We have a wonderful new contributor who we’d never heard of but boy does she have an entertaining take on the way business and the arts just don’t fit together even though business has the cash that the arts so desperately need.

Things went from boring to boorish as most of the five-hundred-dollar-a-plate guests (“Where did the money go?” asked many a starving artist and heads of cash-strapped cultural organisations) ignored the singers from Opera Australia, a beleaguered John Bell strolling through the indifferent throng reciting a soliloquy from Hamlet and the brace of ballet dancers as big a fleas on that distant stage. Even pillars of the business community like Dr. Ziggy failed to make an impression or to stem the tsunami of talk as they rose one after the other to explain the assembled eight hundred guests what the yartz means to them. Dick Pratt spoke and mercifully forbore from singing his party number If I Were a Rich Man, Australia Post’s Graham John spoke, James Strong spoke, Wesfarmers’ Richard Chaney spoke, Dame Elizabeth Murdoch spoke, Acting PM John Anderson spoke (Little Johnny was slated as guest of honour but flew off to Japan that morning on more pressing Mitsubishi business), just about everybody present spoke. The only problem was that no one listened.

Pixie-like Peter Sellars worked the room hugging everyone he was introduced to, perhaps aware that the following week the proverbial would hit the fan over the finances of the Adelaide Festival, the 2002 edition of which he is directing.

Yartz insiders have long suspected a cover-up after the 2000 event. Director Robyn Archer spent three million on one show alone, Peter Greenway’s overwrought production of an underwhelming new opera called Writing to Vermeer, which the luvvies loved and real people found incomprehensible. But when the lid finally blew Archer disclaimed responsibility. What deficit? Archer knew of no deficit. Which is a bit like saying Jodee had no idea of the financial condition of One-Tel. Wasn’t Archer in effect the CEO? Most festival directors anxiously check daily box office figures so if they’re heading for a deficit they know about it well before the end of the party, but for some curious reason the media didn’t press this issue, reporters fobbed off with pap about the festival ‘breaking even’ whatever that means. However not even the slickest spokesperson could conceal the real state of the festival’s finances forever and slowly the truth began to emerge. After the ‘break even’ announcement came word of a shortfall of about $74,000. Then came an announcement that Archer’s 2000 Adelaide Festival had dropped $1.1 million. The minute the figure was announced Archer’s mate and chief apologist Penelope Debelle, seemingly unconscious of the line between reporting and editorialising, rushed into print in the Sydney Morning Herald declaring it was not Robyn’s fault and she was deeply shocked. Following the initial announcement of a deficit, the sum involved had grown like Topsy until it reached the currently admitted figure which some disaffected Festival staff hint has been the subject of creative accounting and the real figure is closer the three million. A former beancounter at the Festival claims he’s warned of a half million dollar blowout four months before opening night.

So here we are, a year and more after the end of Archer’s second Adelaide Festival and well after her exit from the Gay Games, after her Tassie festival which also landed up in the red and after the announcement of her appointment to run the Melbourne Festival, for which is she rumoured to have screwed an extra million from Victorian Minister for the Yartz Mary Delahunty, and the milk that flowed over the stage of Adelaide’s State Theatre during Writing to Vermeer seems to have been replaced by blood as sacrificial victims are offered weekly to appease the powers in the capital of the Festival State. Two of the assistants to Archer’s cash-strapped successor Sellars have departed, as has the man on whom the blame for the Festival’s losses was ultimately pinned, Archer’s hapless sidekick Nicholas Heyward. Having said that the Sydney Festival could disappear without anyone noticing, Heyward has done precisely that, skedaddled to darkest Hobart where he will look after Australia’s most over-funded orchestra, the Tasmanian Symphony. It has been said that the audience for this band is so small it would be cheaper to fly them across Bass Strait to hear the Melbourne Symphony, but of course that is not a political option. Heyward hails from the Apple Isle so he should be happy there.

Meanwhile back in Adelaide the SA Yartz Minister, the fragrant Di Laidlaw, is trying to salvage the Festival and her reputation while Sellars cobbles together a program with what left in the till and hits the road to flog his concept of the un-festival to any journalist not already deeply suspicious of the pitch. Apart from his hug-a-thon at the ABAF dinner, he addressed a gaggle of lady executives and was keynote speaker at a conference at a Manly hotel last week where he told his audience that one of the attractions next year will be a loaves and fishes event for which Gay Bilson, now living in the Adelaide hills, will brew up a few vats of fish stock for distribution to householders along the Ocean Rd. They will use the stock to make their own special recipes for the crowds that are expected to flock to this yartzy version of the soup kitchen.

Sellars may be talking up a storm but a strange silence has descended upon the Archer acolytes in the media and on those hacks who have long seen the biennial Adelaide Festival as a chance for a fortnight’s R and R at their newspapers’ expense. It was left to former ABC staffer now yartz reporter, Robert Bolton in the Financial Review on Friday (P.73) to put all the facts, to chronicle the caravanserai of departures of Festival Board members and staff and actually do a little digging about the Los Angeles Festival which Sellars ran until it imploded.

All fascinating stuff really. Crikey’s readers can learn more in a debate between festival directors taped in Melbourne this week and due to air in new Aunty’s Yartz program Coast to Coast this Sunday. However there is one notable absentee from the line up of festival directors assembled for the show. Despite the fact that she is still has the gig in Tasmania and is waiting in the wings to take over from Melbourne Festival’s Jonathan “I don’t care what audiences think” Mills, Ms. Archer declined to participate in the discussion, claiming she did not want to appear on the same show at Peter Sellars.

Meanwhile the Australian Business Arts Foundation run by former Melbourne Lord Mayor Winsome McCaughey is trying to tell business that yartz organisations are exciting and professionally managed. Well, maybe exciting , 05

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Peter Fray

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