Bright Sparks

Dr. Ricardo Peach • Director Vrystaat Kunstefees

July 28, 2017
Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time – Thomas Merton

Meet Dr. Ricardo Peach. The phenomenal creative maestro behind the Vrystaat Kunstefees/Arts Festival.

A virtuoso of note with a truly interesting and impressive CV:
  • He is Director of the Vrystaat Kunstefees and also developed and is the Co-director of the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development at the University of the Free State, partnering with the Vrystaat Arts Festival.
  • He managed the Capacity Development Program at the Australia Council for the Arts (2014).
  • Was an independent cultural consultant with expertise in research and analysis, project management, program and policy evaluation, social media and strategic business planning.
  • In 2012 he was the Acting Director of the Inter-Arts Office at the Australia Council for the Arts, where he was responsible for developing and implementing a high level, national experimental arts sector plan.

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  • At the Australia Council (2006-2012) he also commissioned research on arts and creative industry partnerships with:
  • The QUT Faculty of Creative Industries
  • Instigated an MOU with UNESCO
  • Developed the Indigenous Experimental Art Fund
  • Developed the Art in Festivals initiative
  • Established the Australia Council’s AlloSphere artist residency at the California NanoSystems Institute in the University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Developed the four year Splendid Young and Emerging Artist initiative with the music festival Splendour in the Grass,
  • and developed the first government supported artist residency in a virtual world.

And yet, we have a feeling this is only the beginning of many more fascinating CV attributes to come!

We are delighted to introduce to you the remarkable (and truly humble) creative mastermind that is Dr. Ricardo Peach.

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach


Ricardo (Augustinus)


(Stapelberg) Peach



Profession/Life’s work:

Cultural Administrator

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach

So, what’s your story?

Where were you born?

Volksrust, Mpumalanga

Where did you go to school?

Constantia Park Laerskool, Pretoria, South Africa and Rossmoyne Senior High School, Perth, Australia.

Where and what did you study?

I studied:

  • Fine Arts (Painting and Sculpture) at Claremont School of Art (Technicon), Perth, Western Australia
  • Bachelor of Arts (Art History, Honours), University of Western Australia
  • PhD in Cultural Studies (Queer Cinema as a Fifth Cinema in South Africa and Australia), University of Western Sydney and University of Technology Sydney.
What was your childhood dream?

To travel to the moon. And breathe under water. Those two always battled it out for first place until I realised I can both breathe under water AND travel to the moon. Win win 🙂

What was your first job?

Pulling out weeds on the central strip of the highways and freeways around Perth. 8 hours a day 5 days a week. I had weedlike shapes imprinted on my retinas for months and in the evening if I went out and I saw a weed I would automatically bend down and pull it out. It paid the rent and bought food!

Advice that shaped you career?

There is no one career pathway – sometimes you lead and sometimes you are led. And every ten years – if you can – take a year off to regroup and plan you next move. You can still work that year – but its not a career year. Just a recap and rethink year.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Knowing there is coffee at Stereo cafe!

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach

What motivates you?

I think my purpose in life is to bring people together. To connect. For us to find ways of linking cultures, mindsets and shared values. So often we only see difference instead of similarities. This does not mean we lose our unique identities or languages or cultures. It simply means we must also find common ground.

How do you spend your down time?

I read really bad Sci-Fi and watch really, really bad DVDs. You know the R2 DVDs in discount bins in supermarkets. If you can see the wires and strings holding the model planes up in simulated battles – they are the best. Because you have to see terrible movies (and enjoy them) to understand good movies and to realise how hard it is to make good films or write good novels. And I go to the gym to clear my mind.

What does success look like to you?

Traveling with my husband and enjoying the contribution I can make to develop the creative potential of the society I come from. Being back in South Africa has been a revelation to me. I think there is an extraordinary creative energy here – and because it is my history, my country, it is so much more meaningful. We are going through incredible difficult times at the moment in South Africa. We have to find a way through it creatively – we cannot rely on government of politicians to do it – we have to do it ourselves.

What sets you apart as an influential man in the cultural and arts sector?

I don’t think anything sets me apart from all the passionate arts leaders in this country. We are all incredibly dedicated and committed to developing culture and society.

