budget included an allocation of $48.7 million over four years to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's voyage to the South Pacific and Australia.

MAY

Unveiled on 1 May, the 2018-19 Victorian budget included an additional $78.7 million for the arts and culture sector, including $1 million to implement the Creative Victoria First Peoples Plan, and a $8.4 million investment of new money through Film Victoria for film and television production.

In Perth, Fringe World moved to assist artists after last month’s JumpClimb fiasco, promising legal action to ‘claw back’ artists’ fees, while the state's new Labor Government kept an election promise and established a four year, $3 million Contemporary Music Fund.

In national news, the Federal Budget for 2018-19 offered only paltry support for the arts, cutting money from the ABC in order to redirect some of it towards the NGA, and more – almost $49 million – to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook's voyage to the South Pacific and Australia.

Composer Iain Grandage was appointed as Perth Festival's next Artistic Director in May; Yvette Coppersmith's self-portrait won the 2018 Archibald Prize; and artsACT overhauled its funding programs, simplifying the application process – to the delight of artists.

Elsewhere, a fire – later revealed to be caused by an electrical fault – gutted Melbourne’s iconic and heritage listed La Mama Theatre; Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a new 1500 seat theatre for QPAC, generating mixed responses from the sector – including claims that a new theatre was being prioritised over the development of an Indigenous cultural centre; and a new independent report, Turning Pointe: Gender Equality in Australian Dance, revealed that full-length works by female choreographers made up only 13% of programming by Major Performing Arts (MPA) dance companies

JUNE

The start of winter saw a new artist-run initiative open in Perth, Cool Change Contemporary, and the Victorian Government trumpet plans for NGV Contemporary – a new branch of the National Gallery of Victoria dedicated to contemporary art and design. In Sydney, philanthropists Sharon and Peter Ivany made the promise of a $1 million bequest to the MCA, while artists – who had been left in limbo for weeks – started complaining about a significant delay to Create NSW’s announcement of successful funding for Round 2 funding of the Arts and Cultural Development Program.

In Adelaide, the New York architectural firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), in partnership with Adelaide practice Woods Bagot, won the competition to design Adelaide Contemporary (the future of which is now under a cloud) while the former home of Adelaide’s Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia was up for sale, promoting questions about who would profit once it was sold.

The latest iteration of the Stella Count found a 2% decrease in the representation of reviews coverage of women authors; we mourned the death of comedian Eurydice Dixon; Tasmanian arts festival Mona Foma confirmed its relocation from Hobart to Launceston; and in Melbourne, street performer Dandyman stood up to far-right thugs in the name of entertainment.

Rhana Devenport, Director of the Art Gallery of SA. Image supplied.

JULY

The Bundanon Trust was celebrating after the NSW Regional Cultural Fund committed $8.592 million towards the development of a new museum celebrating Arthur Boyd’s art and legacy; a would-be comedian was charged with defacing Eurydice Dixon’s memorial in Princess Park; the STC and Bangarra triumphed at the 2018 Helpmann Awards; the Middle Park house of late couple Tess Hill and Bill Hawtin was sold at auction for $1.91 million, with the money creating scholarships for disadvantaged jazz and architecture students at Monash University.

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Director Rhana Devenport was appointed as Director of the Art Gallery of SA, becoming the first woman appointed to the role in the gallery's near 140 year history; sector leaders called Create NSW to account after a previously delayed funding round was revealed to be the 'poorest funding round in history'; and a poll was held to determine the 25 greatest Australian films of the 21st century to date, with some surprises making the cut.

AUGUST

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) held its Future/Forward conference in Canberra, discussing the need for a new Code of Practice and agitating for change; the ACT’s Minister for the Arts and Community Events, Gordon Ramsay, announced plans for a Creative Council, a new advisory body to help inform ACT Government arts policy; and in Adelaide, the Marshall Liberal Government dismissed Peter Louca, Executive Director of Arts South Australia, in what at first seemed part of a ‘State Government purge of Labor-appointed executives’, but which would soon be revealed to be the first step in a gutting and downgrading of Arts South Australia as a whole.

In happier news, it's rare to celebrate an arts policy or initiative's anniversary, but there are always exceptions – such as the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia's Indigenous Department, which helped bring films such as Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, Rachel Perkins’ Bran Nue Dae or Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires to our screens.

