Apr 18, 2016

Arts sector’s worst nightmare comes true with Catalyst a smokescreen for pork

When the National Program for Excellence in the Arts -- now Catalyst -- was announced, many feared it would become nothing more than pork barrelling for favoured projects. They were right.

Ben Eltham — <em>Crikey</em> arts commentator

Ben Eltham

Crikey arts commentator

Crikey received an interesting media release last week. It was from well-heeled public art philanthropist John Kaldor (of Kaldor Public Art Projects), spruiking a grand new public art installation planned for Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Created by indigenous artist Jonathan Jones, the project is billed as “a vast sculptural installation across 20,000 square metres of the garden incorporating a native kangaroo grassland and thousands of ceramic shields”. The project, entitled Your Very Good Idea, is the winner of a competition held by Kaldor Projects last year. Buried down the bottom of that press release was a logo for the Australian government’s “Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund”.


For close observers of the Australian cultural scene, this was a fascinating tidbit. The funding results of the highly controversial Catalyst fund have been keenly anticipated -- and rather slow in coming. Despite huge interest from a cash-strapped cultural sector, only a handful of Catalyst grants have been announced so far. So the Kaldor Public Art Projects media release signalled news of another Catalyst grant from the government. At least -- it appeared to. When Crikey inquired how much federal arts funding the project had received from Catalyst, Kaldor Public Art Projects wouldn't say. A publicist for the project told Crikey: “I’ve checked with John Kaldor, and unfortunately he’s not able to comment on the funding at this point.” Crikey asked Arts Minister Mitch Fifield’s office how much funding had been given to Kaldor Public Art Projects. At the time of writing, no response has been received. No government media release or ministerial announcement was forthcoming. No dollar figure of grant funding has been announced. And yet, Catalyst announcements are being made. Last week, Fifield was in Western Australia. And, lo and behold, a number of funding announcements for successful Catalyst projects in the west suddenly rolled out. On Wednesday, Fifield held a media conference in the blue-ribbon Perth suburb of Claremont, to announce a grant of $400,000 to arts organisation FORM to fund the transformation of an old goods shed into a new cultural space. Liberal Senator Dean Smith was there for the media appearance.


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