A little soupçon of beauty?
Joanna Mendelssohn, Associate Professor, Art & Design: UNSW Australia
There comes a time in the ancient Chinese lingering execution, lingchi or Death by a Thousand Cuts, when the prisoner begs for the final stroke to end the torture – and life.
The good news is that the latest round of Australia Council four year funding grants shows that it is not there yet. Some essential visual arts publications have had their four year funding renewed, as have some exhibition spaces with a fair national spread.
From looking at what has been funded (and from hearing the start of news of those who have been eliminated) there is a sense that the meeting of the board that signed off on these grants must have been a grim one indeed. The full list of grants as announced by the Australia Council also gives access to the names of the assessors. Unlike the Ministry’s Catalyst program, decisions by the Australia Council are open and transparent.
There are some decisions that seem utterly inexplicable. Neither the Australian Centre for Photography (Sydney) nor the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne) have had funding renewed. Is there a bias against organisations concerned with one particular medium?
With two exceptions, exhibition spaces devoted to the broad spectrum of contemporary art have their funding continued, so Artpsace (Sydney), ACCA (Melbourne), the Institute of Modern Art (Brisbane), Perth’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hobart’s Salamanca Arts Centre are all safe.
The exceptions are both in Adelaide: the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia and Australian Experimental Art Foundation. CACSA is the publisher of Broadsheet which is often the first place young art writers are published. Another outlet for young writers, Express Media, has also lost its funding.
It is not a good look that the national arts advocacy organisation, NAVA, which is also a significant source of information on artists' rights, has lost its funding. The Australian Design Centre has also lost funding.
The Australia Council’s careful management of severely limited funding has meant that some of the essential engines that enable art to be exhibited, performed and published may well just die anyway. Those that survive will be increasingly dependent on private philanthropy.
This may well be in sympathy with a government that likes its arts to be delightfully subservient, existing only to add a little soupçon of beauty to an otherwise dull and corporate life.
However those who understand that the creative arts are at their essence intertwined with creating knowledge and understanding see this as a further degradation of Australia’s intellectual capital.
It’s hardly “the most exciting time” to be in an Australia run by a government that is deliberately dumbing down its people.
What is the rationale behind these cuts?
Jo Caust, associate professor of cultural policy and arts leadership, University of Melbourne
The arts sector in Australia is in turmoil and confusion. Early last week it was announced that 75 arts groups had received funding from the new Catalyst fund. Later, another 45 grants were announced. Some of the earlier recipients received two lots of funding for different projects.
Several recipients received more than the stated upper limit for grants (A$500,000), including Circa Contemporary Circus (A$840,000), The Australian Ballet (A$1,000,000), the National Library of Australia (A$660,000), and the Heysen House (A$1,000,000).
Companies such as Kage Theatre (A$130,000) in Victoria and Brink in South Australia (A$160,000) received money through the Catalyst Fund but have been defunded by the Australia Council. There are also Catalyst recipients who would not normally be included under this kind of funding – e.g. The Australian Ballet Centre. There is even the odd possibility that these groups received more than they actually applied for.
Early this week, the Australia Council released the results of a larger than normal project grant round. Several small to medium companies received project grants. There was, apparently, around a one in four chance of a company being funded.
But at the end of the week, the Australia Council informed numerous companies and organisations that they would no longer receive ongoing annual or triennial funding. It is amazing how quickly life can change. Eighteen months ago, these groups were being asked to apply for six year grants.
Some of those defunded organisations are of serious concern in terms of the intent of the cuts. For instance, funding was cut to both the National Association for the Visual Arts and the journal Meanjin – both places where alternative points of view to government policies have been expressed. NAVA has played a national leadership role in organising protests against the Australia Council changes. What does this say about democracy?
The South Australian theatre scene in particular has received a mortal blow. Three theatre companies that have been at the forefront of artistic innovation have been defunded: Brink, Slingsby and Vitalstatistix. The latter is a women’s theatre company that promotes the work of female playwrights, actors, writers and directors.
Victoria’s Next Wave festival has lost its organisational funding. And even Polyglot Theatre, which has secured core funding from both the Australia Council and Catalyst, expressed “deep concern” for the long-term viability and diversity of the Australian arts sector, saying many peer companies that lost funding would be forced to close.
While some arts organisations are winning the arts funding lottery through the Catalyst Fund, others have been defunded by the Australia Council, as a result of the establishment of Catalyst.
Is the Australia Council using the Catalyst Fund as an excuse to offload some of its less popular clients? More importantly, has the Council taken the wisest course of action in the circumstances? There is a sense of shock in the arts sector.
What does all this say about the government’s approach to national arts policy? It appears there is no overall plan, vision, communication, transparency or fairness.
Authors: The Conversation Contributor