However, having lived overseas for so long and having worked in an international arts context at the Australia Council for the Arts in Sydney, I do have a sense of how we can internationalise our cultural landscape, and help artists develop not just local but also international careers. Most artists in the rest of the world in order to survive work both locally and internationally. Lets see how we can help facilitate this in South Africa.

What are the valuable lessons you have learnt in your career?

That sometimes you have to do work that doesn’t always inspire you just so that you can gain the skills you need for work that may inspire you in the future. I am very practical and pragmatic. Sometimes you do a job so that you can pay the rent and eat and sometimes you do a job that is at the core of your purpose as a human being on this planet. Both are valid and important. In both you learn and gain skills.

What makes a great project manager?

A great project manager has a good combination of administration skills and emotional intelligence.

What is harder to develop (and I believe it is something you have to develop) beyond project management is leadership skills – which involves having a vision and clear strategic direction.

Being a good project manager does not always mean you have good leadership skills – you have to develop these. Everyone has very different leadership styles – one size does not fit all. So a really good project manager understands the difference between administration and leadership – and combines the two.

Give me 3 words that describes you best?

Committed, flexible, human centered.

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo PeachBright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach

What are your 3 biggest accomplishments in your career thus far?
  • Finishing university on my own steam while working full -time
  • Developing a national experimental arts strategy for Australia and
  • Developing the Vrystaat Arts Festival.
I wish I could tell my 22-year-old self:

You are beautiful, loving and rough around the edges – but keep going – eventually you will be able to speak English!

Hidden talent:

Cooking dinner in 10min (one-pot Boerewors special)

What other creatives, cultural and arts influencers do you look up to?
  • I admire festivals that get the combination of traditional and experimental right.

In particular site specific work that engages people outside of the traditional arts spaces. One such festival is an event I volunteered for at its inception – Cementa – in Kandos, NSW where I used to often go on weekends to escape the city –

They have worked with the community of this small town to transform the region once a year into one of the jewels of contemporary arts in Australia

  • An arts administrator I admire is Lisa Havilah, CEO of Carriageworks in Redfern, Sydney.

She was my boss many years ago when I was the curator at the Liverpool Museum in Western Sydney, and I have always admired her vision and strategic thinking. Wherever she goes, world class events appear.

She is phenomenal and I learned a hell of a lot from her about excellence, community engagement and setting a very, very high standard. I always measure my work against what I now call the Havilah Standard – she doesn’t know this yet…

What is one characteristic that you believe every project manager should possess?

The ability to see your vision through, despite many around you not necessarily understanding where it is leading to. New things often takes awhile to be inculturated – so you have to be clear about where you are going, and deliver on it.

It can always be adjusted – nothing is perfect – but you need to ensure it gets delivered.

What advice would you give someone starting their career in the arts?

Volunteer – make yourself indispensable. Just give it a go, turn up to everything and network the hell out of every opportunity. Make connections with people you admire and contact them for advice. Get a mentor (informal or formal) and build you support systems. Sitting at home is going to get you absolutely nowhere.

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach


  • Colour: Turquoise
  • Food: Hungry Jacks Burgers
  • Drink: Gin and Tonic
  • Artist: Koos du Plessis
  • Actor/Actress: Charlize Theron
  • Brand: Vrystaat Kunstefees
  • Happy place: Kandos (a small town in central New South Wales, Australia)
  • Band: Gereformeerde Blues Band
  • Car: Opel
  • If you could meet anyone living or dead who would it be and why?

I would love to meet Madeleine Albright. I would like to ask her how she managed to navigate impossible scenarios – where there is incommensurability between parties – yet solutions, compromises or fragile stand-offs need to be established in often irrational, highly charged, emotionally volatile, dangerously ideologically driven and often genocidal situations. How do you maintain yourself and those around you in such impossible situations?

  • Quote: ‘If you can talk you can sing if you can walk you can dance’. I think this is a Xhosa proverb.
  • Book or Magazine: As I lay Dying, William Faulkner
  • Online inspiration: FutureCrunch

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  • Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein
Interactive media art sculptures:
  • Giidanyba (Sky Beings), Tyrone Sheather, First Nation, Gumbaynggirr man, Australia, 2016.
    Presented as part of the SITUATEArt in Festivals initiative, Salamanca Arts Centre, Tasmania through the Australia Council for the Arts and the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD). The PIAD is aninitiative of the Vrystaat Arts Festival and the University of the Free State, generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Bright Sparks • Dr. Ricardo Peach



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