Glacier - new directions in Australian painting from 17 young artists.

RMIT Gallery, 13 September 2001

I'm delighted to be here tonight - as I walked here from my home just up the road, I realised that this fabulous gallery is actual my nearest local gallery. It is good sometimes to celebrate the shamelessly parochial.

Passing the State Library, with the French exhibition in the temporary gallery, then on down the road to RMIT reminded me how well-endowed Melbourne is in terms of cultural richness, and how important this is to the life of the city. In other forums recently I have been making the point that cultural richness is becoming a key investment attraction driver in the global competition between cities for knowledge workers in the 21st century. Yet another reason for greater reinvestment in the arts.

The title from the this exhibition's catalogue - Reflections and Reconstruction - has a special meaning for us today, as we reflect on the horrors of yesterday which can leave none of us unaffected.

Civilisation is fragile; the cultural heritage of our common humanity is very, very precious; our creative journey of self discovery and mutual understanding has never seemed more important.

In our chaotic world, in a world of economic anxiety, and now the growing anxiety of random terrorism, where is the centre of our community?

We need artists, we need the creative arts, more than ever before, We need them to hold up mirrors to ourselves, to let us see ourselves freshly, newly. We need their creative making of meaning to help the rest of us find new meanings in this increasingly complex world.

We need artists to inspire us, and to give us fresh visions of possibility. We need continually to reflect on our humanity and how we can enrich our lives and our communities in an era where poverty and meanness of spirit has never seemed so threatening.

Our artists, the arts in Australia, are crucial in helping all Australians reconstruct our sense of identity, purpose and hope in this 21st century. Reading Donald Horne's latest book - one of my formidable predecessors at the Australia Council - we are reminded how far Australia has come over the last thirty years. Horne's book reminds us vividly that we must never take a vibrant cultural life for granted - as a community we must keep reinvesting in the arts and artists, or we risk stagnation.

Without new media, without experimentation and without risk taking our cultural life, our every day community life, will become stagnant.

On occasions like this I have so far resisted any temptation to pose as an art critic or commentator. I am not going to start now. Like you, I am here to learn and be challenged, and that means hearing the direct voices of artists, and learning how to read and experience these works.