Chrissy Sharp, one of Australia’s most experienced and respected arts administrators, who held major positions in Australia and the UK, has died at the age of 70.

She left her most recent role as Chief Executive of Sydney Writers’ Festival in July this year due to ill health, and passed away in Sydney on 2 November.

Chrissy Sharp

Chrissy Sharp. Photo © Prudence Upton

Described by friends and colleagues as passionate, fiercely intelligent and formidable yet warm and caring, Sharp and her husband of more than three decades, leading arts manager Michael Lynch, were an internationally renowned arts power-couple.

Sharp was raised in Canberra. Early in her career she worked in broadcasting as a researcher on Chequerboard for ABC TV and later, in the 1990s, as Head of Policy at SBS. She also worked for a while as an agent.

In 2001, she became General Manager of Sydney Festival where she stayed until 2003 when Lynch was appointed Chief Executive of London’s Southbank Centre. Accompanying him to London, she became General Manager of Sadler’s Wells Theatre, a position she held from 2004 – 2009.

Returning to Australia in 2009, she became Founding Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, a position she held until 2011. Under her direction, it became an important organisational hub dedicated to the discussion of books, writing and ideas.

Moving to Hong Kong when Lynch became CEO of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, she was appointed to the board of Hong Kong’s contemporary arts centre Para Site, a role she held from 2012 – 2015.

Returning to Sydney, Sharp stepped into the role of Acting Executive Director (Maternity Cover) at Sydney Dance Company in 2016 and also took up a position on the SDC Board. In 2018, she was appointed CEO of Sydney Writers’ Festival, which she led through challenging times, including navigating the Festival through COVID.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she had surgery and chemotherapy but developed complications in January this year, and resigned from the Sydney Writers’ Festival in July.

The Sydney Writers’ Festival released a statement expressing its sadness at her passing.

“There are few leaders of Australian arts organisations who have earned greater respect and admiration than Chrissy Sharp. Her commitment, strong spirit and intellect was revered amongst her colleagues and peers. Chrissy will be sorely missed,” said the Festival’s Chair, Mark Scott.

The Festival’s Artistic Director Michael Williams said he was lucky to have worked with Sharp during the founding years of the Wheeler Centre. “Working with such a cultural force up close was a singular privilege, delight and education. Her sense of responsibility, creative drive and awareness of the social and community impacts of the arts was tireless and unique. When she asked me to join the team at Sydney Writers’ Festival, the opportunity to work with her again made it irresistible. Her premature departure before the 2021 Festival meant we all felt we were working to do her justice. I suspect that I’ll be trying to do that for the rest of my career.”

The Wheeler Centre released a tribute to its inaugural Director, saying that it owed Sharp an enormous debt.

Caro Llewellyn, the current CEO, said, “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.”

Eric Beecher, inaugural Chair of the Wheeler Centre’s Board of Directors, said, “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.”

“She took a building and a vague idea and helped turn it into a vibrant and essential part of our cultural life,” said Mark Rubbo, Managing Director of Readings and a member of the inaugural Board of Directors.

Sydney Dance Company said in a statement that Sharp’s “dry wit and piercing intelligence were present in everything she did. Her presence was formidable, her passion to drive the arts ever forward tenacious; but she was also a warm and caring leader, heavily invested in the wellbeing of the artists and staff she nurtured.”

“Chrissy’s genuine love of artists and deep understanding of the industry made her an exceptional arts leader. I will miss her forthright opinions, sensitive understanding, pragmatism, uproarious laughter and her friendship,” said Artistic Director, Rafael Bonachela.

Sydney Dance Company Chair Brett Clegg said, “Chrissy brought great erudition to the Board and her contributions were always delivered with charm and often a wry smile. Her incredible depth of experience and generous spirit was something we will always remember and cherish. She was the greatest of arts administrators and a kind and truly wonderful human being.”

Sharp is survived by Lynch, her husband of over three decades, her two sons from a previous relationship, Christopher and Edward, Michael’s daughter Ella, and their respective families.