Editor of Meanjin Esther Anatolitis is one of Australia’s most influential advocates for arts and culture. She is a member of the National Gallery of Australia Governing Council, and Honorary Associate Professor at RMIT School of Art. Esther’s leadership, facilitative and consultancy work promotes a critical reflection on practice and active civic engagement.
Esther works all over Australia on strategic development, creative precincts and public policy. Across two decades she held arts and media CEO positions across all platforms and artforms. She was a founding director and Deputy Chair of Contemporary Arts Precincts, the organisation behind Collingwood Yards, and a former board member of organisations including ACMI, Elbow Room, the Arts Industry Council (Victoria), and Regional Arts Australia. A prolific writer, her work is published widely and archived here. Across all of Esther’s involvements is a deep commitment to championing the voices who create Australia’s future.
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 text. 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 Prof 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 with 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, and has been an independent critic and examiner for the School for over fifteen years. 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, co-facilitated Independent Convergence across three years, and curated the Sunday Salons with Dr Ben Eltham and Tasneem Chopra OAM. She is a Member of AICA Australia, the Australian Society of Authors, the Copyright Agency, the MEAA and NAVA.
Creating and championing the conditions for independent creative practice is Esther’s professional focus, with past leadership roles spanning literature, publishing and broadcasting, visual arts, craft and design, museums and galleries, performing arts and festivals. Esther has held CEO-level positions with several key arts organisations including Melbourne Fringe, Craft Victoria, SYN Media, the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Express Media, and Regional Arts Victoria, where she led the Small Town Transformations program of arts-led regional renewal. As Executive Director of NAVA, Esther led the national collegiate advocacy focus during the pandemic, and created Australia’s first advocacy training program for the arts. As an arts leader has specialised in creating new frameworks for established companies that generate new thinking and new work. Esther was on the programming advisories for the 2006-2008 State of Design festivals, the 2013-2017 Melbourne Writers’ Festivals, the 2012-2016 Musica Viva international programs, Arts & Edges 2014 (Kalgoorlie-Boulder) and Artlands 2016 (Dubbo). At Arts & Edges, Esther was the Ambassador for Special Agents, the counter-program of artistic and strategic interventions. Esther has been an expert peer assessor at all Australian government levels as well as for foundations and private philanthropy. She 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, the Science Week Art Prize and the Incinerator Award for Art and Social Change.
Public policy and industry engagement
Esther is one of the nation’s most sought-after commentators on arts, culture and the creative industries. A hallmark of Esther’s leadership career has been her tenacious civic engagement, ensuring that artists’ voices and arts issues feature prominently on political agendas. High-level policy and industry development is core to her ethos: she actively fosters sector-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. Her advocacy workshops are presented all over Australia to artists, artsworkers and executive leaders. Esther has chaired global advocacy and industry development sessions at the IFACCA World Summit, CARFAC and Americans for the Arts. She has been commissioned by urban and regional councils to develop, critique or review their arts and cultural policies, and has sat on numerous policy advisories, such as the Victorian Government Creative Industries Expert Reference Group, where she oversaw the development of Australia’s first creative industries strategy. Internationally, Esther has benchmarked global approaches to arts advocacy via travel and engagement with thanks to the Australia Council Artistic Leadership fund in 2014-15, and the Copyright Agency’s IGNITE fund in 2018. In 2019, Esther co-facilitated Australian Cultural Policy: The Next Decade, and in 2022 she was headline speaker at the Federal Arts and Cultural Policy Forum. With thanks to private philanthropy, Esther created Arts Day on Hill as a collaboration between national cross-artform bodies to foster long-term engagement on arts and cultural policy.
Esther’s work has been published widely in Australia and overseas, including in The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Age, The Australian, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Overland, Daily Review, Eureka Street, Dancehouse Diary, un Magazine, The Emerging Writer, Artichoke, Houses, ArtsHub and RealTime Arts; she is a former arts policy columnist for both Meanjin and ArtsHub. She has been profiled in The Age, The Leader, Melbourne News, CB Online, Arts Hub, The Courier, the Australian Financial Review 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, French, Spanish 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. Esther has a chapter on the role of the institution in The Relationship is the Project, an invaluable resource curated by Jade Lillie and published in 2020. This text, and Esther’s experimental piece Art ⇄ Architecture, have been included on university curricula. Her book Place, Practice, Politics was published in 2022.
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 The Art Life‘s warmly collegiate 2020 Power Trip, Esther was named the eighth most influential person in the arts in Australia.
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.”