Opening doors for arts and culture

13 December 2021

From country girl and social worker to Director General, Lanie Chopping says the top job at the Department for Local Government, Sport and Cultural industries is the job she was made for.

Lanie Chopping hails from the south-eastern farming community of Pingelly where her experiences as a child under the table at the golf club and Country Women’s Association shaped her appreciation for the way community organisations and artistic groups bring together local communities.

Chopping is now interim director general at the Department for Local Government, Sport and Cultural industries, a position she has held since May. One of her proudest moments was watching West Australian musicians perform in the AFL grand final at Optus Stadium.

“The Waifs are musicians I grew up with, I remember being on the road as a backpacker and seeing those kinds of people performing in pubs. To see those West Australian musicians out and proud as WA hosted the grand final, was a proud moment.”

A blue back drop, in front stands a woman with red hair and a tall man in a suit, both smiling
Lanie Chopping at the launch of the Fremantle Biennale, with Tom Muller, CEO and Artistic Director. Photo supplied

Chopping’s previous public sector experience includes her most recent role as Commissioner for Consumer Protection plus various roles for the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Economic Regulation Authority and the West Australian Council of Social Services.

“This job brought together my regulatory experience, management experience and strategic communications. I put my hand up and said that was the job I was born to do!”

Chopping’s personal appreciation for arts and culture has also been shaped by her background as a social worker. Her work in small communities in the Pilbara gave her an understanding of the role of art in engaging young people at risk and the value of art in the community. She confesses less familiarity with the opera and symphonic sides of the arts but says she is the kind of person who will be the first to have tears rolling down her face and rise for a standing ovation.

“What makes my heart sing is being at theatre or arts event and seeing the way that the audience interacts and responds with the content and with each other.”

She cites Black Swan Theatre’s York as one of many examples.

“There was laughter, there were tears and there were moments with that audience collectively that will live with you forever. You will never get that at a budget estimates at parliament! I am so privileged to be able to say that is part of my work, being part of something that is so genuinely transformational for the community.”

The nature of her role means her time is mostly spent doing the leadership legwork of strategy, budget and finance, but Chopping says she’s been impressed by the passion, commitment and resilience she has observed from the arts organisations she has connected with.

Lanie Chopping says there was laughter and tears as the audience engaged with Black Swan Theatre’s production ‘York’. Production photo supplied

Her vision for her role in the sector is to increase clarity on the outcomes of the government’s funding and to open doors for the arts to thrive.

“All of our grants have an intention but how do we know that we’ve achieved that intention? I’m keen to work on that so we are clear about the outcome of the funding we provide to the community. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with the minister about a long term vision for the arts in Western Australia and how can we make sure what we do with our grant programs is leading to those outcomes.

“Secondly, I’m the kind of person who wants to talk about not what’s wrong but I’m really interested in conversations with artistic organisations and institutions about what doors we need to push on to take this matter forward. I’m interested in how we overcome barriers, how we push through and how we make good inroads into progress in the arts community.”

A major barrier to progress for the arts sector is the noose-like effect of the continual decline in government arts funding. The funding of arts programs and artists has steadily decreased since the Carpenter Government in 2007. There has been investment in infrastructure, but not in programs and people.

Chopping is quick to point out the state’s COVID-relief funding Getting the Show Back on the Road and the important support and surety that program provided. She also agreed that having a long-term plan for financial viability for the sector both for hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure was “a very important discussion for us to have.”

“The base line underlying funding is what it is and needs to be looked at from a long-term perspective.”

“There was laughter, there were tears and there were moments with that audience collectively that will live with you forever. You will never get that at a budget estimates at parliament! I am so privileged to be able to say that is part of my work, being part of something that is so genuinely transformational for the community.”

She suggests the strategic investment of philanthropic support for long term financial return could be part of the solution.

“To change the way that money works in the sector, make smarter and better outcomes across the board, that’s something we are really keen to be involved in. I think there is an opportunity to harness philanthropic contribution and invest that appropriately so that we can see a long term return. With co-funding across the institutions, the philanthropic foundations, the corporate sponsorship, with state, federal and local government [continuing to play] their part in a comprehensive plan.”

Chopping is keen for future funding to reward innovation, rather than prop up organisations who find themselves in a parlous situation.

“My personal philosophy is ‘money goes where glory grows’. Where I’ve seen real growth and success is where leadership has come and said we need to make the best of our strengths and our assets. It’s amazing how you see organisations develop in that space. And suddenly everyone wants to give them money… everyone wants to invest money in success. That’s going to be the best [way for the state government] to invest in arts programs – to show the success of the portfolio as a whole.”

Find out more in the podcast “The job I was born to do”.

Chopping’s portfolio is diverse, covering sport and local government, racing gaming and liquor, multicultural history and Aboriginal history. But she is adamant that the arts is firmly on the agenda.

“I’m concerned when I hear people say we have to get on the main stage. Arts is on the main stage, we don’t have to worry about that. What we have to worry about is, now that we are on the main stage what are we going to do with that? What is our plan as an industry, where do we want to take this?”

The recent appointment of Shelagh Magadza, previously Executive Director at the Chamber of Arts and Culture, is a key part of Chopping’s strategy to build technical expertise into her team.

“It is important for me to have that technical knowledge and connection to community. My leadership style is I’m a team person. I’m only as good as every single person who works for me. And I feel really confident about the Culture and Arts part of the department, I feel like it is really strong, it’s got huge potential. If I can open some doors and push some things forward – maybe I’m playing the triangle or the maracas in this band analogy of being on the main stage – but we all have a part to play.”

Update: Lanie Chopping was formally appointed Director General on 9 March 2022.

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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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