New South Wales

Nov 14, 2013

Packer’s Sydney arts donation a lay-down misere

Daily Review journalist Ben Neutze says James Packer's major arts donation -- in exchange for approval for his Sydney casino -- raises questions around the meaning and funding of culture in Australia.

Gambling and the arts have had an on-and-off, quiet, comfortable relationship in Sydney for quite a while now. The Sydney Opera House was funded largely through the Opera House lotteries (over $100 million was raised for construction), and one of the biggest commercial theatres, the Lyric, exists as part of a casino. And it’s not just in Sydney; performance spaces abound in casinos around the world, and in the UK, the National Lottery has injected around 2 billion pounds into the arts over the last 20 years. But given what we know about the pervasive and destructive force of gambling, is it a relationship arts companies should be willing to continue? James Packer this week announced a $60 million Sydney Arts Fund, as part of the Crown Resorts Foundation, one of the casino’s corporate social responsibility programs. Some $30 million will go towards Sydney Arts institutions, with Sydney Theatre Company and Art Gallery of NSW the big winners. A further $30 million will go to Western Sydney arts projects. The news has been unsurprisingly met with rapturous enthusiasm from the arts community. It’s big money, and arts companies are usually just a few poorly received seasons away from serious financial problems (just this month, the Arts Centre Melbourne announced a deficit of $7.2 million in 2012-2013). The donation should help to solidify the companies’ financial position and allow them to reach wider audiences. Executive director of Sydney Theatre Company Patrick McIntyre says the company is extremely excited about the "landmark gift", the largest philanthropic contribution it’s ever received, at $15 million. As STC reaches its 30th anniversary at The Wharf, it will be able to look to the future with a little extra cash (the company's annual turnover is around $30 million, and it will receive $1.5 million annually from the fund for 10 years). It might all seem like an unusual move on Packer’s part (he openly admits he’s not an art lover), but it’s clearly in his business interest. And he’s probably also hoping it might curb some of the public Packer-bashing, at least for a little while. The grant has been won through negotiations to secure political support for Packer’s new casino at Barangaroo, so it’s not, strictly speaking, a donation. It does come with strings. But those strings don’t necessarily extend to the lucky companies that will benefit from the fund. The Sydney Arts Alliance, an ALP lobby group, advocated for funding to the NSW arts community as a condition for the party’s support of the Barangaroo development. Though the eventual deal was reached by Crown and the other parties involved, it was the alliance that initially put the issue on the table. Blake Briggs of the alliance said: "It is critical that the people of NSW receive lasting benefit from the creation of a second casino in NSW." And perhaps that’s the attitude of a lot of the people involved -- if gambling has to exist, it’s essential that we benefit. It might explain why this connection between gambling and the arts is not new -- as gambling is seen by many as a dark part of our cultural landscape, the arts are seen, almost universally, as the brightest. Perhaps good can come from bad. *This article originally appeared at Daily Review

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9 thoughts on “Packer’s Sydney arts donation a lay-down misere

  1. julica j

    If other people’s misery and addictions (gambling) seem to be the only way to help arts financed, that’s an alarming and sad sign that our imagination has reached such a low point, that we don’t even deserve art anymore.

  2. Rod Marr

    “The news has been unsurprisingly met with rapturous enthusiasm from the arts community.”

    Well, there it is. Blood Money for the arts.

    So the gambling Casino’s take it from the wretched and hapless and give it to the now equally wretched and hapless arts.

    To be associated with any type of gambling is a vexation to the spirit of the community.

    This just confirms everything I have ever suspected about the arts and those who permeate it….idolatrous soft-shelled unconscious ego maniacs.

  3. Andrew Stonem

    To a certain extent I agree with Rod Marr.

    So Packer slings the Sydney Arts Fund a cool $60mill and in return he’s guaranteed his casino license.

    How do these people live with themselves? Music, writing, painting, acting, designing etc etc are all things we do from the soul, but we don’t sell our soul as part of the expression.

    Money for Artz Sake?…Yes, and money for Packer’s sake.

  4. julica j

    well, this dirty connection just stops make me wanting to go and see the shows of any of those places anymore….

    Is that “good for the arts”?
    Do I think MacDo is kind-of-ok-mate because it gives money for the shrink after kids are getting too fat and bullied on burgers…
    Let’s just start thinking like semi-intelligent humans again.

  5. Syd Mayhem

    Recently, Western Australian mining magnate Andrew Forrest gave $65 million to the WA university.

    Why would anyone do that and what can it possibly achieve other than promoting and entrenching the systemic status quo of the WAY THINGS ARE. We need change, not more of the same. Universities are symbolic of this.

    ” Andrew Forrest, through his actions, has highlighted the need for those who have prospered to give back to those who are less fortunate.” Ron Walker Former Fairfax chief.

    WTF..the UWA is full of pompous rich kids from Perth’s Western Suburbs. Are they the new less fortunate? Whatever happened to care for the widow and love the orphan in our midst. What about investment in low cost affordable housing? No chance because Twiggy’s donation has seen to it that entrenched systems will stand.

    These particular circumstances are different from Packer’s $60 million back-hander to the Sydney Arts Fund but the theme remains the same..Those two words… VESTED INTEREST and it’s filthy corruption.

  6. Liamj

    If ‘gambling is a tax on people who are bad at maths’, then isn’t supporting elite arts just sowing next seasons crop?

  7. Edward James

    Andrew Stonem. These people you refer to are us, you and iI ! While we chatter in on line print about what is happening. James Packer has taken over control of a large part of our Sydney Harbour foreshore assisted by the NSW government. 02 43419140

  8. Edward James

    When Rosecorporation gave land near Catherine Hill Bay to the State government as part of getting approval for a development of a few hundred housing sited near the bay It was identified as an inducement. And the approval was over turned by the Land and Environment court . So has the law been regulated ? probably Do enough people care? i doubt it! Edward James

  9. Edward James

    Just for the record i often publish my phone number because crikey and other publications wont go as far as i want to go with my often published allegations Edward james 0243419140 Can you afford not to ring and ask your burning question?

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