Esther Anatolitis is Executive Director of NAVA, leading policy, advocacy and action for a contemporary arts sector that’s ambitious and fair.
Esther is a writer, facilitator and critic with an abiding interest in how art creates public space in all its forms. Her practice rigorously integrates professional and artistic modes of working to create collaborations, projects and workplaces that promote a critical reflection on practice. A passionate advocate for the arts, Esther is Deputy Chair of Contemporary Arts Precincts, and a former board member of ACMI, Elbow Room, the Arts Industry Council (Victoria) and Regional Arts Australia.
Esther has facilitated and collaborated on creative projects across a range of media and locations, and her critique has a strong focus on visual, spatial and experimental art including sound and literature. Her academic background is in European philosophy, and she also holds the postgraduate Zertifikat BauhausDessau for her work on the international architectural project Serve City: Interactive Urbanism for which she was awarded a DAAD Künstlerprogramm residency. At the Bauhaus, Esther worked within a studio model that embraced the cross-disciplinary collaboration practices of the home of Modernism, as well as leading a weekly concept workshop for the broader Bauhaus community. With Dr Hélène Frichot, she then co-curated Architecture+Philosophy for ten years, and has also presented the Architecture Curriculum at The School of Life Melbourne. Working to high-speed rail client CLARA, Esther has taught into the studio program at RMIT School of Architecture + Urban Design to develop masterplans for entirely new regional cities. Her collaboration with the Surprise City team for the Cities Summit urged masterplanners and urban developers to plan unintended consequences that maintain complexity and ambiguity. Esther was Curator of Digital Publics Melbourne and Sydney, and co-facilitated Independent Convergence across three years. Esther curated the Sunday Salons with Dr Ben Eltham and Tasneem Chopra, and more recently Australian Cultural Policy: the Next Decade.
Creating and sustaining the conditions for independent creative practice is Esther’s professional focus, with past leadership roles spanning craft and design, literature, visual arts, publishing and broadcasting. Esther has held CEO-level positions with several key arts organisations including Melbourne Fringe, Craft Victoria, SYN Media, the Emerging Writers’ Festival and Express Media, and most recently Regional Arts Victoria, where she led the Small Town Transformations program of arts-led regional renewal. She has served on many boards, juries and policy advisories. As an arts leader she specialises in creating new artistic frameworks for established companies that generate new thinking and new work. Esther was on the Programming Advisory Committee for the 2013-2017 Melbourne Writers’ Festivals, the 2012-2016 Musica Viva international programming advisory, and the Artistic Advisory Panel for Arts & Edges 2014 (Kalgoorlie-Boulder) and Artlands 2016 (Dubbo). At Arts & Edges, Esther was the Ambassador for Special Agents, the counter-program of artistic interventions. Across 2014-2015, Esther developed her creative approach to public space and public voice with the support of the Australia Council Artistic Leadership fund. In 2015 Esther was a member of the Victorian Government Creative Industries Expert Reference Group who oversaw Australia’s first creative industries strategy.
Esther’s work has been published widely in Australia and overseas, including in the Guardian, the Age, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Overland, Daily Review, Eureka Street, Dancehouse Diary, un Magazine, The Emerging Writer, the Australian, Artichoke, Arts Hub, Houses and RealTime Arts, and she is the former arts policy columnist for Meanjin. Esther is one of the nation’s most sought-after commentators on arts and culture. She has been profiled in The Age, The Leader, Melbourne News, CB Online, Arts Hub, The Courier and Neos Kosmos. Esther also has a background in public, commercial and community media, having led multilingual newsrooms, broadcaster training, program creation, new platform development and a radio station. Esther’s writing has been translated into German, Greek and Ukrainian. Experimentation is her writerly love: in 2016, she exhibited her INDEX-SYSTEM project at Mailbox Arts Space, and in 2017, she was a keynote speaker and site-specific workshop presenter at Performing, Writing in New Zealand.
High-level sector development is core to Esther’s ethos: she actively fosters industry-wide networks, and is regularly invited to facilitate or consult on strategic planning and programming for arts organisations, advocacy bodies, cultural institutions, university faculties and regional governments. Esther has chaired global advocacy and industry development sessions at the IFACCA World Summit, CARFAC and Americans for the Arts, and in 2019 created Arts Day on Hill as a NAVA collaboration with national cross-artform bodies to lead long-term engagement on arts and cultural policy. She has been an expert peer assessor at all Australian government levels as well as for foundations and private philanthropy. Esther has judged the Georges Mora Fellowship, the Urban Realities Docklands 72hr Design Challenge, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects’ Street Works international design competition, the NEMBC Awards, the Gertrude St Projection Festival and the Science Week Art Prize. In 2013, Esther was a finalist in the Melbourne Awards for Contribution to Profile by an Individual, nominated by regional Victorian artist and curator, Tamara Marwood. In 2017, Esther accepted the Victoria Day Award for the Arts in recognition of Regional Arts Victoria’s work in inspiring the arts across the state. In 2018, Esther was named one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence by the Australian Financial Review. In 2019, Esther co-facilitated Australian Cultural Policy: The Next Decade, a partnership between Monash University’s Masters of Cultural & Creative Leadership and NAVA.
Across all such involvements is an abiding interest in the spatial, cultural and political configurations that are responsible for the emergence of the new.
IMAGE: Grandstanding at MPavilion 2017. Esther created and facilitated an event which reconfigured the OMA-designed pavilion to create three different spatial and discursive conditions. The event opened the season for MPavilion, Australia’s leading architecture commission, offered to the people of Melbourne as “a container and a cultural laboratory.”