Another day, another whinge from Quadrant over its loss of Australia Council funding. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Quadrant should have lost the small amount it was granted each year to publish poems and short stories. It had a strong editor of firm opinions in Les Murray, and it was good to have a place where poems could be published with a bit of white space around them, on a full A4 page.
But I don’t think Meanjin should have been defunded either. Or Arena Theatre. Or Legs On The Wall. This four-year funding program is an absurdity. The wielding of it has been immensely destructive and capricious. These journals and companies have, over decades, built up strong traditions of practice and hundreds of alumni willing to connect back with them.
Quite possibly, the council reviewers thought some of them had become complacent and second-rate; others might have been badly managed and not meeting quotas. Who knows? One of the archaic things about OzCo is that it gives no reasons for its decisions, and now it has no intermediate measures to deal with underperforming outfits.
If the council thought that some outfits were underperforming, or should be seeking more funds from the private sector and supporters, there should have been an option to put them on two-year reduced funding, with some warning and feedback as to their perceived deficiencies.
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Quadrant, if it were serious about its funding being restored, should be seeking common cause with these other defundees, to argue the unfairness of the process. Quadrant is the least threatened; for decades it has been supported by generous donations from the private sector.
Moreover it has no one but itself to blame for being defunded. There’s something ridiculous about a magazine publishing monthly diatribes about the iniquity of government yartz grants — often on the same page as it ran the OzCo logo, as required by its funding agreement. At some point basic honesty would have suggested that it either ditch the funding or ditch the rhetoric.
But Quadrant was founded in hypocrisy, and there, for the most part it has remained. It was founded with money from the CIA, via the intermediary of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and was thus a creature of the Cold War state apparatus — even though it pretended to be a voice of independent culture, in contrast to Cold War Soviet state cultural institutions. Its longtime editor, Peter Coleman, claims that “at least” it was on the right side of such debates, morally speaking.
That conveniently ignores the fact that such cultural funding was started at exactly the same time as the CIA started funding death squads in Latin America, Indonesia and elsewhere, and that cultural funding was simply the same war by other means. For decades, such squads reigned terror on whole areas of the global south, killing any teacher, trade unionist or social activist who gained any prominence.
In the last decade or so it has had two editors — Paddy McGuinness and Keith Windschuttle — who were, in their youth, the sort of leftists such death squads would have dispatched with alacrity back in the day. But the magazine has always been an irony-free zone. Rather than make an independent stand against a leftist cultural-management state, it would prefer the fantasy that it has been targeted for its politics — as if it had not become an erratic, curmudgeonly joke years ago, long since cut out of the mainstream of conservative debate.
Quadrant will survive. A dozen or so theatre companies and organisations may not. The simplest thing would be for the Andrews government to offer to take up the slack for all of them (which is chickenfeed) — so long as they move to Victoria. Put a couple in regional cities, and give the others free rent in Docklands, the Warsaw end of Collins Street, to strengthen the nascent arts hub that’s already there. Yes, even Quadrant. From the Latin, a rant by squares.