Art and Culture

A collection of interviews about the influence of the arts on Sydney life

Photographer: Jamie WilliamsCity of Sydney Archives SRC17441

Artists and others from the art world discuss the practise of their craft and the role of art in an urban setting. Particular focus is on public art within the City of Sydney’s boundaries but from time to time interviews with other cultural identities will also be added to the page.

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  • Photographer: Jamie Williams

    Lindy Hume

    Lindy Hume was Director of Sydney Festival from 2010 to 2012. She was the first woman in the job and the also first practising artist. This meant she could visit and contribute to rehearsals without artists thinking, “the suits arrive.” Lindy remembers her mission to give different parts of Sydney a voice in the Festival.

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    Brett Sheehy

    Brett Sheehy was Director of Sydney Festival from 2002 to 2005. He arrived in the top job after a six year Festival apprenticeship under Anthony Steel and Leo Schofield. At 42, he was part of a generational change; his programming attracted a younger audience to the Festival. One of Brett’s major coups was securing the 85-strong Théâtre du Soleil from Paris to stage their Australian debut Flood Drummers in 2002.

  • Photographer: Prudence Upton

    Lieven Bertels

    Lieven Bertels is the current Director of Sydney Festival. Born in Belgium, he brought an international outlook to Sydney. Of festival makers he says “We are carnies. We travel around with a circus tent of ideas and we do our tricks but we will always have to learn the lay of the land some way.” He sees himself as a hands-on director interested in all aspects of festival-making: the concept, production, the fundraising, the finance. 2016 will be Lieven’s third and final Sydney Festival; he hands the baton to Wesley Enoch for 2017. In the excerpt below, Lieven reflects on the changing nature of corporate sponsorship over the long life of Sydney Festival.

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    Anthony Steel

    Anthony Steel was Director of Sydney Festival from 1995 to 1997. He reveals his struggle to retain a “serious art” focus for the Festival while facing pressure from the board to “keep it popular”. In the excerpt below, Anthony recalls two of the best remembered aspects of his years at the Festival: thrilling perambulatory theatrics on the Opera House forecourt and Jeff Koons’ polarising Puppy.

  • Photographer: Prudence Upton

    Fergus Linehan

    Fergus Linehan was Director of Sydney Festival from 2006 to 2009. Born in Ireland, he was the first director of the Festival to hail from overseas. He recalls how, during his tenure, audience figures and programming grew enormously and the issues that arose for the Festival’s sustainability. In the excerpt below, he describes the genesis of the hugely popular and extravagant Festival First Night.

  • Photographer: Nick Wilson / Foxtel

    Leo Schofield

    Leo Schofield was Director of Sydney Festival from 1998 to 2001. For much of this time, he was simultaneously chair of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a newspaper columnist and director of both the Olympic and Paralympic arts festivals. No wonder they called him Mr Sydney. In this frank interview, conducted in the week of his 80th birthday, Leo describes orienting Sydney Festival towards ‘no guilt programming’ and his priority of pleasing a public increasingly willing to pay for the arts.
    Please be advised that this interview contains strong language.

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    Tony Albert

    Tony Albert is a Girramay man and an artist who is creating a large public sculpture in Sydney’s Hyde Park to memorialise the Indigenous contribution to Australia’s armed forces. This interview is part of the ‘Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men and Women Who Have Served Their Country’ project. In his interview Tony talks about his family’s connection with the Services; his training, mentors, and experiences in art; and his plans for the sculpture which will consist of large scale upright and fallen ‘bullets’. In the excerpt below Tony discusses his hopes for the artwork and the symbolism it will embody.

  • Fiona MacDonald

    Fiona MacDonald

    Fiona MacDonald is a visual and installation artist who has lived and worked in Sydney for many years. In her interview Fiona talks about her background and training, and the galleries with which she has exhibited. In the excerpt below Fiona details aspects of her work ‘Native Stranger’, a series of seven digital prints, which is held in the City of Sydney Civic Collection.

  • Dean Sewell 15.5.13 (Small)

    Dean Sewell

    Dean Sewell is a photographer who was instrumental in the creation of a ‘guerrilla gallery’ of photographs along an unsightly wall in Elizabeth St in central Sydney in 2012. The unauthorised installation was subsequently approved by the City of Sydney Council. In this interview Dean talks about his introduction to photography in high school, his work on the Sydney Morning Herald metropolitan daily newspaper, and about the principles of culture jamming and other art actions. In the excerpt below he discusses some of the practical issues association with the installation.

