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8 March 2018

Liza Lim at Australia Council Awards: "To cut arts funding is to sever the legacies of the future"

Liza Lim Image: Liza Lim  
© University of Sydney

Composer Liza Lim received her Australia Council Don Banks Music Award in a ceremony at Sydney's Carriageworks on Tuesday 6 March. She used the opportunity to stress the importance of lineages and the living legacy passed on to new generations of artists by mentors, teachers, colleagues and the arts community. Her work Wild Winged One was performed at the ceremony by trumpeter Tristram Williams. The speech was originally published on Liza Lim's website and is reproduced with permission.

I acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we gather, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to Uncle Alan Madden and to other elders past, present and emerging.

It always feels inspiring to say these words because they speak to the important role of lineages in making culture. I think of the living legacy of knowledge that was passed to me from my earliest mentors in music, my high school music teacher Ros McMillan and her partner, the jazz improviser Brian Brown, as well as my first composition teachers Richard Hames and Riccardo Formosa. They knew Don Banks and I feel that I was also given something from that lineage that merged European serial formalism with an improviser's ear. I played the Banks Sonata for violin and piano for my final recital at the Victorian College of the Arts in 1986, and I'm beyond thrilled to receive this award named in his honour.

The Australia Council together with the Australian Music Centre, as custodians of culture, have played fundamentally important roles in the development of my work. In 1988, the AMC sent me as the Australian representative to the Hong Kong ISCM World Music Days; the same year the Australia Council's then Music Board commissioned my work Garden of Earthly Desire, a 30-minute work performed numerous times by my brilliant long-time collaborators, the ELISION Ensemble. Both things set me up in terms of an international career leading to a publishing contract with Ricordi and a string of international commissions, so I'm hugely grateful.

Sadly, it's far too easy to trash the work of organisations such as the AMC and the Australia Council and to undermine the crucial role they play in supporting new talent at pivotal moments. Time and again we see that taking a risk on unknown names bears fruit years later. To cut arts funding is very simply to sever the legacies of the future.

Of course, to build a legacy means to be embedded in community, and I thank my family, my parents, friends and numerous colleagues, musicians and, of course, the audiences without whom no music can be made.

I'm the 5th woman to be awarded the Don Banks out of 32 prize-winners since 1984; the 3rd female composer since Ros Bandt and Moya Henderson's wins 25 years ago (amongst 20 composers). The first Asian person - and, for context, Archie Roach in 2015 was the first Aboriginal musician to be awarded the prize. It's a slow process of inclusion. A year of #Metoo, the recent publication of gender pay gap figures, the rising consciousness of systemic disparities around gender, race and class: we are seeing seismic changes in understanding how so-called 'luck' is distributed and, hopefully, we'll also see bold changes in policy that affect how power is reproduced.

I'm happy to use the privilege of this prize to make a contribution to shifting some of those barriers in music that women in particular face, both through the art I make and the mentoring I will do in tandem with my work for 'Composing Women' at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. As with all artists, a prize is the opportunity to do more work! Thank you for this award and honour.

Liza Lim's speech was based on published alumni lists and stats that were available online but that have since been updated and missing information added. Bunnie Lawrie in 2000 was the first Indigenous musician to be awarded the prize. In all there have been 33 winners.

AMC resources

Liza Lim - AMC profile

'Liza Lim wins the Don Banks Music Award' - Resonate (5 March 2018)

Don Banks Music Award - winners from 1984 (AMC Online)

Further links

2018 Australia Council Awards and alumni lists - Australia Council for the Arts website

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