About Power

The Power Institute

The Power Institute is a non-profit foundation for visual art and culture, based at the University of Sydney, Australia.

We curate live and online lectures, workshops and other events with internationally renowned scholars, house one of Australia’s leading fine art libraries, publish award-winning titles, and engage with partner organisations to generate new research.

The Power Institute was established by a bequest from the artist and philanthropist Dr John Joseph Wardell Power to, in his words:

make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts by means of lectures and teaching and by the purchase of the most recent contemporary art of the world … so as to bring the people of Australia in more direct touch with the latest art developments in other countries.

Our focus is on seeking out, developing and communicating ideas and theories in visual art and culture – past, present and future – through teaching, research, public talks, exhibitions, publications and podcasts, for a national and international audience.

We work in close collaboration with a wide range of publishing, research and collecting institutions – such as China Studies Centre, VisAsia, Museum of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Institut national d’histoire de l’art, National Gallery Singapore, University of Melbourne and Melbourne University Publishing, and many others.

Our activities are supported by local donors such as the Keir Foundation and Nelson Meers Foundation and philanthropic bodies such as the Getty Research Institute and Terra Foundation for American Art. The Power Institute is a member of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art.

Today the bequest is managed by the Power Institute Foundation which assists the University of Sydney, through the Power Institute, to realise the aims of its founder. The Foundation achieves this by:

  • supporting research and scholarship in the Power Institute and its initiatives;
  • supporting the development of the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library, Power Publications and the Public Education program;
  • promoting the Institute in the wider community and encouraging good international relations for Australia in the Fine Arts; and
  • seeking financial and other support for the Institute’s activities.

The Power Institute’s Annual Reports can be viewed here.

Donations to the Foundation play a vital role in realising these aims, and are tax deductible. Visit our support Power page to find out more.




A word from our Director

The remarkable evidence of Lascaux and The Kimberley points to the fundamental human impulse to make visual marks signifying our place in the world. To think about art, as John Power recognised throughout his life and in his extraordinary gift to his alma mater, the University of Sydney, is thus to contemplate the dilemmas, pleasures, and meaning of life on earth. This is the vital mission of the Power Institute, a non-profit centre for research, teaching, publications and public engagement in visual art, based at the University of Sydney. Power’s bequest urges us:

to make available to the people of Australia the latest ideas and theories in plastic arts … to bring the people of Australia in direct touch with the latest art developments.

Power’s bequest, announced in 1962, founded not only the Power Institute, but the Department of Art History and Film Studies, now a premier research and teaching hub for art history in Australia; it seeded what is now the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and enabled the University to enrich and enliven its art collections. Power’s legacy has been to create and sustain a new level of engagement and prompt important conversations in Australia about visual art and its place in our culture.

As the Department has flourished in the framework of the School of Letters Arts and Media within the world-class Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, so the Power Institute has made its mark both within and beyond the University. Power has kept the aims of the bequest alive by facilitating groundbreaking public talks from generations of internationally renowned scholars and thinkers, through the creation and development of the thriving space that is the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library, with a celebrated publishing program and via meaningful engagement with partner organisations in Australia and worldwide. The aims and mission of Power are guided by the Power Institute Foundation, which seeks to ensure that Power’s mission, the vital business of getting to grips with human creativity in the visual field, is sustained into the future.

– Mark Ledbury
Director, Power Institute


Power 50th Mark Ledbury-4 copy


Power Events

The Power Institute’s events program includes talks, symposia and workshops, and the majority of our events are free and open to all. Its objective is to connect both students and the general public with the latest theories and debates concerning visual arts, and their role in contemporary society.

Our global network of past presenters include eminent Australian and international arts scholars, historians, curators and artists: from Clement Greenberg to Clémentine Deliss, from Lucy Lippard to Hal Foster, from Jacques Derrida to Pi Li, from Griselda Pollock to Gregory Crewdson.

With over ten talks a year, we strive to maintain a lively, historically informed, culturally relevant and global debate about art and what it means, focussing on the benefit not only for students but also for the public of Sydney and more widely through our podcasts and videos.

Come along, stay up-to-date and get involved in the discussion. To find out more, check out our events listings, sign up to our mailing list, or like us on Facebook.


Crow Talk_16


Schaeffer Fine Arts Library

Designed by architects Allen, Jack & Cottier, the Schaeffer Fine Arts Library, housed within RC Mills Building on the University of Sydney campus, was designed according to the belief that learning and scholarship is enhanced by elegant, well-thought-out design and the easy and abundant availability of books and other materials. Often singled out by students as the ‘most beautiful library on campus’, the Schaeffer is run by expert librarians, and nourished by contributions from the Power Endowment to ensure it makes available the latest catalogues, monographs and theoretical texts in the visual arts, with a particularly strong specialist collection of resources on modern and contemporary art, film and moving image.

Development, partly funded by generous alumni gifts, includes secure art display areas on the second floor, which allow students and staff to curate focussed exhibitions and make the Schaeffer a space for encounters not just with books and media but with art itself.

Schaeffer is a reference-only library, and is open to students and the general public from Monday to Friday.




The Department of Art History and Film Studies

The Department of Art History and Film Studies was founded in 1967 as part of the Power Institute of Fine Arts, and teaching began in 1968. Since that time, under the guidance of inspirational scholars including Bernard Smith, Terry Smith and Virginia Spate, the Department has not only become a magnet for ambitious students wishing to explore the world of art, but also the incubator for generations of curators, thinkers and academics now working, writing and teaching worldwide.

The Department has been continuously engaged with new developments in the study of visual culture and the moving image, and has actively helped to shape current thinking about the nature of art and the visual.

The Department has also responded enthusiastically and thoughtfully to its geographical and cultural location by ensuring that Aboriginal art, Australian colonial art and Asian art have a significant place in the curriculum, and by teaching art history in truly global historical contexts.