Canberra has had its fair share of artistic controversy in recent years, whether it was burlesque dancers dressed as Adolf Hitler or expensive and polarising public artworks.
But Adam Stankevicius has a soft spot for one of the most divisive characters of the arts scene – the equally loved and loathed Skywhale.
Canberra-bred artist Patricia Piccinini's $300,000 balloon was commissioned to mark the centenary of Canberra in 2013 when Stankevicius was at the helm.
Now he's back on Canberra's arts and cultural scene in the newly created joint role of artsACT and Events ACT director.
He sees the Skywhale as one of the enduring legacies of the centenary and believes it's a good example of how art is meant to provoke a reaction which in this case was "everything from offence to awe, to inspiration".
"I love the Skywhale, that's my personal view, it's not the official government view," he says.
"I've heard many stories of people's awe for the Skywhale when it was flying over a soccer field full of 1000 kids and they and their parents all stopped and went silent and looked up.
"If that can inspire awe in a child to think 'oh my god I want to be able to do something like that when I grow up'… than that's exactly what we want art to be, we want it to be inspiring.
"[Piccinini said] that the fable goes that anyone who has the opportunity to look in the eye of a whale face to face has their life changed forever and that's not a bad thing.
"If kids can be inspired by art and be changed forever than that's a fantastic outcome for investment, whether it's public or private."
Although he doesn't have any formal training in the arts Stankevicius says he "dabbled" in the field quite a bit during high school and college with ceramics, playing three musical instruments, singing in choirs, and spending a lot of time in the dark room – photography is a pursuit he continues to enjoy.
He believes his outsider status could work to his advantage as the ACT's most senior arts bureaucrat.
"It's a challenging discussion across the country for arts bureaucrats, some of them have had a background in the arts and there's a perception they've been captured by their particular art form and have been preferential… and others prefer to be free of it," he says.
"There's some influences, but I'm not captured or particularly focused on one particular area, it's more of an appreciation of the place arts and culture can play in building communities and economies that I'm really focused on."
In particular he's excited about the "significant role" it can play in the ACT's urban renewal agenda, something that's already been on display with the revamped New Acton and soon-to-be-realised Kingston Arts Precinct.
"We all know there's an added bump in sale price for people who have arts facilities closer to them," he says.
"There is an element of the arts sector which is sometimes a bit challenging for the government to do because it's a bit controversial, whereas I think if you had private developers involved they are obviously free to do exactly what it is they like... its private expenditure of significant investment in the arts which is fantastic."
He sees public art as one of the elements likely to attract controversy - an outcome which is "part and parcel" of arts and culture.
"There will always be art that people don't like, it might be that it's confronting… that they don't understand it… that they wouldn't have spent their own money on it so they're offended that someone else has spent their money on it," he says.
"But I don't think that means we shouldn't do it.
"Whether that means that government should fund it is a completely different question and that's a question for ministers as they make arts funding guidelines and for parliaments to debate."
Stankevicius acknowledges the government's slice of the arts funding pie will always be limited and it's one of the reasons the sector needs to chase more money from philanthropists, business partnerships and the federal government as its shake-up of arts funding continues.
Squarely in his sights is the Australia Council and finding out why the territory is being dealt a raw deal when it comes to funding which he sees as essential for small to medium arts organisations as the "engine rooms" for new ideas.
In 2014/15 the territory received $1.5 million from the Australia Council the least of all jurisdictions and equivalent to the second least per capita at around $3.84 each - just slightly better than Queensland which received $17.6 million, around $3.68 each.
The ACT government has been shouldering more than its fair share of funding for some time, Stankevicius says.
"We'll be working with the Australia Council and arts organisations in Canberra to do as much as we can to get a much larger share of that pie in the future," he says.
With recent funding cuts to Canberra's key national cultural institutions flagged in the federal government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, Stankevicius says ACT government funding of initiatives like Visit Canberra is likely to become even more important.
Rather than being overshadowed by the national institutions, Stankevicius hopes to make local Canberra arts destinations "day two" for visitors to the capital.
And to do that the ACT has to come out of its shell and be more confident in talking about its successes – which in turn could help address the "serious inequities" in federal funding, he says.
"There's been a bit of the cultural cringe in the past, certainly pre-centenary and now I think we're seeing arts organisations taking those first steps to becoming much more proud and representative of themselves and of Canberra on the national stage," he says.
After his 18-month stint heading up the centenary celebrations, Stankevicius became chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum.
He says focusing on the consumer has been a thread of his career which he believes will put him in good stead in the director role where audience engagement in the ACT arts and events is an area that needs work.
"I'm not saying we should be driven by what audiences are asking for, but certainly arts organisations need to be receptive to the feedback from audiences," he says.
"It all involves arts organisations, administrators and practitioners putting themselves in the shoes of the audience or patrons and thinking 'how can we make this a better experience?'."
He downplays fears arts will be lost in the newly combined arts/events role and appears visibly enthusiastic about taking on what he feels is the "the best job in ACT government".
"Particularly with the festivals… a lot of the cross-over was already there, this is about bringing a new life to both," he says.
"Previously we've had a really strong focus in the events space on tourism and now we want to add a cultural element to those big events."
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