Crikey Says

Mar 13, 2014

Crikey says: a government strong-arming our cultural institutions

Have the Chinese found flight MH370? Threats and intimidation -- by artists and the government. And a history of political protest. New jobs data and why "consumers" don't know what they're talking about. Paddy Manning on a big morning for Leighton Holdings. Plus should the ABC be privatised? The case for and against.

Federal Arts Minister George Brandis has entered the debate over Transfield's aborted sponsorship of the Sydney Biennale. The Australian reports he has written to the head of national arts funding body the Australia Council over the "insult", saying:
"Artists, like everybody else, are entitled to voice their political opinions, but I view with deep concern the effective blackballing of a benefactor, implicit in this decision, merely because of its commercial arrangements. "Even more damagingly, the decision sends precisely the wrong message to other actual or potential corporate sponsors of the arts: that they may be insulted, and possibly suffer reputational damage, if an arts company or festival decides to make a political statement about an aspect of their commercial relationships with government, where it disapproves of a particular government policy which those commercial relationships serve."
Some of that we can agree with; we've argued in this space that artists' successful boycott of the event won't serve the sector in the long term. But it's the not-particularly veiled threat that follows that will really worry the arts community:
"You will readily understand that taxpayers will say to themselves: 'If the Sydney Biennale doesn't need Transfield's money, why should they be asking for ours?'"
Brandis says it makes it "difficult to justify" government support for the Biennale, via the Australia Council; when the contract is renewed next year the government will "have regard to this episode and to the damage" it has done. Sound familiar? Here's Tony Abbott, speaking about the ABC's defence of a Chaser skit involving conservative columnist Chris Kenny, recently:
"The point I make is that government money should be spent sensibly, and defending the indefensible is not a very good way to spend government money. Next time the ABC comes to the government looking for more money, this is the kind of thing that we would want to ask them questions about."
It's intimidation, pure and simple. As Raymond Gill reports for Crikey, arts companies are anxious. Last night, ABC chairman Jim Spigelman admitted management felt the "greater degree of scrutiny" the broadcaster has been subject to. The funding may survive -- at the ABC, for the Australia Council, elsewhere -- but the intimidation will have worked.

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4 thoughts on “Crikey says: a government strong-arming our cultural institutions

  1. klewso

    His idea of “culture”? Didn’t Beetle attend that Tea Party festival of light on the lawn in Canberra – the one with “barbecued bitch(?)” for afters?
    Maybe this snubbed mob could fund his personal appearances at those weddings? Or buy him some more books, to burn?
    What’s he going to do for a hide when the elephant wants it back?

  2. David Hand

    I think it is absolutely correct for Bienniale, having rejected Transfield Holding’s sponsorship due to supposed connections to Manus Island, should reject government sponsorship due to connections to Manus Island.

  3. AR

    “why should they be asking for ours?” For the benefit of the ignoramus currently occupying the A/G office –
    1) it ain’t YOUR money, it came >65% from individual taxpayers and only a fraction of the remainder from corporate tax – perhaps something to put on your “To DO” list? yeh, dreamin’ I know.
    2) although personally i have no time for the wankers of the yartz brigade, I’d still rather their fripperies were funded than miners’ deisel rebates, Direct Inaction & wotever the next brainfart malodourously issuing from the current regime.

  4. scott redford

    I just read about the previews of the Biennale. It’s so weird the way the Belgiorno-Nettis brothers think somehow they own the event. And the way the mainstream media such a Fairfax and News Ltd now want us to just forget about any politics and ‘just enjoy the art’ its so hollow and sad. It’s as if art western art since Courbet or Adorno just never happened! I now quite a few people here in Berlin are just shaking their heads. No seriously they are. Yet again the lack of any real intellectual savvy from our arts decision makers is glaring, it would be funny if it weren’t true. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis is a spoilt brat, instead of thinking through the recent problems he just runs away and sulks. It’s all about him! Well as an artist I agree, it’s all about me 🙂 But seriously Australia had a chance to really do something truly radical with art and politics but it seems the status quo must be upheld at all costs. Why not open the biennale up to conservative artists who agree with Manus or right wing issues, for and against weighted 50/ 50? Invite artists and curators that may or may not make art that looks suspiciously like contemporary art in, good or bad, I mean if you’ve seen one Youtubish video projected large or some arty looking sprawling installation you might as well show the many Australian citizens and tax payers who also have a right to be heard. Why not stage an actual ideas ‘conflict zone’ within the Biennale. Luca likes Direct Democracy so why not ask the public to choose instead of telling them what to should like. Really take crazy risks instead of the standard art pap we see everywhere. Art today lives off a once very radical avant garde past and yet somehow thinks it can sidestep a world just as ugly as the one Courbet lived in. Courbet pulled down the Vendome Column for goodness sake. There were riots at Dada events. The Futurists called for the “demolition of Museums and Libraries”! The Futurists were linked to Fascism but we still revere and teach their work and their ideas if only as historically important. Contemporary art as it has become is over. But will this Biennale reflect this? Yes but not in the art, the high point of this Biennale will be the protest of Biennale 9. Everything else is business as usual…same old, same old…on and on and on….

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