The press releases announcing this year’s Australian Business Arts Foundation (ABAF) Award winners have been without the usual fanfare of previous years. Indeed, there’s hardly an article in the mainstream media covering the event.

It could be that the involvement of Richard Pratt AC as not only patron of the Foundation but namesake to the category of most interest, the Richard Pratt Business Leadership Award, has made ABAF a little reluctant in pushing the list of winners out into the public domain.

The winners for the award are a very select bunch and this year’s recipient, James Strong AO, is no different. Interestingly, Mr Strong is currently the Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts and ex Chair of the organisation that last night awarded him the business leadership award. He headed ABAF from 2001, seemingly the same year in which the Pratt prize was first awarded.

The award is “for a business person who through their leadership, advocacy, practice and example has made an exceptional contribution to  Australia’s cultural life by fostering and facilitating increased business investment in and support for the arts…” The nomination form for the award has three ‘elements’, one of which is to consider how the nominee has “taken a lead role in changing business, political and community attitudes towards the value of supporting the arts.”

Previous winners of the award include David Clarke AO – Macquarie Bank founder, David Gonski AC – Coca-Cola Chair, Harold Mitchell AO – Mitchell and Partners, arts advocate and lawyer Kenneth Tribe AC and Janet Holmes a Court AO.

But how tenable is Richard Pratt’s involvement in the Foundation as patron? Nick Gadd, ABAF spokesperson, told Crikey that the foundation had no plans in altering the present situation either with the awards dedication or Pratt as patron.

How much longer can the arts reasonably be associated with Pratt as a beneficiary of his company and work? The low traffic in press releases this morning certainly raises some questions.

Peter Fray

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