Richard Watts receives Medal of the Order of Australia

ArtsHub’s esteemed Performing Arts Editor is recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours List for his services to the arts and the Victorian community.
A grey-hair Anglo-Australian man wearing a black suit with a dark red pocket square smiles at the camera. Behind him is a green lawn and trees.

Here at ArtsHub, our remit is to report the news and views of the creative industry, but today is one of those rare occasions when one of our own gets to be the subject of that news.

We are beyond proud to announce that our National Performing Arts Editor, Richard Watts is among those listed in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours List, receiving a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his long and devoted services to the creative arts in Australia.

‘I am genuinely surprised and honoured to be the recipient of an Order of Australia honour, and I offer my sincere thanks to those who nominated me,’ says Watts OAM.

‘I also confess to a pang of guilt or two – I’m far from being a monarchist, but I also recognise that it wasn’t the King himself who put me up for this honour. And, hey, it beats getting an OAM on Invasion Day,’ he laughs.

Watts began at ArtsHub in May 2009, prior to which he worked as editor as the LGBTQ+ weekly Melbourne Community Voice (MCV). His varied career has also seen him work as a printer’s assistant, in the public service, and as a medical receptionist at the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre (now known as Thorne Harbour Health).

‘People sometimes ask me why art matters – and why I’ve spent so much of my life championing, interrogating, critiquing and considering the arts across a range of genres and styles. The answer is simple, really,’ Watts says.

‘Arts shows us what it means to be human – it is the embodiment of our curiosity, our wonder, our optimism, our sorrow and our joy. The most profound experiences of my life have almost always been because of art: weeping at a transcendently beautiful piece of music, energised and excited by a finely-tuned spectacle, electricity coursing though my body at the sight of human bodies doing something that seems almost impossible in a dance production or circus show.

‘After dabbling in high school musicals in the 1980s, I quickly realised that I didn’t have the talent and the commitment to make a career as an actor or singer – but what I’ve realised subsequently is that I do have the ability to help tell other people’s stories, whether in print, online or on air. And that’s something I hope I can keep doing for many years to come,’ Watts says.

Among his other accomplishments, Watts published an underground fanzine The Burning Times in the 1990s, celebrating the “homocore” scene (bands at the intersection of punk and queer subcultures), co-founded and DJ’d weekly at the legendary Melbourne club Queer + Alternative (Q+A), and wrote and performed spoken word throughout the 1990s, including supporting punk icons Jello Biafra, Bikini Kill and Propagandhi.

He also programmed a number of pub gigs at which poetry, spoken word and live music were combined. The latter lead to Watts being recruited by Next Wave Festival to coordinate the text program for the 2000 festival under the artistic direction of Campion Decent.

Thereafter, Watts was appointed Artistic Director of the youth arts organisation Express Media, where he worked from 2000-2005. During this period he also served on the National Gallery of Victoria’s Youth Access Committee. In 2001, he founded the Pink Magpies, the first LGBTQ+ supporters’ group in the AFL, now known as Collingwood Pride.

Watts subsequently joined the Board of Melbourne Fringe, going on to become Chair from 2007-2009; he has also served on the Board of literary magazine Going Down Swinging and on the programming committee of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), being made an MQFF Life Member in 2003.

More recently, Watts was a member of the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre Panel for several years (including a year as President of the Green Room Association) and for the past decade he sat on La Mama Theatre’s Committee of Management, including serving as Chair from 2018 to 2024, a period which took in the fire that devastated La Mama’s Carlton home and subsequent fundraising campaign, the rebuild, COVID, two unsuccessful Creative Australia/Australia Council four-year funding applications and, most recently, successfully overseeing the succession plan that saw CEO Caitlin Dullard take over from long-serving Artistic Director Dr Liz Jones AO. He stepped down from the Committee, and as Chair, late last month.

One of Watts’ longest-serving commitments is to the community radio station 3RRR, where he has presented the flagship arts program SmartArts since December 2004 (having previously presented film reviews, book reviews and a spoken word program at the station throughout much of the 1990s). Though currently on a radio break in order to focus on his mental health, Watts looks forward to returning to the airwaves soon.

Art has been part of his life for almost as long as he can remember, Watts concludes. ‘The arts have been central to my life since I was a child, thanks to having parents, both teachers, who believed in the importance of culture in people’s lives. It was they who took me to the first theatre production I can remember seeing, the musical Jesus Christ Superstar at the Palais Theatre in 1973, when I was five years old. And to this day, I also still own the first artwork they ever bought for me, a ceramic piece, from around the same time. In fact, it’s sitting atop my desk in front of me even as we speak!’

Madeleine Swain is ArtsHub’s managing editor. Originally from England where she trained as an actor, she has over 25 years’ experience as a writer, editor and film reviewer in print, television, radio and online. She is also currently Vice Chair of JOY Media.