Collaborations between business, government and the arts can ensure a legacy of universal access to the arts and artistic pursuits.
I AM here to talk about forging creative and lasting ties between business and the arts, in a manner that benefits all Western Australians.
I want to talk about how our pursuit of the complex and evolving relationship between commerce and culture strengthens and enlivens our sense of community and ultimately will prove a powerful drawcard to newcomers to our great state.
In WA, the relationship between arts and business is already a strong union. Perhaps 10 years ago I wouldn’t have said this, but now I feel that we know each other well. The more we grasp the differences between our worlds of commerce and culture, the more we realise we are the same.
We have torn down the glib clichés and myths that surround our sectors, and have a better understanding and appreciation of each other. That’s what marriage can do for you.
The business sector knows better than to regard the cultural community as a bunch of theatrical, impoverished artists; and yes, I know we all have different definitions of ‘impoverished’. But we in the business world see an artistic sector that is business savvy, professional and world-beating. Not only that, it is a sector that inspires us through its innovative practices and entrepreneurial spirit.
In turn, I would hope that the cultural community sees through the obvious shell of big business – our necessary quest for profits, efficiency gains and increased productivity – and recognises that many of us also have a side that works hard towards creating stronger, healthier and more vibrant communities.
In so many ways WA is ahead of other states in the relationships between business and arts, yet we can’t rest on our laurels. There remain untapped opportunities – relationships to be built, resources to be utilised, and benefits to be gained.
Above all, there are opportunities to bring in other sectors to join us in building a better community. We are often regarded as a resources state, and the resources sector is, I believe, well represented in its support for the cultural sector; and so it should be. But there are companies out there that haven’t yet experienced the powerful benefits of building a culture-rich society, and I would urge these companies to think long and hard about the type of community in which they seek to operate, together building futures for employees and families.
For our economy to thrive and our state to prosper, we need robust, dynamic communities. We need them here in Perth and particularly in the regions that yield a disproportionate share of our wealth creation.
If we want to nurture our people, not just financially but spiritually and creatively, we need to foster talent – to engage our story tellers, artists, writers, performers, painters, musicians, dancers and designers. We need to channel that energy into creating communities that will attract and sustain the spiritual and cultural needs of the high-calibre workforce that we all seek.
We know that arts for pleasure and intellectual stimulation is important, and we also believe that the arts take people on a journey of reflection and discovery.
Perhaps more importantly, we recognise the power of the arts to tackle health, education and environmental problems. If an arts program can bring income to an impoverished community or help address mental health issues, or increase just one person’s job or career prospects, art can become an extremely powerful tool for social change.
WA has the honour of being at the epicentre of this country’s growth. Our boom is giving us an opportunity to build a lasting legacy – an infrastructure for a sustainable world-class arts hub.
The generational opportunity we have is to create not just impressive public spaces – such as this one – but to ensure our legacy is universal access to the arts and artistic pursuits. To build a less visible so-called ‘soft infrastructure’ of opportunity that will allow every Western Australian to get this artistic exposure, to express themselves creatively and, to support and back our talented young or unrecognised artists.
This is the opportunity that we have and the challenge that I propose we accept tonight, and I urge businesses of all shapes and sizes to continue to work hand in hand with the government and arts sector to make it happen.
Let’s harness our determination to make Perth a world-class cultural centre. Let’s work together to make that dream a reality for all Western Australians.
• This is an edited extract from Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh’s address to the Commerce Meets Culture event at the State Theatre Centre on Friday March 28.