Also in August: we mourned the death of bohemian artist and the embodiment of joie de vivre, Mirka Mora, at 90 years of age; and celebrated the success of eight mid-career artists including author Anna Krien and choreographer Nick Power, the 2018 Sidney Myer Creative Fellows.

SEPTEMBER

Spring got off to a bad start for our South Australian colleagues, with the Marshall Government’s first state budget cutting $4.9 million from the arts budget and gutting Arts South Australia. In Victoria, the Andrews Government launched its First Peoples Action Plan for the Creative Industries 2018–2020, including $2 million to boost employment opportunities for First Peoples across the state.

Elsewhere, the ABC’s Manager Director Michelle Guthrie departed abruptly, and in our biggest story for the month, artists were up in arms in NSW as the reason for July’s ‘poorest funding round in history’ was revealed to be direct interference by Arts Minister Don Harwin.

Not a billboard, an icon. Image via Shutterstock.

OCTOBER

October saw more fury from the sector in NSW as Premier Berejiklian gave the order to use the Sydney Opera House’s sails as a billboard, while in Tasmania there was dismay when an Arts Tasmania funding round failed to support a single theatre company, spurring emergency measures from Minister for the Arts Elise Archer.

In Sydney, the Australia Council for the Arts announced the appointment of Adrian Collette AM as its new CEO. Speaking with ArtsHub a few days later, Collette said: ‘I think in the Australia Council, much like any other important institution in Australia, we talk a lot about its function but I think we also have to talk about its purpose. Talk about what it’s good at but also what it’s good for. And if you get that right then I think that’s a very powerful form of advocacy for the arts and for creative endeavour generally.’

Later in the month things started heating up in Victoria as the state election loomed while the National Portrait Gallery celebrated its 20th anniversary with 20 new portraits valued at just under $500,000; we lost composer, conductor and much-loved music educator Richard Gill; and Newcastle Art Gallery added 49 works of art with a combined value of more than half a million dollars to its collection.

NOVEMBER

November opened with robust regional conversations at ArtState Bathurst, and saw Victoria’s Andrews Government promise $1 million towards the rebuilding of the fire-ravaged La Mama Theatre. While the defamation case launched by Geoffrey Rush against Nationwide News began in late October, things began to heat up in November, inspiring the social media trend, #IStandWithEJ.

Notable sector appointments and departures saw Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah announced as the new head of the Powerhouse Museum, a role which will see her oversee the Museum’s move westwards to Parramatta, while in other news we learned that the arts are ‘a bigger drawcard for international tourists than wineries, casinos or sport.’

A major new Music Theatre Festival was announced for Launceston; the $344 million Sydney Modern expansion of the Art Gallery of New South Wales got the green light; the $1 million funding boost for South Australian artists promised back in March was formally announced; and the Board of Brisbane’s much-loved Metro Arts announced contentious plans to put their heritage-listed building up for sale.

DECEMBER

Sydney Fringe launched a detailed report designed to tackle the red tape it says is strangling Sydney’s creative sectors; Sydney Festival launched a new initiative designed to increase the number of Deaf artists and artists with disability creating work for Australian festivals; Victoria’s Shadow Arts Minister Heidi Victoria MP lost her seat of Bayswater in a state election which saw the Liberal Party decimated; and peak body the Performing Arts Touring Alliance (PATA) announced it was winding up.

Also in December, the Federal Government committed $63.8 million to the National Gallery of Australia as part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO); new Artistic Directors were announced for State Theatre Company of South Australia and Brisbane Festival; and finally, more than one NSW company has warned they may have to wind up operations unless outstanding funding results are announced before the year’s end.

THE YEAR’S MOST READ NEWS STORIES

And in case you were curious as to which stories most resonated with our readers, here are the ten most-read new stories for the year.

10. Shock as arts budget slashed in South Australia

9. Craig McLachlan leaves Rocky Horror Show following harassment claims

8. Australia Council announces next artist for Venice Biennale

7. Dr Natasha Cica resigns as Heide CEO

6. Federal budget 2018-19 offers paltry support for the arts

5. Artist Mirka Mora dies aged 90

4. Support pulled from 'un-Australian' work on eve of opening

3. Street performer reclaims Fed Square after far-right threat

2. La Mama Theatre gutted by fire: sector shocked

1. And in top place, our most-read news story of 2018 was: Fringe artists owed $200,000 after events company goes under

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts