Last week Peter Garrett announced that the Rudd government intended to axe $2.6 million funding it gives to the Austalian National Academy of Music (ANAM). For $2.6 million ANAM trains 55 full-time elite young musicians, encourages international talent to visit Australia to give masterclasses etc., employs respected musicians and pedagogues, and offers over 170 public concerts a year. Yes, for $2.6 million. The cessation of funding means that ANAM will close in 2009.

ANAM was set up by the Keating Government in 1994 as part of Creative Nation. The aim was to give young talented musicians the opportunity to train at an elite level without having to travel to Europe or America. It has slowed Australia’s brain drain by creating a stepping stone to professional orchestral appointments (all the elite symphony and chamber orchestras in Australia boast a healthy proportion of ANAM alumni).

Likewise it creates appointments for our best musicians. Brett Dean, who runs ANAM at the moment, is a world-renowned composer and ex-viola player with some of the principal orchestras of Europe. If ANAM were to cease Australia’s musicians will be forced to go overseas again, and most likely stay there.

ANAM is the musical equivalent of AIS. If the AIS were to close there would be uproar. A conservative estimate is that every gold medal Australia has won at the Olympics over the past 20 years has cost Australian taxpayers $40 million. Elitism is obviously admissable in Australia, but only for sport.

The decision was not only poorly thought out but horrendously managed. ANAM staff were notified by a perfunctory fax. The decision has occurred too late in the Academic intake year to allow students to find alternative training for 2009. The reason Garrett has given for the decision is that ANAM is no longer the best model to train our young Classical musicians, but has given no alternative model, nor a promise of one.

It is also the more insulting for having come in the wake of the 2020 summit, in which the arts were seen as one of the 10 important areas of Australia’s future. It all looks like a lot of hot air now.

The ALP needs to remember that a vociferous and effective proportion of its supporters for the Kevin07 election campaign were from the arts community. The promise for the arts was improvement, not decommissioning of major arts training institutes. If this continues, Australia’s national landmark, the Sydney Opera House, if going to end up an empty, silent monolith — a testament to a time when Labor governments cared about culture.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey