The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra holds its own with NSW and NGV.

Arts Schools needs to take in to account different art forms:

  • Melbourne’s Rusden College has a good reputation compared with NIDA, both for those who don’t make the cut and for those who are interested in being outside the mainstream.
  • Sydney Con and the Australian Academy of Music in Sydney are definitely the pick, with the Con’s jazz school leading that field.
  • WAAPA and QUT are the leaders for dance, outside ballet where VCA rules by virtue of its association with the Australian Ballet.
  • AFTRS rules film and TV, but Swinburne is the go for cutting edge work.
  • Sydney College of the Arts and UNSW have the drop on other cities for visual arts.

Music: Melbourne is streets ahead in popular music, with a vibrant live music scene that Sydney has abandoned as the pubs turn into pokie palaces, with honourable mentions for the Woodford (Qld) and National (Canberra) Folk Festivals.

With symphony orchestras, Sydney and Melbourne are approaching international standard, but in terms of bang for buck Tassie deserves a mention as it has wisely chosen to specialise. Sydney also has the truly remarkable Australian Chamber Orchestra, which arguably has more critical success worldwide than Sydney or Melbourne’s Symphony Orchestras.

Theatre: STC, Belvoir and The Ensemble give Sydney the edge.

Visual arts other than the big galleries is well spread, but the word on the street is that the market for paintings in small galleries is much stronger in Melbourne.

Another subscriber from Marrickville writes:
Your Melbourne v Sydney arts item was fun. But you left out theatre and architecture. I wouldn’t want to try to judge their rival theatrical offerings: I live in Sydney and get to Melbourne (my home town) far too infrequently, but feel that Melbourne lacks anything to rival the Belvoir.

But when it comes to architecture and public art, give me Melbourne any day. Sydney has made an art form out of being boring, whereas Melbourne has Federation Square, the fantastic facades at RMIT, and all kinds of fun stuff. They’ve also kept a surprising amount of their great 1880s Marvellous Melbourne buildings, and the fabulous old laneways of the city are humming.

A proud Canberran writes:
There are dozens of non-Sydney or Melbourne institutions which have been ignored in your bi-partisan argument. Here are some which should help Canberra get a few more runs on the board.

The Australian National Gallery is clearly the best in the country. As for Arts schools, what about the School of Art and the School of Music
in Canberra? And the Conservatoriums in Sydney and Melbourne. Festivals: It’s a bit of a niche market, but you can’t ignore the National Folk Festival in Canberra.

Museums: Boy, was this section wrong. Canberra’s National is quite fun, but superficial once you get over the whizz-bang effects. The War Memorial, however, beats every other museum in the country hands down. The Powerhouse and Australian Museums are also very good. Then there’s the National Science and Technology Centre (aka Questacon).

Libraries: Can I shove in a plug for the marvellous National Library.

I think Canberra deserves a little more than a 0.5 for this lot!

Finally, John Carmody writes:
What a curious little commentary by your “Arts Industry Insider.” If such comparisons are to be made then the following might be germane. And a more intelligent approach to “quantification” would be essential.

1. Arts centres. Whatever its faults, both as a building and the range of venues it offers, the Sydney Opera House has a justifiably legendary status which the buried-in-Yarra-mud Arts centre cannot match (nor hope to), and the sneer about seemingly “genuine” visitors in contrast to mere tourists is as gratuitous as it is vacuous.

2. There’s no doubt that the Victorian gallery has a finer collection than Sydney’s. But if the range of galleries and venues were added, the comparison might be less straightforward.

3. There is no doubting the quality of the Wagner “Ring” in Adelaide last year – but that was at great cost to other operatic activity in Adelaide. Otherwise, there’s FAR more opera in Sydney.

4. Circus and comedy are special cases, surely.

5. NIDA does not purport to be a comprehensive arts school. Melbourne has the National music school but the Sydney Conservatorium is a very big – and flourishing under Kim Walker (helped by its recent $16 million bequest) – operation. There’s also the Australian Institute of Music.

6. The Sydney and Melbourne festivals are probably comparable – whether Adelaide is “better” is debatable and it is only every second year. Nor would I want to compare the Film Festivals adversely; and Sydney’s Writers’ Festival is a major event. It’s silly to roll country events into the state capital’s “account” – these are numerous in NSW, too.

7. I wouldn’t be terribly keen to give many medals to the National Museum in Canberra – it’s not one of our successes.

8. As to music, the MSO has had a more interesting repertoire over recent years – and better conductors – nevertheless, there’s a great deal of other orchestral activity in Sydney (more, I’d suspect, than in Melbourne).

Your commentator would also need to reflect on where most of the writers, composers, film-makers, publishers, musicians (classical, jazz, popular) live and work.

CRIKEY: Keep the feedback coming to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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