Giving to a Fine Art
28 April 2014 at 11:00 am
A passion for the arts has taken Fiona Menzies from the halls of Federal Parliament through to the Not for Profit sector. Menzies is this week’s Changemaker.
Menzies’ career in private giving to the arts started in her university days – firstly while at the University of Melbourne where she completed her undergraduate thesis on a private arts collection donated to the State of South Australia.
She again studied a donated collection while completing a Masters degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, this time focussing on costume designs for a 1914 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
However, she went on to work for the Federal Government – working as an adviser and later Chief of Staff to two Arts Ministers. As part of her time working in government she played a key role in the introduction of measures in the taxation system to increase private sector support for the arts.
After time out of the workforce to look after her small children, she returned to work for a property investment firm and then a children’s cancer research charity in Melbourne.
Menzies then was part of the inaugural team that started the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas in 2009, becoming the centre’s Development Manager.
In February 2013 she was appointed CEO of the then newly created Creative Partnerships Australia.
Menzies has served on the board of the Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust and is currently on a school foundation board in Melbourne.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
Our goal is to increase the sustainability of the arts sector by working with arts organisations and artists to help them diversify their sources of income.
Our programs and services include mentoring advice from our expert staff, our business volunteering program which matches business professionals with arts organisations based on skills and expertise required, and this year we have introduced a business skills development program and new matched funding programs.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
I have worked in the NFP sector for seven years, but prior to that spent time in both the government and business sectors working directly with and for the arts sector.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
My first job within the NFP sector was not in the arts, but in health.
I was the Chief Executive of the Australian New Zealand Children’s Haemotology/Oncology Group, which represents professionals working with children with cancer, and oversees clinical trials in this field.
I worked with some of the most amazing doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in the country – highly trained and very passionate about providing the best support possible to childhood cancer patients and their families. It was a very humbling experience.
I then moved to the arts sector as part of the inaugural team that established the Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.
This was also a privilege, made possible by the work of some people with great vision, as well as the hard work and intelligence of our community of great writers.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
When you see that the assistance you provide makes a tangible difference to an artist’s or organisation’s ability to do their work.
What has been the most challenging part of your work?
My current role as the first CEO of Creative Partnerships has involved many challenges that can all be summed up as people who are negative.
I try to bring a positive, collaborative and solution driven approach to life and work. I find it challenging when, occasionally, I have to deal with people who don’t share this approach.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
Reading: Stonemouth by Iain Banks. For pure escapism.
Watching: Danish TV series The Killing. Also escapism.
Listening: Holst’s The Planets. Part of my mission to expose my children to as much classical music as possible. They love it and will often tell me that they’ve heard a particular piece of music somewhere else and can identify where and when.
School taught me …
To always be curious and never to make assumptions, especially in relation to people.
What (or who) inspires you?
Anyone who demonstrates bravery. Artists do this every time they have an exhibition, perform, publish a book and so on.
They are putting their work out into the world for judgement, which I think is incredibly courageous.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
I grew up in a household that was always outward looking, community minded and welcoming to all.
My parents have just celebrated their 50th anniversary and the number and range of friends that were present on this occasion was a great reminder of this.