In the late 1980s, Sir Ian Potter was keen to explore new avenues and approaches for his philanthropy, particularly opportunities in the Arts.

The Ian Potter Foundation had previously made grants to young artists through the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, but this was no longer possible after the organisation was placed in provisional liquidation in 1991. As the Foundation's tax status means that it cannot make grants to individuals, Sir Ian wanted to find a way to continue this commitment to supporting talented artists.

In October 1992, the deed was signed to establish The Ian Potter Cultural Trust, with the specific remit of making grants to individual artists.

Blond man kneading terracotta clay.

Nicholas Smith working in his studio. Image: Jacqui Shelton.

First grants

In considering the best way to support Australian artists and contribute to the growth and development of the Australian arts sector as a whole, it was decided that the Trust would focus on the provision of international travel grants to assist artists' professional development.

This would help to ensure that the Australian arts scene was connected to the international arts world and our most talented individuals would have the opportunity to benefit from the stimulation, extension and knowledge gained from exposure to international opportunities.

The Trust's first grants, totalling $13,700, were approved in June 1993. These grants marked the beginning of the Trust's main funding program, Emerging Artist Grants, which continues to support early-career creatives across the spectrum of the arts to undertake professional development opportunities.

Since 1993, over 1850 artists spanning almost every art form have been supported by the Trust, travelling to the far reaches of the globe to undertake a cornucopia of projects. Over the past 30 years, the list of past grantees has grown to become a virtual who's who of the Australian arts scene.

Lady Potter with Iain Grandage, Emerging Composer Fellow, at Music Commissions awards in 2009.

Lady Potter with Iain Grandage, Emerging Composer Fellow, at Music Commissions awards in 2009.

Arts Commissions

In 1999, the Trust revived a program of significant Arts Commissions that was initially run through The Ian Potter Foundation. In the 1980s, the Foundation supported a series of sculpture commissions in association with The Arts Foundation.

This idea was revived in the form of The Ian Potter Music Commissions, which ran for a decade (1999–2009), supporting the creation of significant works by Australian composers.

After a successful 10 years, and an investment of over $500,000 to 23 composers, the Music Commissions concluded and made way for the introduction of the Ian Potter Moving Image Commission (IPMIC), which ran from 2012–2022.

A large screen showing 7 performers standing in a star formation.

Angela Tiatia's IPMIC work 'The Dark Current' installation at ACMI (2023). Image courtesy of the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf. Image: Phoebe Powell.