Former Rio Tinto chief executive Sam Walsh plans to apply ideas from his time in London to the arts sector in Western Australia, after being announced as the new chairman of the Art Gallery of WA.
“I’m fascinated by the arts here in WA; we’ve got a range of world-class arts companies, yet there’s almost a reticence from the public to become freely involved,” Mr Walsh told Business News.
“With the (London) Royal Opera House and Ballet, 40 per cent of the audience were under 30; so by targeting through a whole raft of social media networks you can attract what will ultimately be the future audience.
“Arts organisations shouldn’t be afraid of social media, they should be using it to their advantage; the art gallery is using it, but we can expand and develop that.”
It is the second appointment within a few weeks for Mr Walsh – in October he joined the Australia Council for the Arts (federal funding body), where he will serve as a board member until June 30 2019.
Mr Walsh said his dual role at the council would not cause a conflict of interests.
“The WA gallery is basically state and philanthropy funded it’s not currently funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, so it gives me clear air,” he said.
Mr Walsh has held a number of prominent arts sector roles, including as past chair of the Black Swan State Theatre Company and the Australia Business Arts Foundation, and inaugural chair of the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA.
While in London as chief executive of Rio Tinto, Mr Walsh served on the Royal Opera and Ballet board as director, and was also a trustee of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation.
Prior to his London role he was based in Perth as the Rio Tinto chief executive iron ore and Australia.
Mr Walsh told Business News he was in discussion with one other art group in regards to a board role and said he hoped to secure some corporate board roles as well.
“The arts have always been something that has interested me,” Mr Walsh said.
“To me it’s the fabric of our society; it’s what makes the place.”
“Sam Walsh has already played an important and long-standing role in supporting and promoting arts and culture in WA during his time as chief executive officer of Rio Tinto,” he said.
“I am pleased he will now share his renowned leadership and expertise with the state’s premier visual arts institution.”
“The Art Gallery of WA has a skilled and capable board, which I am confident will apply its considerable expertise to this wonderful and important WA institution,” he said.
Chairs of major WA arts companies
Black Swan State Theatre Company: Mark Barnaba
Perth International Arts Festival: John Barrington
WA Museum Foundation: Justin Mannolini
WA Opera: Terry Bowen
WA Symphony Orchestra: Janet Holmes à Court