Brandis’ arts fiesta. On Wednesday we reported that Minister for the Arts George Brandis would be in conversation with Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer at an arts forum, held yesterday, but O’Dwyer herself told Crikey‘s Ben Eltham he wasn’t welcome, because having a journalist present could stifle the opinions of her constituents.
But Crikey‘s excellent tipsters delivered the goods. It was quite a high-powered room, with industry stalwarts like Tom Gutteridge, Alison Richards, Daryl Buckley and Michael Gudinski putting questions to Brandis. Director of Regional Arts Victoria Esther Anatolitis also live-tweeted the meeting, and while it didn’t reveal too much, her feed did tell us about Brandis’ attitude.
The Minister for Dark Arts told those assembled that the National Program for Excellence in the Arts would allow for more ministerial discretion, and that funding big companies like the Australian Ballet and Australian Chamber Orchestra would allow for those companies to tour internationally: “For Australia to be known in the cultural capitals of the world … we have to assist our flagship companies to tour.”
Brandis thinks we will all thank him eventually: “‘People who have been critical will — possibly reluctantly– eventually come to say thank goodness we had a government — and an Arts Minister — who had a vision’.”
Our tipster says those present weren’t convinced by the vision:
“Oddly enough, his audience did not appear to have been convinced — nobody stood up to congratulate the Minister on his foresight and vision. Tom Gutteridge (Polyglot Theatre), Alison Richards (Black Hole Theatre) and Daryl Buckley (Elision Ensemble) pointed out in turn that a mounting body of evidence showed that SMACs (Small to Medium Arts Cos) toured more internationally and domestically, produced more new work, had better international reputations and built domestic audiences more effectively, including in regional and remote areas, than the majors – this was already doing what the NPEA claimed as its goals so why were they being starved of funds? Michael Gudinski (Mushroom) queried the lack of support for popular contemporary music, other speakers complained about the NPEA’s restrictions on applications from individual artists. Gallerist Robert Gould made a point about the impact on the secondary art market of taxes on sales and restrictions on ownership of artworks by SMSFs. Esther Anatolidis (RAV) noted the lack of comprehensive data on sector activity as a basis for policy-making and asked how this could be remedied and what the Arts Ministry will do as a result?”
“On the question of evidence, Kelly O’Dwyer volunteered that the ABS was now part of her portfolio responsibilities as Assistant Sec Treasury and that with the extra $250m recently allocated, it may be in a position to once again collect arts and cultural data — watch this space. She independently volunteered that she thought that maintaining an Australian cultural voice was critical for national identity — and that back in the day she had been a performer in the Melbourne Fringe Festival, in a show with Angus Cerini!”
“There was very little to indicate a substantial change in Brandis’ fundamental position on cultural value and the established arts hierarchy (including the news that his next appointment was a visit to ANAM). Except for applauding the quality of Torres Strait dancers he had just seen (he came straight from the PM’s stint in Bamaga), his references were overwhelmingly to major companies as examples of the kind of arts organisations that deserved further support. He was however more conciliatory in his answers to qs about the impact on the small to medium arts sector than in previous public statements – and after today he most certainly could not continue to claim that in all the many conversations he has had with ‘his interlocutors’ he hasn’t heard any substantial criticisms of his actions in establishing the NPEA.”
While Eltham was metaphorically on the outside looking in, he told Crikey this morning: “In the age of social media the idea that locking a jounro out of the room will somehow prevent scrutiny or make people in the room feel more comfortable is pretty silly.”
“Basically what it reveals to me is that he’s not listening, he said he was listening, he said he works with small to medium organisations, but if he is, he’s not listening to what they are saying, they’re saying the future of the whole sector is at stake.”