This is one of those tales that
wouldn’t mean much to most people except that it speaks volumes about the Howard
Government’s attitude to the arts. Crikey readers will recall that the Government ditched a proposed resale
royalty scheme for artists after being lobbied by the Treasurer’s mate Michael
Kroger on behalf of the nation’s leading auction houses.

When the Government broke the bad news in the May budget it promised a
consolation prize in the form of a four-year $6 million package “to strengthen
marketing and distribution support structures for individual artists, and to
build their business skills”. Like most things to do with arts funding, this
promised sop from Canberra didn’t mean much to the vast majority of artists but
it did excite the interest of arts lobbyists.

Two Sydney-based advocacy groups, the National Association for the Visual
Arts and the Arts Law Centre, were keen to get their hands on at least some of
the money as it would have helped them expand educational and advisory services
they were already providing.

NAVA made a detailed pitch and was in direct contact with Arts Minister
Senator Rod Kemp. NAVA executive director Tamara Winikoff says she was advised
by the minister’s office that the money would be allocated through an open
tender process. Winikoff had just spent a year developing a comprehensive
strategy for providing business skills training to artists, so she was confident
NAVA would do well in a competitive tender process.

Then, out of the blue, Senator Kemp announced last week that the bulk of
the money would go to the Australian Business Arts Foundation without a call for
tenders. ABAF is a statutory body responsible for forging stronger relationships
between business and the arts. With a board top-heavy with big-end-of-town
types, ABAF is widely regarded as being closer to business than it is to the
arts, and while it has done some significant work encouraging corporate
Australia to do more for culture, it doesn’t have much of a track record in
dealing directly with artists.

NAVA and the Arts Law Centre have attacked the lack of transparency behind
Kemp’s decision.

“This proposal was discussed with the Minister and his advisor in good
faith when we were told the decision would be based on an open tender process,”
Winikoff said. “Instead we find that no such process has been followed.”

A spokesman for Senator Kemp denied any promise was made to put the funding
to tender. He said it was NAVA’s idea to call for tenders and the minister only
agreed to consider it as an option. Having lost the resale royalty battle, the visual arts lobby sees Kemp’s
funding decision as big dose of salt in the wound.