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Media Release: March 18, 2008
The Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, was today announced as the Australian winner of the 2008 Veuve Clicquot Award, presented in 17 countries annually to honour exceptional women in business.
The winner was announced at Customs House in Sydney at the Veuve Clicquot Award Lunch, attended by some of Australia’s most powerful and successful business leaders.
The Award commemorates Madame Clicquot, who was arguably the first woman entrepreneur. Janet Holmes à Court, a previous winner of the Award and a member of the Australian judging panel, believes Elizabeth Ann Macgregor is a magnificent and fitting winner of the Award. “Madame Clicquot was a risk taker, a leader, an innovator and an optimist,” said Janet Holmes à Court. “She was daring, tenacious, resilient and unconventional. These are the qualities the Veuve Clicquot Award recognises and celebrates, and which Liz Ann possesses in abundance.”
Nominations were received from throughout Australia, with judges selecting six finalists: Margot Cairnes, Chairman & Founder, Zaffyre International; Carolyn Creswell, Managing Director & Founder, Carman’s Fine Foods; Tracey Hodgkins, Managing Director & Founder, Australian Experiential Learning Centre; Andrea Horwood, CEO & Co-Founder, Ganehill Ltd; Elizabeth Ann Macgregor, Director, Museum of Contemporary Art; Katherine Sampson, CEO & Founder, Healthy Habits.
“The calibre of all the nominations we received was extremely high and the six finalists in particular are extraordinary women who in their own ways embrace Madame Clicquot’s qualities and embody her spirit,” said Janet Holmes à Court. “The judging process was very difficult, but at the end of the day we felt Liz Ann’s entrepreneurship, audacity and vision singled her out. Through her persistence and flair, she turned a struggling institution into a vibrant, powerful cultural organisation, and created a powerful example of how companies can create positive change in the community.”
Like Madame Clicquot, Liz Ann is not only an innovative leader in her chosen field, but also an educator and rule-breaker. Since taking the helm of the MCA in 1999, she has consistently reached out to broaden the museum’s visitor base. Her amazing success in turning a struggling institution into a thriving, financially viable entity is well documented. Her tireless work in taking contemporary art to new audiences (mothers and babies, disabled children and teenagers living in the lower socio-economic fringes of Sydney) is a less-known, yet equally extraordinary story.
She recently launched the C3West project to engage with communities in Sydney’s outer Western suburbs by commissioning three major contemporary artists to work with the Penrith Panthers League Club in producing a series of artistic projects. “With me, it’s always about how to get more people involved with the art,” says Liz Ann. “It's about breaking down the misconceptions about who art is for.”
In the coming months, the MCA will also pilot a ground breaking program to give Indigenous children from 18 regional cultural centres across Australia a week’s work experience at the MCA with travel and accommodation costs covered. For many it will represent their first trip to Sydney and a chance to gain valuable knowledge that can then be taken back to their communities.
The visionary C3West and Indigenous programs join a suite of other projects that reflect a hands-on commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR), including the Bella program of free art workshops for disadvantaged, as well as disabled children. Two-thirds of the MCA’s audience is now under the age of 35; hardly surprising when you look at the strength of its programs, from Art Baby to Generationext to MCA Learning for schools. In 2006, a record 25,000 school students visited the gallery.
With her quirky dress sense, usually featuring tartan and Doc Martens, and her background as an art tours bus driver in her native country of Scotland, Liz Ann has used her expansive personality and breadth of experience to draw new audiences to the MCA. Her raison d'être is to inspire in others a sense of how art can enhance their lives.
When she’s not busy taking contemporary art to the people, Liz Ann is working the big end of town, shoring up support among corporate Australia and reminding them of the critical importance of their commitment to the arts in order to achieve a thriving creative nation. In 2000, just one year after she arrived in Australia from Scotland, Liz Ann controversially scrapped the entrance fee to the museum. This was achieved with support from Telstra. Since the introduction of free entry, attendance figures have increased three-fold, reaching an all time record of 420,000 for 2007.
When Telstra’s sponsorship concluded in 2006, she convinced National Australia Bank and Channel 7 to take up the mantle. Significant sponsorships have also been obtained from Qantas and Deutsche Bank. Under Liz Ann’s guidance, the self-funding capacity of the gallery has been increased through venue sales, private donations and store sales. It’s entirely fitting that one of the most exciting projects on the MCA drawing board is a proposed $50 million education centre, with building scheduled to begin next year.
For all the awards and medals Liz Ann has won (including the Centenary Medal recognising her contribution to the Arts in Australia in 2003), her most cherished vote comes directly from the people. In 2007, a street straw poll conducted by the Chamber of Commerce found the MCA was Sydney’s favourite museum or gallery.
With so many programs on the boil, it’s no wonder weekends are off limits for Liz Ann. As visitors stroll through the large airy rooms of the MCA on the harbour foreshores, she leaves the city far behind for a spot of bush gardening and regeneration at her Patonga getaway located on the Central Coast.
As Australian winner of The Veuve Clicquot Award 2008, Liz Ann will fly to Reims, France, in October to join past and present laureates from other countries at the Annual Veuve Clicquot Businesswomen’s Meeting, where a vine will be christened in her name. She will also receive La Grande Dame champagne every year on Madame Clicquot’s birthday.
The Veuve Clicquot Award began in France in 1972 to commemorate Madame Clicquot, and to honour women who also possess her qualities of vision, innovation, entrepreneurial drive, leadership, individuality and tenacity. Such qualities earned Madame Clicquot her international reputation as “la grande dame de la Champagne”.
Madame Clicquot was widowed in 1805, at the age of 27 and with a small child to care for. She defied the tradition of the day and took the reins of her husband’s business, building it into the international champagne house of today, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. She overcame every obstacle that threatened her vision, including the Napoleonic trade blockade. Madame Clicquot also invented the ‘table de remuage’ intrinsic to the riddling process that leaves champagne so brilliantly clear. Her discovery was adopted by all other champagne houses and is still used today. Known throughout France as “La Veuve” – meaning “the widow” - Madame Clicquot died in 1866. Today, her legacy burns brightly and she remains an inspiration to women around the world.
The Australian judging panel comprises Janet Holmes à Court AC; The Honourable Justice Annabelle Bennett AO; Director of Marketing and Special Events for Consolidated Press Holdings, Deeta Colvin; Chairman, Future Fund Board of Guardians, David Murray AO; Director, Paspaley Pearls Group, Marilynne Paspaley AM; Chief Executive of Moët Hennessy Australia, Robert Remnant; and CEO of the Bennelong Group, Alison Watkins.
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