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    Catriona McKenzie

    Catriona McKenzie is an Indigenous film maker who has directed films including ‘Box’, ‘Bunge’, ‘Road’ and, most recently, her first feature film ‘Satellite Boy’. She has also worked on episodes of several television series including ‘My Place’, ‘Dance Academy’, ‘The Circuit’, ‘Message Stick’ and ‘Redfern Now’. In this interview Catriona talks about the circumstances of her upbringing, her education and her career. In the excerpt below she describes the joys of her work as a director.

  • Rothwell, Caroline 20.6.2013 (Small)

    Caroline Rothwell

    Caroline Rothwell is an artist whose most visible work in the City of Sydney is ‘Youngsters': two life size bronze sculptures in Barrack St in central Sydney. In this interview Caroline talks about her early life, her development as an artist, and the wide variety of materials and formats she has used in her artistic practice. In the excerpt below she discusses the positive public reaction to ‘Youngsters’.


    Bob Bolton

    The Bush Music Club began meeting in Castlereagh St in central Sydney in 1954. It had a close connections with the Australian Folklore Society. Members researched traditional music and performed at events, dances and on television. Bob Bolton plays many instruments and has been involved with the Club since his youth. In the excerpt below he talks about bones as musical instruments.


    Richard Bradshaw and Tina Matthews

    Richard Bradshaw and Tina Matthews worked together in the Marionette Theatre of Australia, as artistic director and puppet maker respectively. The Marionette Theatre was housed in the old Sailors’ Home in Sydney’s historic Rocks area. In this entertaining interview Tina and Richard recall particular plays and identities from the magical world of marionettes as well as discussing shifting fashions in puppetry, funding, staffing and performance and technical issues. In the excerpt below Richard recalls one memorable late 1970s show: ‘Captain Lazar and His Earthbound Circus’


    Ben Strout

    Ben Strout came to Australia from the USA to become artistic director of the Australian Theatre of the Deaf in 1982. The company was originally housed with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust in Newtown. In this interview Ben talks about his early career in theatre with deaf and other communities in the US, the attractions of coming to Australia, and his years with the Theatre of the Deaf. In the excerpt below he discusses the way in which deaf performers in Australia were able to overcome the limitations of his relatively foreign sign language.

  • Michaelie Crawford

    Michaelie Crawford

    Michaelie Crawford and Jennifer Turpin are collaborative makers of kinetic installations in the public sphere. Many of their works grace inner Sydney, including ‘Tied to Tide’ on the Pyrmont foreshore, ‘Windlines’ at Circular Quay and, most recently, ‘Halo’ in a new residential and commercial development in Chippendale. In this interview Michaelie talks about the two artists’ education and development, and the many environmental, social and regulatory issues surrounding large-scale public art. In the excerpt below she discusses the highly collaborative nature of their work.

  • Sharp, Martin 25.7.2013

    Martin Sharp

    Martin Sharp, who died in late 2013, was Australia’s premier pop artist. This interview was conducted a few months earlier, during his long terminal illness. In the interview Martin talks about his childhood, education, artistic influences and many other aspects of his productive life. In the excerpt below he recalls with amusement some early failures. The voices of interviewer Deborah Beck, and friend and fellow artist Garry Shead, can also be heard.

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    Florence Bell

    Florence Bell’s father James Bell, also known as ‘James Wallace’ and ‘Professor Wallace’, was a professional entertainer in and around Sydney in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. In her interview Florence recalls her father’s working life – magician, juggler, occasional stuntman for cinema – family life with his larger-than-life character, the many other prominent showbusiness personalities with whom her father was acquainted and her own brief career entertaining children in their homes. In the excerpt below Florence remembers her father’s introduction to children’s entertainment in Sydney department stores in the 1930s.

  • Adam Norton

    Adam Norton

    Adam Norton is a conceptual artist who created the Tank Project in 2008, as part of the City of Sydney’s Art and About festival. During this project armoured personnel vehicles were placed around central Sydney streets for a period of weeks. In this interview Adam talks about this and other works of conceptual art. In the excerpt below he describes reactions to the ‘tanks’ from passers-by.

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    Eric Stevenson

    The Tank Project was part of the City of Sydney’s Art and About festival in 2008. Eric Stevenson, owner of armoured personnel vehicles, lived in them for the duration of the project. In his interview he discusses his involvement in the Tank Project. In the excerpt below he talks about differences in gender and cultural reactions to the work.

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    Michael Thomas Hill

    ‘Forgotten Songs’ is a public art work in Angel Place in central Sydney. It celebrates the birds which once lived in the area now occupied by urban Sydney. Temporary at first, the work proved so popular that is has been installed permanently. In this interview artist Michael Thomas Hill talks about the meaning of ‘Forgotten Songs’, its practical development, others involved in the project and other works of art. In the excerpt below Michael describes the project.