Melbourne’s resident population and daily visitation is growing rapidly. Arts and creativity are essential to Melbourne’s identity.

A new Arts Strategy for 2014-17 is being developed. In October and November, we held public and artist forums, pop-up events and sought feedback online about what people love about the arts in Melbourne and how we should encourage arts and creativity.

The draft Melbourne Arts Strategy (PDF, 0.9MB) was open for your final input from 12 March to 9 April 2014. You were able to participate by completing an online survey. Project updates are provided below.


The final arts strategy is available for download. We thank everyone who contributed to this strategy.

We encourage you to continue the conversation online about our creative city by tagging your posts on social media with the hashtag #melbournearts.

July 29, 2014

The City of Melbourne’s Art Strategy 2014-17 was endorsed by Melbourne City Council on 10 June 2014.

Through polls, online forums and public meetings, more than a thousand people shared their vision of what Melbourne’s arts scene should look like by answering questions focused on key elements of a creative city and the role of local government in the arts.

The six major themes that resulted from these conversations - connection, activation, spaces, funding, recognition, and heritage – formed the backbone of the strategy, which will now help support the realisation of our vision for a bold, inspirational, sustainable and creative city.

The final version of the strategy will be released shortly and be available as a download through this site and

We would like to thank the members of the community who helped shape the arts strategy.  

June 21, 2014

If you missed the Arts Strategy public forum hosted by Dr Leslie Cannold at Melbourne Town Hall on Wednesday 20 November last year, you can view videos featuring each speaker at the forum – including Deborah Cheetham, Gideon Obarzanek, Louise Adler, Ash Keating, Alice Pung and Tasneem Chopra – via the City of Melbourne YouTube channel.

Here’s a preview:

March 31, 2014

The summary report captures all the engagement activities that occured throughout November 2013 from the forums to pop-ups events. During this time there were 1257 individual contributions recorded from 1000 people.

Find out more information about the topics and themes that have emerged and are captured in the Public engagement phase one report (PDF, 1.31MB).

March 4, 2014

Author and expert in cultural and demographic trends Bernard Salt, reflects on what has contributed to Melbourne becoming a Creative City. As we develop the Council’s Arts Strategy for the next three years, have a read of Bernard’s views and share your thoughts about the arts in Melbourne, and the City of Melbourne’s role in creating and sustaining a bold, inspiration and creative city. Have your say on the forum page.

The rise to prominence of modern Melbourne’s creative culture: how history, geography, demography and gold created Australia’s most cultured city


Perhaps not from the beginning of European settlement but pretty soon after Melbourne and Victoria began to make a disproportionate contribution to the Australian arts. To be fair the discovery of gold did attract artists and patrons but it was more than that. Melbourne was always better linked into the London establishment than Sydney. The allure and the lustre of Ballarat gold merely cemented ‘free’ Melbourne’s position as a mini-me London albeit well removed from the real thing.

Colonial immigrant artists Eugene Von Geurard and William Strutt documented and captured the colony’s early settlement as well as the excitement of the diggings. The settlement on Port Phillip Bay attracted diggers and immigrants to such an extent that brash young Melbourne replaced staid old Sydney as the Australian continent’s largest city from 1858. And indeed Melbourne held that title for almost half a century.

Sydney surged ahead of the southern capital early in the 20th Century but by then Melbourne had established itself as the new nation’s premier city in commerce and politics. Following federation and prior to the establishment of Canberra the Australian Prime Minister and the federal parliament were based in Melbourne. The PM lived at No 1 Collins Street. Of course.

Business enterprises that we recognise today were forged during that era including BHP-Billiton, NAB, ANZ, Myer, Foster’s and the Post Master General’s office which is now known more simply as Australia Post. Melbourne’s financial and industrial might delivered patrons ever eager to replicate English sophistication in the arts in the colonies. The Melbourne Club flourished. Suburbs were given English names like Richmond, Collingwood and Hawthorn. Grand homes were built to accommodate the wealthy (Ripponlea) and what might be called the colonial nobility (Como). And with this aspirational culture of means came demand for all manner of artistic endeavour. The Heidelberg school that fostered painters like Tom Robert, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin emerged from Melbourne not from Sydney.

And later in the 20th Century it was Heide, the home of John and Sunday Reed, that would cultivate the next generation of artistic talent. Sunday of course was born to a Melbourne establishment family, a family that supported the arts. Sidney Nolan famously painted his Ned Kelly series on the kitchen table at Heide in suburban Bulleen.

But creative Melbourne was and still is more than painting alone. Melbourne has always supported a lively cultural scene. Television producer Hector Crawford based his business in suburban Box Hill and delivered television drama from the 1960s to the 1980s. Edna Everage famously came out of Melbourne’s suburbia. As did The Sullivans, Neighbours and Kath & Kim and all of whom celebrate our uniquely Melbourne lifestyle. Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle (1997) was inordinately proud of his suburban home in Coolaroo.

Only Melbourne could have conceived and executed such a parody. In the 1960s a cheeky Graeme Kennedy projected Melbourne culture to the rest of Australia with a nightly television program boldly called In Melbourne Tonight. Hey, Sydney, if you’re a bit bored up there you like to tune into all the action In Melbourne Tonight! I don’t think this concept would fly today. Art, architecture, theatre, television to say nothing of robust intellectual debate in politics, in religion and in the union movement have always flourished in Melbourne. Perhaps it was Melbourne’s early cultivation of wealthy patrons. Perhaps it was the endeavour of our aspirational, free, immigrant forebears who so desperately wanted to recreate London in Melbourne.

There is also the argument that Melbourne’s densely-populated inner-city was always going to be an irrepressible hotbed of ideas of art and dissent. Unlike Sydney which is divided by the harbour Melbourne’s inner suburbs sprawl and coalesce into a single amorphous creative urban mass. The academia of Carlton bleeds into the bohemia of Collingwood which in turn arcs into the cosmopolitaness of Richmond. Then there is a jump across the Yarra to the coolness of Chapel Street which connects the patronage of Toorak with the artistry of St Kilda. It might be a happy accident or it might be what American academic Richard Florida calls a ‘creative class’ that has always been present in cities like Melbourne. Only supremely confident Melburnians would presume to name the state’s art gallery the National Gallery of Victoria.

There is indeed a presumption to authority in artistic matters in Melbourne that is simply not present in other cities. And it transcends art and extends to matters of public design and beauty. Who can be but mesmerised by the gorgeous arrondisements of central Melbourne: North Fitzroy, Albert Park, East Melbourne? All planned. All ordered. All part of a rich Londonesque, or is that a noble Parisian, landscape that is now so celebrated and savoured by the locals. And pivotal to the contours of life in central Melbourne is the self-assuredness of residents that they are living amid the artistic spoils of a vast, prosperous and cultivated empire. Institutions like Melbourne University, the Exhibition buildings and Government House, our many galleries and theatres; the botanic gardens; our planned suburbs linked by gracious boulevards, all help define the beautiful city of Melbourne formed and forever nurtured by thinkers, artists and planners. Melbourne is in many respects the cultural repository of the Australian nation.

Other Australian cities may claim grander architecture but no other city can lay claim to a greater cultural predisposition to the arts and to artistic endeavour than the people of the beautiful city of Melbourne.

Bernard Salt is an author, a columnist and a business advisor;

November 21, 2013