The Deakin University community is deeply saddened by the passing of Sue Nattrass AO, one of Australia’s most influential arts leaders, and we thank her for her outstanding contributions to the Deakin Business School throughout her life.
The Deakin University community is deeply saddened by the passing of Sue Nattrass AO, one of Australia’s most influential arts leaders, on 22 October at the age of 81.
During Sue’s 50-year career in arts management, she blazed a trail for women and became a key figure in the Australian arts sector known for her generosity, intelligence, and passionate commitment to the arts in all its forms.
Sue’s connection to Deakin began in 2009, when she joined the Arts and Cultural Management Program’s (ACM) Advisory Board. Sue was one of the most senior industry professionals to join the Advisory Board and served as Chair from 2009 to 2012, providing invaluable guidance and mentorship to Deakin staff and students.
That same year, Sue was made an Adjunct Professor, Arts and Cultural Management and in 2015, she received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from Deakin for her distinguished contribution to the arts and Deakin’s ACM program.
Also in 2015, the arts community came together to create the Sue Nattrass Arts Management Fund in recognition of Sue’s life-long passion for the sector, her leadership skills, and her wealth of experience in arts management.
The endowment was funded by a group of supporters who shared Sue’s passion for the arts, including the Myer family, Vicki Fairfax and the late George Fairfax AM. In fact, it was George Fairfax who first convinced Sue to join the Arts Centre in November 1983, when he was General Manager of the Victorian Arts Centre Trust.
The Sue Nattrass Arts Management Fund Scholarship was first awarded in 2016 and has since supported 16 postgraduate students pursuing a Master of Business (Arts and Cultural Management) or a Graduate Diploma of Arts and Cultural Management.
Valued at $22,000, the scholarship provides recipients with the financial freedom to seek out practical experiences that are also highly valued by the arts sector.
Vennisa Santoro, an online student from Sydney who received a scholarship in 2017, said the support allowed her to travel to Melbourne for face-to-face workshops and information sessions that helped her understand concepts and develop valuable connections with peers and lecturers.
“I love seeing the creative arts work as a powerful tool to create, harness and develop curiosity and the connection it forges between us,” said Vennisa.
“With such a fast-paced world, it makes everyone take a step back, observe and slow down, which is what the world needs every once in a while!”
Today, Vennisa is following in Sue’s footsteps and pursuing her passion in the arts as an Operations Manager at Hayllar Music Tours.
Born in Horsham in 1941, Sue went on to become a boarding student at Korowa Anglican Girls’ School and in 1959, commenced a Bachelor of Commerce degree at The University of Melbourne where she was soon drawn to the student theatre scene.
Sue was a true trailblazer for women during her 50-year career in the arts, beginning in 1962 when she became the first Australian woman employed as a Lighting Board Operator on Barry Humphries’ first one-man show, A Nice Night’s Entertainment, at the Assembly Hall in Collins Street.
Sue continued to break the glass ceiling throughout her long career as the first woman in a commercial theatre company in Australia to assume the roles of Production Manager, Lighting Designer, Executive Producer and General Manager.
In 1983, Sue became the General Manager of the Victorian Arts Centre and through the next three decades, she took on a range of prominent leadership roles in the Australian arts sector including Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival (1998 and 1999) and the Adelaide Festival of the Arts (2002).
Sue was also President of the Live Performance Australia executive council from 1995 to 2003 and served on the boards of the Playbox Theatre (now Malthouse Theatre), the Tennis Centre, AAMI Stadium, and the Melbourne Football Club.
Sue’s extensive list of awards and accolades included the Victoria Day Award for Community and Public Service (1999), Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (2002), Centenary Medal (2003), the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Cultural Leadership Award from the Australia Business Arts Foundation (2006), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Green Room Awards Association (2007), and Live Performance Australia introduced the Sue Nattrass Award at the Helpmann Awards (2014).
Sue’s legacy will live on through the Sue Nattrass Arts Management Scholarships at Deakin, supporting our next generation of arts academics, managers, and champions.
The Deakin community extends its deepest sympathy to Sue’s family and all those who knew and loved her.