This week we’re beginning a new countdown looking at the most powerful people across Australia’s vibrant arts and culture sphere. Here we present the short list …

Andrew Denton — producer, Zapruder Other Films

Never mind his five-foot-five frame, Denton is a colossus in TV land. The former FM radio host gave the Chaser boys their big break and has his fingerprints all over some of the country’s most popular original content at Zapruder, viz. the Gruen series, Can of Worms and Hungry Beast. And Dentophiles can rejoice, the bespectacled one will be returning to our screens soon as host of the new ABC quiz show Randling.

Anna Schwartz — gallerist

Prominent Melbourne art dealer Schwartz has a reputation as one of the nation’s most feared contemporary gallerists: the kind of no bullshit tastemaker who can kick-start a career. Others say that’s a bit overblown and her influence exists only within a small paint-splattered clique. Still, it doesn’t hurt her cultural power to be married to influential publisher Morry Schwartz.

Baz Luhrmann — filmmaker

Say what you want about Baz shooting The Great Gatsby in 3D, the man is a master at bringing Hollywood stars and studio dollars to our shores. The platinum-haired prodigy also knows how to talk to government, having scored a rebate worth around $40 million to do it. But with our currency hitting all-time highs, Fox Studios in Sydney would pretty much be vacant without him.

Brendan McNamara — founder, Team Bondi

Gaming as culture? You’d better believe it. It’s the growth entertainment area, with Australians spending more on video games ($1.5 billion) than they did at the film box office ($1.09 billion) in 2011. And while the local industry may have been obliterated by the Australian dollar, there was one homemade hit released last year by (the now-defunct) Team Bondi with their 1940s crime title L.A. Noire selling 5 million units worldwide.

Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton — artistic directors, Sydney Theatre Company

Some luvvies may be churlish about their high profile, but there’s no doubt Blanchett and playwright husband Upton have brought the glitz to the STC. They’ve also made the company profitable and won critical acclaim taking home-grown shows to the US, meaning that when their reign ends at the end of next year they’ll have well and truly left their mark.

David Walsh — founder, Museum of New and Old Art

If you haven’t made the trip down to Hobart to visit the s-x and death-themed MONA yet, chances are you know someone who has. At the centre of it all is Glenorchy-bred David Walsh, the enigmatic professional gambler ploughing his millions into the Apple Isle’s newest — and most popular — tourist attraction.

Elizabeth-Anne Macgregor — director, Museum of Contemporary Art

Macgregor runs Sydney’s MCA: a gallery which isn’t even the biggest in its own city, meaning her influence is hard to judge on a national scale. Still, the Scotland-born redhead has her supporters who laud her for being approachable and generous with her support. A massive $53 million renovation opening this month enhances her claim as the most influential contemporary art figure.

Geoffrey Rush — actor

As one of the country’s most accomplished actors, Rush already had plenty of cred. Now he’s Australian of the Year and president of the newly-created Australia Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. He’s also a big supporter of the local stage community, flying home regularly to attend — or even star in — the odd production.

George Miller – filmmaker

One of the few bankable Australian filmmakers, Miller was the brains behind the Babe series and the Mad Max films. The trained medical doctor and son of Greek immigrants also created the mega-hit Happy Feet animations, the first of which remains Australia’s most successful-ever film at the international box office, earning $384 million.

*Read the full list at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey