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A tribute to the Wheeler Centre’s inaugural director, Chrissy Sharp

Read Wednesday, 3 Nov 2021

The Wheeler Centre is deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Chrissy Sharp, our inaugural director.

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Caro Llewellyn, current CEO of the Wheeler Centre, believes that as founding Director, we owe Chrissy an enormous debt. ‘Back in 2009, it was her leadership, intelligence and fierce dedication to arts advocacy that shaped what the Centre would become, and we have been influenced by her passion ever since.’

Under Chrissy’s direction, the Wheeler Centre became an organisation that was the first of its kind in the world – a hub dedicated to the discussion of books, writing and ideas. Chrissy worked alongside our patrons, Maureen and Tony Wheeler, to bring it to life. ‘Chrissy Sharp was a key part of the Wheeler Centre even before it was the Wheeler Centre, while it was still just a concept,’ says Tony Wheeler. ‘What the centre eventually became owes a great deal to her vision, her planning and her hard work.’

‘There was nothing like the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne and it grew around its title “Books, writing and ideas”,’ says Maureen Wheeler. ‘Chrissy was all about ideas and built a solid base for the Centre to grow into its place in Melbourne – it filled a hole no-one knew was there. Chrissy built the team and together they created the dynamic that propelled the Centre into the hearts and minds of Melburnians, Victorians and everyone who visited it.’

Maureen remembers an anecdote that captures Chrissy’s sense of bold innovation. Asked what the Centre was going to do by an early business partner, ‘Chrissy took a piece of paper, considered it, folded it in four and handed it to him. He opened it and said, “There is nothing on this”  and Chrissy said, “Exactly. The Wheeler Centre is a blank slate, we are going to create something brand new for this city, and we will work it out as we go along.”’

‘The Wheeler Centre owes so much to Chrissy Sharp,’ says current Chair of the Wheeler Centre’s Board of Directors, Susan Oliver AM. ‘Chrissy’s vision, incredible tenacity and dedication, created the Centre as the cornerstone of the Victorian government’s successful bid to become the second UNESCO City of Literature in the world, and firmly established this important literary hub as a beloved and cherished part of Victoria’s cultural fabric.’

Eric Beecher, inaugural Chair of the Wheeler Centre’s Board of Directors, says, ‘As the first director of the Wheeler Centre, Chrissy Sharp was instrumental in masterminding the centre’s vision and ethos. She was an accomplished arts leader who blended pragmatism with passion: incredibly focused, cool and controlled, always committed to the best creative outcomes. She was there at the very start of the Wheeler Centre, well before the doors first opened, and its success is in large part the result of her talent.’

Mark Rubbo, Managing Director of Readings and member of the inaugural Board of Directors, remembers Chrissy as ‘a great leader who laid a solid foundation for the future success of the Wheeler Centre. As its inaugural Director, she took a building and a vague idea and helped turn it into a vibrant and essential part of our cultural life.’

Among Chrissy’s previous appointments she was General Manager of Sadler’s Wells Dance Theatre in London, Head of Policy at SBS here in Australia, and most recently, CEO of Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Chrissy was undoubtedly one of this country’s finest, most respected and most warmly beloved arts administrators. Her loss will be deeply felt, within the Wheeler Centre and our resident organisations, and right across the Australian arts community.

Our love and thoughts are with Chrissy’s partner in love and life, Michael Lynch, and their family.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land on which the Centre stands. We acknowledge and pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their Elders, past and present, as the custodians of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.