Australia is home to a thriving arts and cultural sector abundant with talent, skill and innovative thinking.
As a nation of storytellers, Australia’s passion for the arts runs deep. A rich pool of creative talent, sophisticated approach to venue and precinct design, and world-class education make for a sector that contributes $115.2 billion to the economy every year.
Despite our reputation for being sports fanatics, Australians actually engage more with the arts than sports. An astonishing 98% of all Australians participate in the arts as artists, arts workers or audience members.
Live performance events generated ticket sales of almost $2.2 billion in 2018, exceeding the combined paid attendances at Australian football, rugby league, cricket, soccer, basketball, rugby union, tennis, netball and baseball.
Australia is home to hundreds of major arts organisations and venues, as well as thousands of individual arts practitioners, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations. From the grassroots level to the grand stage, Australia is a world leader in arts and culture.
- 15 million, or 85% of Australian adults attend at least one cultural event or performance every year
- More than one in 3 Australians connect with, and share, their cultural background through arts and creativity
- 12,000 individual creative artists, musicians, writers and performers operating as small businesses
- 10,000 businesses operating across film and video production, museums and performing arts
- Over 53,000 people employed in the industry, with even more in supporting sectors
- $475 million Creative Economy COVID support package
Melbourne: Australia’s street art capital
Melbourne is internationally recognised for the vibrancy and quality of its street art scene. From underground artists to commissioned muralists, Melbourne’s laneways burst with colour and ideas. Visited in the past by street art luminaries Keith Haring and Banksy, Melbourne nurtures plenty of homegrown talent of its own. Outside of the CBD, you’ll find more of their work in the suburbs, on the Silo Art Trail in country Victoria, and on walls around the world.
Stars of the scene include: Adnate, Civilian, Dvate, Fikaris, George Rose, Ghostpatrol, HA-HA, Juddy Roller, Kaff-eine, Lucy Lucy, Lushsux, Maha, Makatron, MEGGS, PHIBS, RONE, Smug, Tinky, Vexta, 23rd Key
From stage to page to studio and back again
Arts and innovation go hand-in-hand, and creative skills will be key to the economy of the future. Here’s a snapshot of what’s going on in the sector right now.
Visual arts, craft and design
There are nearly 1,300 public and commercial art galleries in Australia, supporting the work of painters, sculptors, photographers, ceramicists, printmakers, jewellery makers, glassblowers, and multimedia artists, among many other forms. Traditional and contemporary craft practices have a well-respected role, while design makes up the lion’s share of the arts’ contribution to GDP. Cutting-edge initiatives, such as Science Gallery Melbourne, explore the boundaries between the arts and other industries, with innovative results.
Names to know: Del Kathryn Barton, Richard Bell, Juan Davila, Julia deVille, Marco Fusinato, Simryn Gill, Hazel Dooney, Fiona Hall, Bill Henson, Jonathan Jones, Lucy McRae, Tracey Moffatt, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Mike Parr, Patricia Piccinini, Ben Quilty, Soda Jerk, Judy Watson, Bethany Wheeler.
Literature and publishing
Since Patrick White won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, Australia’s literary scene has gone from strength to strength. Australians spent A$1.25 billion on books in 2020, on the back of a constant stream of literary events and festivals. In recent years, several Australian authors have achieved major international success with their work adapted for the screen.
Names to know: Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Max Barry, Larissa Behrendt, Peter Carey, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Mem Fox, Richard Flanagan, Anna Funder, Helen Garner, Andy Griffiths, Gideon Haigh, Hannah Kent, Anna Krien, Marcia Langton, Melissa Lucashenko, Liane Moriarty, Rick Morton, CS Pacat, Bruce Pascoe, Matthew Reilly, Sally Rippin, Holly Ringland, Shaun Tan, Tim Winton, Charlotte Wood, Evie Wyld, Markus Zusak.
In addition to Australia’s capabilities in film and television, the nation also has strengths in the performing arts. Live performance is the throbbing heart of the arts sector, with major talent across theatre, cabaret, musicals, circus, comedy, performance art and dance. It’s also a major driver of Australia’s heaving festival calendar – the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is the second-biggest in the world of its kind, almost every capital city has its own fringe festival, and events such as OzAsia showcase the latest ground-breaking work from the Asia-Pacific region.
