Dr Terry Wu is one of Australia’s most highly regarded plastic surgeons, as well as being a dedicated art collector and an active and influential arts philanthropist.
This month, Terry speaks to us about Australia’s reputation as a burgeoning global hub for the arts, as well as his passion for nurturing cultural endeavours.
What does art mean to you?
Art and culture is like water and air to me. It nourishes and stimulates. It provides the perfect balance to our hectic lives.
Your initiative in Dryburgh Street, North Melbourne, is expected to support the growth of the performing arts community, following on from the success of your initiative to provide artists with affordable studios at John Street, East Brunswick. Why are the arts important for you to nurture here in Australia?
I am interested in engaging the arts in a meaningful way because I believe it is essential for a balanced society to have a flourishing arts community. My father is an artist and writer, and the upbringing I had gave me a deep appreciation of the arts and the desire to contribute.
What is unique about the art and culture that is on offer in Australia? With our country being located so far from other global art hubs around the world, do you think the international influences on our society play a role here?
Australia has an incredibly rich and nuanced arts sector that connects with the art world at large. The tremendously long history of Indigenous culture, as well as the many cultures which arrived in Australia more recently, have imbued a uniqueness in the multitude of cultural endeavours created by Australian practitioners as well as in our national psyche.
Do you think Australia is still a burgeoning hub for the arts? Why?
Australia has many respected centres and events, which put it on the international calendar. Asia Pacific Triennial at Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art is the pre-eminent triennial specifically dedicated to the arts in our region, the Biennale of Sydney is one of the longest running biennales in the world, and private museums such as TarraWarra Museum of Art and White Rabbit Gallery showcase world-class collections and superbly curated exhibitions. The Indigenous arts sector continues to evoke wonder and admiration from audiences worldwide while the contemporary art scene and community in Australia is gaining curatorial attention in some of the most esteemed institutions around the world. The arts in Australia are in great health and the globalisation of art made possible by the internet and innumerable art fairs has enabled creative practices from the Antipodes to travel much further than in the recent past.
As a younger country – in comparison to other global art hubs around the world that are older and steeped in heritage – is there more opportunity for growth in this sector?
While Australia the country is relatively young, Indigenous culture has been present here for far longer than Western civilizations. The opportunity and challenge are for this rich land of cultures to be viewed and appreciated with open-minded curiosity and respect. Only when Australia defines herself with more than the recent colonial identity can present-day multicultural Australia find its relevance on the world cultural stage. In many ways, the Australian arts community needs to function as the vanguard and the voice.
What are the priorities to grow Australia’s art infrastructure and opportunities to nurture talent both new and well established?
I think there needs to be leadership in government funding, in institutional support, in private philanthropy and in commercial gallery support.
In countries where arts and culture hold central importance, such as France and Germany, government funding, at all levels, has a very long-term view and often is at arm’s-length from the political whims of the day. Canada, a young country like Australia, has demonstrated its desire to be a world leader in the arts by putting money where it counts.
Mid-career artists are often the most neglected talents in Australia. Institutions need to take a holistic view beyond focusing on the exciting new artists and well-established icons.
The idea and practice of philanthropic support in the arts need to look beyond the mega-rich top of the pyramid. Philanthropy is an act that can be practised by all and can be immensely rewarding when it is imaginative and direct.
Commercial galleries have a responsibility to nurture and steward the career of their artists by careful marketing and placement of works and, if possible, by facilitating international exposure by participating in art fairs.