Arts a state of the heart for Governor

27 October 2021

The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, is a relatively recent convert to the arts. He chats with Rosalind Appleby about his advocacy work, his “crazy blokes” icon collection, and why a vibrant arts culture is the heart of a healthy democracy.

The Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, is a strong advocate for the arts in Western Australia. But this hasn’t always been the case.

Since taking on the role of Governor in 2018, Beazley has interacted closely with the arts sector, hosting functions, attending arts events, convening discussions with arts industry leaders and opening his home to concerts as part of the Government House Foundation program. Along the way he has acquired a new appreciation of the role of the arts in society.

“I’m being trained in – you might say – a more classical orientation. When people asked me what kind of music I liked, I am ashamed to admit I used to say ‘I like both kinds, rock and roll’. Now… it is a major part of my job. And so I have changed. My wife has always been orientated towards the arts, but I can’t say I have been. It’s that warm inner glow it gives you, when you can be with people of such talent.”

Beazley devotes a large portion of his time towards supporting the arts sector, which he argues is an essential part of building democracy.

A woman and man stand at the base of a large staircase, beside a grand piano
Rosalind Appleby talks arts advocacy with the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia at Government House. Photo: Marie-Louise Hunt

“It is our heart. Democracy needs a culture. It is more than having a vote, it is about who you are, what you stand for, what are your values, how you are capable of articulating that… Building democracy is about building a character as a society. And you can’t do that if you don’t have a strong culture. And you cannot have a strong culture without vibrant arts.”

Born in Claremont, Beazley is in every sense a local boy, educated at Hollywood Senior High School and with two degrees from the University of Western Australia. Now, after three decades in Federal government, six years as ambassador to the United States and several years in the role of Governor, he offers a broad perspective on Western Australian culture.

He has become well-acquainted with the world class talent of WA’s major arts organisations and their “missionary zeal”, as well as the many smaller groups and independent artists he now keenly follows. He also points out the significance of the Indigenous community emerging as a strong cultural “centre” in WA.

The major point of difference between cultural life in WA and what he experienced in America is the level of philanthropic support the arts receive in the US.

“It is much more massively supported. If you go through the arts in the United States, 90% of the funds they get come from private donations. The Americans have a philanthropic tradition which we simply don’t have. Their culture is extremely musical, artistic, it is brilliant dramatically. For the Americans it is all-consuming.

“We can’t really be compared with that. On the other hand, we do have very substantial private contribution. We work out at about 50/50. Fifty percent from community and 50 percent from government. When you go to Europe it is pretty well the opposite from the Americans. So we sit halfway between the two.”

“Democracy needs a culture. Building democracy is about building a character as a society. And you can’t do that if you don’t have a strong culture. And you cannot have a strong culture without vibrant arts.”

Beazley is deeply aware of the impact COVID-19 has had on all levels of the arts sector. The Government House Foundation offered the Ballroom venue at subsidised rent for performances as part of a Restart the Arts program.

“We’ve got quite a vibrant arts scene that’s really taken a pounding because of COVID. Some of it has been capable of being supported but a lot of it not so sufficiently. I do worry about them.”

He also foresees some great leaps forward for the arts sector in the next few years with the anticipated renovations to the Perth Concert Hall, the Perth City Deal including the relocation of the WA Academy of Performing Arts into the CBD, the redeveloped Art Gallery of WA opening soon, the possibility of a major film production studio in Fremantle and plans underway for a new First Nations centre and Noongar Centre.

“There’s a lot that we’ve got forthcoming and there’s serious money beginning to be put into it. We’ve got to finish it, that’s a very big challenge; they are not inexpensive. I think just over the horizon there’s really good things.”

Listen to Seesaw’s exclusive podcast conversation with the Governor “An arts conversion”.

On a more personal note, Beazley is a big fan – and has been for a long time – of the art work of Guy Grey Smith, and he also has his own collection of icons.

“I do like art, but mine is a rather crazy blokes collector’s version. I happen to find icons – Greek, Russian in particular – wonderful art. So I do collect them.”

Pictured top: The Honourable Kim Beazley, Governor of Western Australia, with Rosalind Appleby. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

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