Names to know: Artback NT, Australian Ballet, Back to Back Theatre, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Bell Shakespeare, Belvoir, Circus Oz, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, La Mama, Melbourne Theatre Company, Musica Viva Australia, Opera Australia, Polyglot Theatre, Red Stitch.
Australian actors have been a major export ever since Errol Flynn swapped Hobart for Hollywood in the 1930s. With several major drama schools across the country and a plethora of stage and screen opportunities, Australia is home to plenty of exciting acting talent.
Names to know: Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jack Charles, Toni Collette, Brendan Cowell, Essie Davis, Aisha Dee, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, David Gulpilil, Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Deborah Mailman, Eryn Jean Norvill, Chris Pang, Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie, Ruby Rose, Angus Sampson, Kiruna Stamell, Yael Stone, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Tapsell, Anna Torv, Wil Traval, Rebel Wilson.
Australia’s musical output is as diverse as its landscape. The classic rock and chart toppers of the ’70s and ’80s brought the nation to the world’s attention. Since then, talent has blossomed in all areas of contemporary music including indie, experimental, hip hop, pop and more. Australia also boasts world-class performers and conductors in classical music and opera.
Names to know: Baker Boy, Courtney Barnett, William Barton, David Bridie, Nick Cave, Deborah Cheetham, Crowded House, Flume, Gang of Youths, Genesis Owusu, Gotye, Gurrumul, Hilltop Hoods, Hoodoo Gurus, Jaguar Jonze, Yvonne Kenny, Jessie Lloyd, Emma Matthews, Jessica Mauboy, Midnight Oil, Kate Miller-Heidke, Kylie Minogue, Archie Roach, Sia, Tame Impala, Keith Urban, Simone Young.
Augmented and virtual reality
Artists are often the first to experiment with new technology. Australian artists are embracing the possibilities offered by AR and VR and creating works that defy the imagination.
Our festival obsession
Just about every day of the year, there’s an arts and culture event on somewhere nearby. Key festivals include:
- Dark Mofo & Mona Foma
- Vivid Sydney
- Festival of Dangerous Ideas
- Parrtjima – A Festival in Light
- Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras
- Midsumma Festival
- OzAsia Festival
- Byron Bay Bluesfest
- Melbourne Writers Festival
- Melbourne International Comedy Festival
- Perth Festival, Sydney Festival, Adelaide Festival, Brisbane Festival and Darwin Festival
- Melbourne Fringe, Sydney Fringe Festival, Adelaide Fringe, Darwin Fringe Festival and Fringe World
First Nations artists in the 21st century
Australia is home to the world’s oldest continuous living culture. Ancient Indigenous rock art is a national treasure and traditional paintings are sought-after around the world. But many First Nations artists are blending traditional and contemporary practices to make new meaning and reach new audiences.
- Yorta Yorta soprano and Artistic Director of Short Black Opera Deborah Cheetham’s war requiem Eumeralla was written and performed in the ancient dialects of the Gunditjmara people, helping preserve language
- Pitjantjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey’s exuberant paintings incorporate pop culture references with her traditional culture
- Edutech company Indigital, founded by Cabrogal woman Mikaela Jade, works with museums and cultural institutions to bring Indigenous culture to life through digital technologies.
Cutting-edge creative precincts
Australia’s reputation for world-leading creative precincts and venues has seen the nation’s building and design talent become a hot export. Notable sites include:
Seven unique UNESCO Creative Cities
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network is made up of 246 cities around the world that place the creative and cultural industries at the heart of their urban development. Melbourne was the first Australian city to join the network in 2008, with six more following since then:
Grants, incentives and support
- The Australian Government’s Office for the Arts provides broad funding and support across the arts.
- The Australia Council is the Australian Government’s principal arts investment, development and advisory body. It provides grants in community arts and cultural development, dance, emerging and experimental arts, literature, multi-art form, music, theatre and visual arts.
- Creative Partnerships Australia brings arts, donors and business together for mutual benefit.
- Regional Arts Australia supports artists, arts organisations, audiences and communities across regional and remote Australia.
- Sounds Australia is a national music industry partnership to support Australia’s contemporary music sector at key music markets such as SxSW, The Great Escape, WOMEX, CMJ, Music Matters and Canadian Music Week.
- The Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) connects contemporary Australian theatre, dance, and emerging and experimental art with national and international opportunities.