Terry Cutler – president of the Australian Centre for the Moving
Image and former chair of the Australia Council – responds to Crikey’s
recent stories about how the work of a trustee of the National Gallery
of Victoria, artist Sally Smart, has been selected for a major NGV
exhibition:

I think Crikey has got it wrong on this one, for
several reasons. First, it is surely handy to have a real artist,
especially one so prominent in Australian contemporary art, on the
Gallery’s Board. It is important for all boards to have a spread of
skills, but a fair sprinkling of relevant expertise and experience, and
the perspectives which flow from this, is always a good thing.

Second,
with reference to the suggested disqualification of Sally Smart’s work
from being shown or acquired during her period of office, I cannot
understand why the NGV Board members should be asked to adopt different
and tougher standards than any other board. Good corporate governance
requires clear rules and procedures around conflicts of interest, and
these can and should work. It is only where there is a rotten
organisational or board culture and bad values that problems arise. And
why is a gallery different in this particular respect from all the peer
assessment panels which abound in the arts and which invariably require
robust rules about conflicts to interest to come into play?

Finally,
membership of public sector Boards can be a thankless task. Many Board
members contribute greatly, and in the case of Sally Smart I know how
often she picks up the job of representing the Board at the endless
rounds of sometimes tiresome meetings and functions where someone needs
to fly the flag. A lot of this is thankless work. And uniquely in the
case of cultural agencies (at least in Victoria) not only do board
members receive no directors’ fees or honoraria, but also in the case
of self employed people and professional people, forego revenue
generating opportunities because, of course, time costs. As I know from
my experience with my fellow ACMI board members, this shows and
requires real commitment.

CRIKEY: Yes, members of public-sector
boards undertake thankless tasks, often for no money. And yes, it’s a
good thing for practitioners to sit on those boards. But those invited
to serve need to weigh up the benefits of the extensive contacts they
will make, and the influence they will have, against the temporary
commercial penalties. Is a board or comittee member more likely to
support a project put up by a member of staff who has just given them
an unrelated gig or two? Would staff members ever want to suck up to
directors in this way? Maybe. A perception of probity, perhaps?

Disclosure: The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is co-presenter
with the NGV of the exhibition “Commonwealth Land Marks” in which NGV
trustee Sally Smart is to participate.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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