New CEO to lead the Arts Centre through its biggest change and growth

121 New Arts Centre CEO
121 New Arts Centre CEO
Kaylah Joelle Baker

Arts Centre Melbourne has welcomed its newly appointed CEO, just as the organisation embarks on a major overhaul of the Melbourne Arts Precinct.

Karen Quinlan, who takes up the reins on October 3, has been hailed as an “exceptional leader” with “ambitious thinking” – attributes that will put her in good stead as the State Theatre undergoes its biggest makeover in four decades.

The Arts Centre Melbourne’s renewal project, Reimagining Arts Centre Melbourne – which will be central to the Arts Precinct’s $1.7 billion transformation – is currently underway, thanks to a fast-track funding boost of $241 million announced in November last year.

It will see the historic State Theatre fully refurbished including the venue’s much-loved heritage-listed interiors as well as upgrades to lighting, staging technology, better accessibility, new seats, aisles, studios, and back-of-house amenities.

Ms Quinlan, the current curator, arts administrator, and CEO of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Canberra, said she was thrilled to lead her new team in Melbourne and aimed to deliver a “world class experience”.


“As an arts leader I am excited and energised by the prospect of leading the extraordinary team at Art Centre Melbourne,” she said, which was about “embracing change and growth”.


“Arts Centre Melbourne is a cultural institution of global significance and is a place that connects performers, artists, makers, and presenters.”

“The transformation of the Melbourne Arts Precinct will redefine our experience, engage new audiences and inspire generations to come.”

Ms Quinlan’s wealth of experience included her “game-changing” role as the former director of the Bendigo Art Gallery (2000-2018), where she helped build the gallery’s reputation on the world stage through “blockbuster” exhibitions and driving cultural tourism.

During the past four years, she has also attracted new audiences at the NPG and in turn built its national profile.

President of the Victorian Arts Centre Trust Ian Carson said Ms Quinlan stood out as an inspiring leader.

“Karen is well respected nationally and internationally. Her strength working across the arts sector, bringing innovation and fresh thinking, and her deep commitment to diversity and inclusion made her a compelling candidate,” he said. 

Minister for Creative Industries Steve Dimopoulos also welcomed the appointment, saying Ms Quinlan was an “exceptional creative leader” who brought “vast credentials and talent to drive this next pivotal stage for our iconic Arts Centre”.

Ms Quinlan was formerly chair of the Public Galleries Association of Victoria and served on boards including Melbourne Fashion Festival and State Library Victoria.

In recognition of her services to the arts, Ms Quinlan was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2019.

The Arts Centre will remain open as usual throughout the works with events and shows on stages.

The State Theatre will close for auditorium and stage house refurbishment in 2024 and reopen in December 2026. •


Caption: Karen Quinlan AM, has been appointed as new CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne.

Photo credit: Arts Centre Melbourne

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