L-R: Mish Grigor, Selena de Carvalho, Rebecca Selleck, Miranda Johnson, Esther Anatolitis, Georgia Mokak, Shaun Edwards, Nadeena Dixon, Emma Fey, Clare Armitage in the House of Representatives, Museum of Australian Democracy. Photo by Penelope Benton (NAVA).

Not long after I commenced at Guildhouse in 2017, then Director of Adelaide Central School of Art, Ingrid Kellenbach, invited me to provide the keynote address to the School’s graduating cohort.

Considering the significant step these graduates were about to take, leaving the comforting arms of the school environment, I felt compelled to speak with them about their power and influence as artists. Yes, that’s right, not the challenges ahead or doom and gloom about the funding environment, I wanted each and every one of those graduates to feel inspired by their own agency to enact change, to incite emotion and really reach people.

However, I confess, afterwards I wondered if I wasn’t just a little too earnest?
After all, the challenges are real.
And they demand our attention.

So what is Arts Day on the Hill?

It is a new initiative by NAVA, funded by a generous philanthropist, to provide an annual focus on national advocacy that fosters effective, long term policy outcomes for the arts. With an aim to strengthen the arts through ambitious policy, Arts Day on the Hill is an important element of NAVA’s strategy to build long term relationships across Parliament. The program brought a diverse group of practitioners together for a series of conversations and workshops around advocacy, allowing us to determine priorities and key messages. We discussed and strategised the different approaches necessary to achieve good advocacy and had a game plan for our two days of back to back meetings with MPs. Arts Day on the Hill was also used as a platform to launch the new Parliamentary Friendship Group for Contemporary Art and Culture, which was celebrated with a special function at Parliament House.

We talked arts advocacy at a regional, national and international level with generous arts leaders, we shared stories of each of our states and territories, and some of the unique challenges we are each facing. We benefited from an introductory session on the machinery of government, attended several sessions of Question Time and toured the Parliament House collection store with Director Justine van Mourik.

Shaun Edwards and Selena de Carvalho. Photograph Guildhouse.

I brought all my knowledge of the sector and conversations I’ve had with South Australian practitioners into these discussions. And in return I want to share my observations and learnings.


  • There is power in being seen. To be heard you need to be in the conversation.
  • Being on the ground in Canberra for these conversations builds credibility.
  • The level of literacy in contemporary art and culture is relatively low. But there is curiosity, positivity and interest – as practitioners we are seen as novel, interesting and engaging. Everyone has their own story. Art connects.
  • The power of personal, individual advocacy through letters, phone calls, emails to the MP of your local electorate have more impact than you think. Your voice will be heard and the process ensures you will get a response. (Chain campaigns don’t achieve the same level of traction)
  • It is important to have a consistent, clear message to communicate – individual storytelling in a national context is compelling.
  • There is great value in the simplicity of having three key points to communicate and a concise summary to leave behind.
  • Follow-up – share invitations, relevant invitations, photos create opportunities to maintain a meaningful dialogue.
  • There are other avenues other than the Arts Portfolio – we need to think strategically about who else we can enlist across different portfolios and parties.
  • Parliament House is a strange, strange bubble.
  • Everyone we met with spoke about their reverence for the Parliament House Collection; the art in the building is a powerful advocacy tool in itself.
  • The new Parliamentary Friendship Group has reach across parties and was received with interest.
  • Advocacy workshopping and training is something we all need more of.

Arts Day on the Hill Participants at Parliament House with Parliamentary Friendship Group for Contemporary Art and Culture Co-Chair Maria Vamvakinou, Member for Calwell, Australian Labor Party. Photograph Guildhouse.

Bec Selleck, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for the Arts, Esther Anatolitis and Emma Fey at the launch of NAVA’s Arts Day on the Hill. Photograph Irene Dowdy.

This work is a continuum, there isn’t really a beginning and an end. I find that prospect rather exciting, and let’s just say, the work is under way…

I’d like to thank Esther Anatolitis, Penelope Benton and Georgia Mokak of Nava for their leadership, and my fellow representatives for their courage and generosity: Clare Armitage (NT), Selena de Carvalho (TAS), Nadeena Dixon (NSW), Shaun Edwards (QLD), Mish Grigor (VIC), Miranda Johnson (WA) and Rebecca Selleck (ACT).



Emma Fey,
Guildhouse Chief Executive Officer.

September 9, 2019