Crikey’s Moe-based arts expert Thalia Meyerhold has an interesting take on the shuffling of deck chairs at the Australia Council following Terry Cutler’s surprise resignation. And our Perth-based art critic Caroline Richardson has also weighed into the debate.

Thalia hears of all manner of strange goings-on at the Council and wonders why Alston hasn’t instituted a Senate inquiry into its operation, especially the free-loading that goes on every two years at the Venice Biennale where Oz Council staff outnumber visitors to the pathetic Australian Pavilion which makes as much impact on the international art scene as a p*ss hole in the snow.

Cutler was into outcomes whereas the Council is dedicated to process. Thalia has only ever once applied for a grant from the Oz Council. Having filled in a form that made the census paper look like a post-it note, she then received a rejection report that resembled a volume of the Encylcopaedia Britannica. Those bureaucrats (maybe cultural engineers is a better description) need to justify their salaries some way. There are so many rules and policies and peer group assessment panels at the Oz Council that, by definition, only the most anodyne of applications get through the obstacle course of criteria and personal animosities.

No one doubts that the Council has its faves but what these chosen few actually contribute to Australian culture is hard to identify. Real talent struggles while mediocre self-declared artists who can fill in a form the right way and use all the slick talk that seduces the ‘assessors’ are funded to engage in what is in fact a kind of therapy.

No wonder Terry gave up. Reforming the Council is a labor of Hercules, on a par with trying to make sense of the ABC, and anyone from the real world is bound to do what Cutler did – get out while he still has his sanity. Life if too short to push shit uphill with a toothpick. Cutler would have had few supporters within or without the Council. Many critics of the organisation refrain from comment because they don’t want to compromise their own reliance on it but if Australia is ever to have the kind of vibrant artistic life another former colony, Canada, has, then senior arts figures need to comment publicly on the Council’s operations rather than bitch about it over cheap white wine at gallery openings and first nights, as they all seem to do.

Meanwhile, ensconced in Moe, Thalia has given up seeking grants for her large-scale ground-breaking installations in wickerwork, raffia and reinforcing steel and is concentrating on her crochet.


Caroline Richardson, Perth arts commentator and ex-dancer, has also weighed into this debate.

Nugent gets her way as Gonski will be too busy

So, Kerry Packer’s favourite investment banker David Gonski has been announced as new chair of the Australia Council. Let’s hope he gets on better with the well regarded deputy chair and Macquarie Bank director Helen Nugent, whose report into the arts saw the Aussie Council get a huge increase in funding that not even the arts loving Paul Keating would have been able to criticise.

And how perfectly well-mannered of Dr Cutler and Ms Meyerbold to refrain from the saying the obvious. The appointment of Gonski does of course confirm the femocrats have well and truly seduced Minister Alston. With the years they have spent in this pursuit, how lovely to see one outcome from their work.

Gonski, who is flattered by the titles and the position, will clearly not have the time Cutler dedicated to the job. Artists across the country are still recovering from the shock of interest from someone at the Australia Council. Not to mention the boost to sales of craft, art and musical instruments from the personal purchases of the former Chairman. Leo Schofield may well have been onto something in last Sunday’s column where he suggested dismantling the bureaucracy and letting enlightened individuals travel the country giving money to those genuine talents who deserved it.

The dynamic Helen Nugent is said to be comfortable with the change – she is now the default chair and will have more influence. CEO Jennifer Bott is tipped to follow the wise counsel that Ms Nugent offers on Oz Council affairs. Gonski being enamoured with both Bott and the big end of town Major Performing Arts Group, will be judged harshly if he doesn’t find time to see through the Cutler initiatives.

And let’s hope the new leadership don’t ignore Australia’s small to medium performing arts groups, the talent incubators where the most interesting work is done and where the talent that ends up in the major performing arts tent gets their training and development. Providing relatively less attention to the R&D part of a sector has been a noteable quality in Dr Nugent’s “snapshot” approach to the arts, where individual musicians, composers or choreographer are known to complain of insufficient consideration. Just who makes the performances of the companies whose bottom line she looks at? What’s the career of a crippled dancer worth compared with the administration budgets of her organisations and how do you choose between the two? The small end of town performing arts groups are an area that Ms Bott has washed her hands of and recently made that clear to the major service organisations with whom she met.

No doubt in Moe the challenges and failure of the Australian pavilion in Venice are a topic of conversation over the trolleys. Art being nothing more than a supermarket item. Markets being the only word one mentions in polite visual arts circles. In Sydney it seems the fans of Gonski and Venice have already done their bit, with the South African mafia heralding the appointment of their mate, the genius, the gracious, the amazing, the wonderful . . . .Dr Gene Sherman of Sherman Galleries chief among the fan club.

Dr Gene is of course the wife of Equitilink twin Brian Sherman who features on the Rich List and made a truck load of cash out of Network Ten, the free to air station the provides less to the arts than any other.


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