Ladies & gentlemen,
Thank you very much for this kind opportunity to share a few thoughts on this occasion of the 2017 Blacktown City Art Prize.
The Blacktown City Art Prize is a much anticipated cultural event each year in Blacktown.
In 1996, a small group of enthusiastic, local artists – known as the Arts Reference Group – got together and decided that Blacktown needed an art prize. Our previous Mayor of Blacktown City and Councillor, Leo Kelly OAM, led that group for almost every year until his passing earlier this year.
From these modest beginnings, the Art Prize exhibition has grown in scale and prestige to become one of the most prominent art prizes in New South Wales.
The growth of Blacktown Art Prize has mirrored the growth and development of contemporary arts and culture, not just in Blacktown, but across the Western Sydney region.
This is a chance for local artists to exhibit alongside artists from across Australia. Well done to the local artists from the Blacktown area, and across the wider Western Sydney region, whose works have succeeded in making it into this exhibition.
In addition to the main Blacktown City Art Prize, and to honour the excellent work of our local artists, we continue to offer the Local Artist Prize each year.
We also continue to offer the Aboriginal Artist Prize as part of our work to support and nurture the development of contemporary Aboriginal artists’ work.
And the Peoples’ Choice Prize – which I encourage you all to vote in – is recognised not just for the quality of the winning artist’s work, but the vital role that visitors have in talking about the value of contemporary art and its many new forms and ideas.
One of the roles of contemporary art is to challenge viewers as well as delight them, and every year the Blacktown City Art Prize and the year-long program here at the Arts Centre does exactly that, and it generates stimulating conversations on the merits and values of artists’ work.
And let’s not forget the independent judging panel this year, whose hard work and commitment through viewing and deliberating over 600 artworks, has resulted in the exhibition of 93 finalists and the winning works.
Today is, to the day, my 40th anniversary in service of local government. The irony is that on that day 2 December 1977 I commenced as junior clerk at Blacktown City Council. This building in which we gather this afternoon was the Church of England – Blacktown. It was in this building over following years I bid farewell to my grandparents and my father, and also in October 1981I married the love of my life. My grandfather was the Minister’s Warden when this was a church for 40 years.
I am so very honoured and privileged to be asked to provide this oratory today where we honour my mate Leo Kelly, OAM.
Leo Kelly had an unwavering passion for the arts, and a belief in the value of the arts in enriching all our lives. He wanted to encourage local artistic talent, and his ethos was that the western suburbs of Sydney should have equitable access for its citizens in recognition of their desire to participate in, view and enjoy art and culture in all its forms. He was however, on occasion, in the most private of company known to say,
“…well that bloody painting is not my cup of tea but seemingly every other bugger around here that knows anything (or pretends to know anything) about art seems to think it’s a ripper so I suppose we better buy it.”
Leo overcame strong opposition to the plan for an arts centre on its current site. He argued that his opponents had no alternative use for it and just wanted to sell it as a car park. But Leo had the foresight to recognise that the people of Blacktown deserved a high-value centre of arts excellence.
For those who attended Leo’s funeral you may recall in his eulogy I spoke of having first-hand knowledge of where this plan was hatched which was over a few beers at Wrestpoint Casino, Hobart, when Leo had established my strong connection to this building and my desire to have it preserved in whatever capacity. Whilst I will not be so foolhardy as to suggest that this was the only reason, I would like to think that it resonated with him amongst all of the deliberations.
Here I should also acknowledge the work of Janet Kelly, who worked alongside Leo for many years, championing the arts, and artists of Blacktown. I am delighted that Janet and her family could join with us today. For those who know the family they will be filled with great pride at what is occurring here today.
I am delighted that we are now honouring Leo’s pioneering work and commitment by renaming Blacktown Arts Centre as The Leo Kelly Blacktown Arts Centre. I cannot think of a more fitting way for his name to be captured in perpetuity in this City.
Leo is sorely missed by many of us, and this is a fitting and lasting tribute to a champion of the arts here in Blacktown.
Peter Filmer, OAM