report by former Australia Council chief Rodney Hall nearly slipped
through the media cracks last Friday. Which is a pity, because it
raises some piquant questions about just who receives the taxpayer
millions doled out for artists in this country.

Hall’s report,
commissioned by his former Labor paymasters, highlights a system
administered by bureaucrats who receive multiples of the money that’s
supposed to support struggling artists.

highest individual grant issued by the Australia Council to struggling
artists in their garret is about $40,000. Hall points out that a dozen
or more council bureaucrats earn three or four times this amount a
year. The council’s CEO, Jennifer Bott, gets $250,000+.

no parity between the value the bureaucrats put on their own work, and
the value they put on the work of Australia’s leading artists,” says
Hall. “What’s happened is the corporatisation of everything in our
society, and arts bureaucrats are among them.”

So who are these
high-paid arts mandarins, and what do they do? This was one of the
questions Arts Minister Rod Kemp wanted to know when he arrived at last
year’s Venice Biennale, to discover Bott swanning around with no fewer
than seven helpers in tow, all flown in and put up at pricey hotels at
taxpayers’ expense.

Kemp restricted himself to one adviser
and, according to observers, found the Australia Council entourage
highly excessive. Particularly given that the horde of junketeering
arts bureaucrats handsomely outnumbered the number of Australian
artists on the ground.

A cursory examination of the council’s senior management set-up
reveals a disturbing enthusiasm for new-age management jargon. Viz:
“Karen Twitchett was appointed Director, Corporate Affairs in April
2002 to establish the Corporate Affairs Division of the Council,” we
are told. “Karen joined the Council from the energy sector where she
headed major corporate-wide projects and managed integrated
cross-functional teams to deliver ‘people capability’ to meet
organisational objectives.”

Which means, exactly – what? We’d
be interested to hear from Crikey’s arts-savvy community on this issue.
Is our arts bureaucracy paying its way? What do they do – and do they
do it well? Send your feedback to Crikey’s culture commissar
[email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey