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Arts and cultural management leader recognised in 2021 Australia Day Awards

Deakin’s Dr Jill Smith honoured for her significant management career in the performing arts.

Chair of Deakin’s Arts and Cultural Management  (ACM)Advisory Board, Dr Jill Smith, has been recognised for her outstanding work in the arts sector with a 2021 Member of the Order of Australia award (AM).

Jill received the Australia Day honour for her ‘significant service to the performing arts, and to cultural development’ including for her work within the Geelong arts community.

A distinguished contributor to Arts and community

As immediate past General Manager of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre (GPAC) – a role she held between 2008–2018 – Jill developed and extended GPAC’s artistic programs and income streams while also securing funding for the Geelong Cultural Precinct Masterplan which includes GPAC’s redevelopment and expansion.

In 2019, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate with Deakin for her arts advocacy in Geelong which also contributed to the City of Greater Geelong’s new strategic plan – A Clever and Creative City – and recognition as a UNESCO City of Design.

Prior to GPAC, Jill was General Manager of Melbourne’s Playbox Theatre for more than 20 years, during which time she oversaw its 1990 re-birth at the Malthouse in Southbank after fire destroyed its Exhibition Street site in 1981. 

Recognising a collective effort

At both a professional and personal level, Jill says her AM award celebrates and recognises the extraordinary people she’s worked with over her career.

‘I know that as an arts manager I am only as good as the people I work with, so this award celebrates not only all the artists, technical teams, and those in all aspects of administration, but importantly the audiences, sponsors and donors who supported the work,’ she says.

Investment in the Arts is paying off

‘This includes the Board and Trust members who embraced the risk and roller coaster rides inherent in governing an arts organisations, and our governments and funding agencies who understood that without creativity their communities, states and the nation would be very barren places. All have learnt that investment, no matter how large or small, leverages so much other support.’

Jill brings an extraordinary depth of experience to her role as Deakin’s ACM Advisory Board Chair where her responsibilities include ensuring a broad arts sector representation, marketing the ACM course, student participation, and scholarship fundraising.

A valued discipline at Deakin

‘Most importantly my role is ensuring this small niche course is valued by the University and the Faculty of Business and Law. Creative industries are the fastest growing sector of the economy and arts managers have a great deal to contribute to the broader management and political discussion. The strength of the course is in its connection to the sector and therefore the employability of graduates,’ she says.

She is particularly proud of the extensive experience and connections held by ACM staff and Board members.

The leading educator in Arts Management

‘Deakin’s ACM course is now acknowledged as the leader in arts management in Australia – for both the quality of teaching and research that is informed by and relevant to the sector. This has made employers understand both recruitment value and aided their willingness to assist existing staff to undertake the course,’ she says. 

Developing Arts leaders for the future

‘So many leaders and future leaders in the sector are graduates of the course. This online course has helped build participation, but the barriers still need to be addressed. During my time we have built scholarship funds in the names of George Fairfax and Sue Nattrass. We also are particularly proud of the support from the Anthony Costa Foundation for scholarships for students with disabilities.’

Listen to artists

Reflecting on the award, her career, and the future of the arts, Jill says the broader community must learn to ‘look at and listen to’ artists. 

‘They are our window to understanding an increasingly complex world … every government and corporate board should have an artist as a member. Not only is it a way to financially support their work but it will ensure that the thinking of boards is challenged, and corporate community responsibility is taken seriously.’

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