He was the first All Blacks captain to hold the Webb Ellis Cup aloft after leading the men in black to a win in victory inaugural Rugby World Cup final.

But these days you're just as likely to find David Kirk at the theatre or concert chamber rather than watching a footy match.

Kirk, 58, has lived in Sydney for nearly 20 years and, for the past four, has chaired the board of directors which oversees the city's annual arts festival. He says becoming more involved with the arts has enriched his life and he wishes the achievements of our artists were as widely recognised as the successes of our sports stars.

"There is a lot of human creativity and effort that goes into creating great art and if people can engage with that, they're going to learn something and they're going to feel exhilarated or challenged or sad or happy – they're going to be moved," he says.


"But it has to be good; you have to find that combination of meaningfulness and entertainment. You can't just put on worthy stuff that people just find terribly boring but alternatively, you can't just have "bubblingly popular" if it's actually a bit vacuous. You have to get that balance right."

A keen reader who says he can lose himself in a book shop, Kirk recalls travelling on rugby team buses and "not so interested friends" reaching over and grabbing books out of his hands.

"You do have to be a pretty strong personality in those circumstances to be able to say, 'bugger off – I'm doing what I want to do so piss off and do what you want to do ... ' you have to be like that because it is quite a strong, male, pushy environment. I think it's better now, though."

Kirk retired from rugby aged just 26 and left New Zealand to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. Already a qualified doctor who graduated from Otago University with a medical degree, he studied philosophy, politics and economics but still made time to go to art events.

Kirk has fond memories of performances at some of the United Kingdom's top venues, including Covent Garden to see opera and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa perform.

David Kirk holds aloft the Webb Ellis World Cup. Photo / File
David Kirk holds aloft the Webb Ellis World Cup. Photo / File

These days, he's best known for his business interests as a former CEO at Fairfax Media and, now, as co-founder and partner at Bailador, which specialises in investing in the technology sector.

He also chairs Trade Me Group Ltd, Kathmandu Holdings, NZ investment firm Forsyth Barr and is a director of a number of other businesses.

While he says the work he does is best done from Sydney, as the "centre" of the business world in Australasia, he's spending more time in NZ at his family's home in Hawke's Bay and is also often in the country for board meetings and visits to family and friends.

Kirk believes the arts create great opportunities for towns and cities which need a creative essence to attract and retain talent across various sectors, including information technology, design, hospitality, and business start-ups.

He believes arts funding should come from public and private sources, saying the case for public funding is clear because it enriches communities and nations by asking questions, challenging and playing with the important issues facing us.

"The arts provide a far more nuanced and multifarious expression of our changing identity than sport could ever do."

He says public funding cannot come with no strings attached, but it should come with as few as possible because art needs to be able to criticise and lampoon the powerful without fear of financial penalty.

"Private funding gives the confidence to do that. It also recognises the private benefit attendees get. Arts philanthropists generally love art and get plenty of personal benefit from their support, but in my experience, they also gain a great deal of satisfaction from seeing others enjoy the arts. It's a win/win for philanthropist and arts organisation."

He says arts can play a bigger role in reflecting what's going on around us and helping us to talk about issues and it's something they discuss often at the Sydney Festival.

He doesn't shy away from performances or exhibitions which tackle "difficult" subjects and, by doing so, are tagged controversial.

"There's lots of disruption going on in the world at the moment and we are being forced to think about community, sense of place, who we are and identity in lots of different ways.

"The arts are just wonderful at challenging that, sometimes prototyping opportunities for change, commentating on it all at the same time as providing really interesting and entertaining events."