Tasmania’s physical beauty and brooding history have always been a heady source of artistic inspiration. Charles Darwin, the Marquis de Beauvoir and Mark Twain admired and wrote about these islands. In 2014, local author Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker Prize, generally regarded as the supreme award for any writer in the English language, with his World War II novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Flanagan was already widely acclaimed for Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping and Gould’s Book of Fish.
Flanagan’s achievement was part of a golden age for the Arts in Tasmania that had dawned in 2011 when David Walsh launched his sensational Museum of Old and New Art. An English journalist wrote that MONA had reversed Australia’s notorious cultural cringe. The deliberately outrageous underground establishment not only changed the world’s opinion of Tasmania, it changed many Tasmanians’ opinions of their home. It sparked a surge in cultural tourism that brought widespread benefits. Even the international magazine Newsweek reported about in 2016 about the ‘MONA-isation’ of Hobart.
MONA’s first exhibition was titled Monaism and was designed to shock. Walsh admitted to some disappointment when the public reaction to its 400 artworks valued at more than $50 million was overwhelmingly positive. Sidney Nolan’s 1,620-piece Snake was always going to be a winner, but even a wall of vaginas, a poo machine and a painting of the Virgin Mary that had proven to be too outré for New Yorkers were calmly accepted. MONA drew more than 400,000 visitors in its debut year and gave birth to a summer Arts and music festival, Mona Foma, and to an unexpectedly successful mid-winter equivalent, Dark Mofo. All at once Hobart was a cultural destination.
Tasmanians had always been eager to explore the depths and many moods of their unique home and MONA interlocked perfectly with this attitude. Half a century before Flanagan’s upsurge, another internationally celebrated Tasmanian novelist, Christopher Koch, had launched a glittering career with The Boys in the Island. Koch will always have a prominent place among a throng of Tasmanian talent including Cassandra Pybus, Rohan Wilson, Amanda Lohrey, Danielle Wood, Heather Rose and Susan Moody.
A decade before MONA a biennial cultural festival – 10 Days on the Island – enabled Tasmanians to celebrate the work of their own artists and performers and to enjoy glittering artistic input from island communities around the globe.
Capturing the State’s wild beauty on camera is a passion for many talented photographers, who declare that the quality of the light found here is matched nowhere else. Wood workers, too, enjoy a local advantage through access to beautiful native timbers they use to build national and global reputations.
Painters such as 2003 Archibald Prize-winner Geoffrey Dyer (he painted Richard Flanagan), Philip Wolfhagen, Michael McWilliams, David Keeling and Michael Weitnauer reinterpret the Tasmanian landscape.
Recently, films such as Lion and The Light Between Oceans and TV series such as Gourmet Farmer and The Kettering Incident have taken Tasmania to the wider world.
Our community contains a disproportionate number of artists and writers. Painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, dancers, actors and singers all draw inspiration from these islands on the edge of the world.
Facts and figures
- In 1979 Tasmania became the first Australian jurisdiction to enact an Art in Public Buildings Scheme.
- Total average weekly household expenditure on culture in Tasmania is slightly higher than the national average at $23.47 or 3.95 per cent of total household spending on goods and services.
- Art collectors in Tasmania are encouraged by the Government to buy art works by local artists through a concessional Collect Art Purchase Scheme.
- Tasmanians make more visits to art galleries, museums, libraries, popular music events and dance performances than other Australians.
- More than 65,000 Tasmanians do paid or unpaid work in the cultural industries, higher as a percent of the adult population than any other Australian State.
- The Tasmanian Government funds cultural activity to the tune of $93.55 for each resident of the State, higher than the national average ($91.00).