It’s time…

19 05 2016

Enough with sitting around complaining about how nobody listens to anything the arts community has to say. Enough of boat people and Royal Commissions. Make them sit up and listen!

Kudos with bells on it to the trailblazers who have kickstarted The Arts Party. It’s about time. Even if you are disinclined to hand over some cash to support the campaign (but it couldn’t hurt), make sure you master the new Senate voting instructions, and give the Arts Party your support in the ballot box. It will cost you nothing.

If Ricky Muir can do it (Motoring Enthusiasts… really?), not to mention that old windbag Clive Palmer, we can do it too. Let’s get a seat at the table.

The Arts Party slogans in haiku…

‘Want one million votes/ for the balance of power/wear an arts t-shirt.’

What’s not to love?

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Creative Australia?

14 03 2013

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Because I’m disinclined to let you off with the ‘executive summary’, here’s a link to a pdf of the Gillard government’s new cultural policy in its entirety. While I’m on it…why is it always assumed that executives want nothing more than a digestible and condensed version of a complex document? It’s always struck me as akin to the mummy-bird regurgitating pre-digested worms for the baby bird. If I were an ‘executive’, I’d want to be the mummy-bird.

The Gillard government is summoning the shades of two great Labor leaders of years gone by and pioneers when it came to cultural policy. In the document, Julia Gillard writes: ‘It is now 40 years since the Australia Council for the Arts was formed and almost two decades since our first cultural policy, Creative Nation, was launched. Its successor, Creative Australia, continues the spirit of engagement with the arts embraced by my predecessors Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating.”

Yes – Gough Whitlam, who established the Australia Council, and whose government held its collective head high and bought Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for the National Gallery of Australia in spite of general consensus at the time that “my five-year-old daughter could’a done that!”; and Paul Keating, whose Creative Nation is credited with inspiring Tony Blair to initiate the ‘Cool Britannia’ campaign (does that mean we can hold him personally responsible for Oasis and Patsy Kensit?). Shame Keating didn’t get some good copywriters on the job – Cool Britannia stuck. Creative Nation? Little too ‘blah’, unfortunately, although the principles it promoted were certainly worthy. And it does carry a fair deal of currency in the Australian arts sector.

So it’s no accident that the new arts policy doffs its cap to its predecessor – from Creative Nation we now have Creative Australia. Given the prognosis for the ruling party, any straw is worth grabbing at this point. Still. I really think they could have wrangled a name for the policy that was far catchier, and a little less public service.

But what about the details?

First thoughts…

The principal goal of the policy warms the cockles… to ‘recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity’. This is a wonderful ideal. But money, meet mouth. To celebrate and recognise is all well and good. But the Aboriginal visual art sector is facing a fairly bleak horizon at the moment. Without significant investment in restructuring the industry, things ain’t looking great.

The emphasis on the inclusion of arts education in the Australian Curriculum is also very reassuring. As is the funding allocated to the establishment of an Indigenous Employment Strategy in collaboration with Screen Australia, and to assist contemporary musicians establish career pathways.

But the one impression I took away from my (admittedly fairly rapid) read of the policy, is that the visual arts don’t seem to get much of a look-in. Any time there is a list of art forms, visual art appears at the rear end of the queue; for example, from p. 14, under the heading ‘Creative Expression and the Role of the Artist’: ‘Whether it is through live, interactive or recorded media or whether it is through drama, documentaries, comedy, music, dance, design, visual art, writing or traditional cultural practices…’ I just picked this at random. The pattern recurs at such a frequency that it is difficult to dismiss it as an accident.

What does this mean? The document seems to be promoting ‘participation’, ‘audiences’ and ‘community’. I need to think more about this, and read the document again more closely, but my first impression is that the principal focus seems to be on our diverse cultural heritage, and the many layers of social fabric that comprise the delicious mille-feuille that is contemporary Australia.

But…and I hesitate to say this, because I do want to read it again more carefully… most of what I absorbed tells me that this is about using public money to give The Australian People (caps used advisedly) what they want. There is far less talk of innovation and excellence in this document than previous iterations, which makes me suspect it’s leaning in a far more populist and community-oriented direction.  The shift in emphasis concerns me. A great deal. When it comes to the arts end of town, quite often the most visionary work doesn’t find an audience when it’s made… and that’s what public funding for the arts has often been about. The People don’t always know best. And if an artform or particular artist has already attracted public acclaim or community support, they are in a better position to generate funds from their practice as a matter of course.

Luckily, Mr Whitlam didn’t take public sentiment to heart when he listened to his expert advisers and made the call on Blue Poles. Thanks to his audacity and vision, the Australian public now owns one of the acknowledged masterpieces made by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

As for the news that every federal MP will be given $23,500 a year to ‘help students pursue their artistic dreams’? Given how small the pot is already, this would seem to be a rather futile, misdirected and somewhat immoderate use of available funds – the total of $8.1 million for the project is 3.5% of the total amount of the policy package of $235 million ($75.3 million of which is going to the Australia Council). Take OzCo’s cash out, and 5% of available funds will be distributed willy-nilly by standing MPs to artistic causes they deem worthy. Grab for cash, anyone?

But I reserve my right to withdraw this statement if you see me lining up at my local member’s office to share of the Gillard-given bounty.





Would you like a little culture with that?

12 03 2013

 

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Otto Pliny, ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (image via http://www.artvalue.com)

Cue drum roll…..

The day has dawned. Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean, will unveil the Labor government’s National Cultural Policy at the National Press Club today (I’m hoping he teases us, and reveals the details slowly… enticingly… think ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’).

We haven’t had one of these since Paul Keating’s much-vaunted ‘Creative Nation’ in 1994 – a cultural policy that (ominously for the current government) didn’t survive Keating’s ignominious ousting in 1996. In the lead-up to the release, Mr Crean has trotted out those well-worn public service buzzwords: ‘consultation’, ‘stakeholders’, and ‘arts constituency’. Do you think they’ll manage to squeeze a ‘paradigm’ and a ‘benchmark’ or two in there? One thing’s for sure – given the government’s obsession with holding onto a surplus in the upcoming budget, any spending they plan to do on the arts will certainly have to be smart. And creative.

If you can’t wait, or can’t be bothered trying to find the journalistic wash-up in tomorrow’s papers, the launch is to be televised and can be viewed live from 12.30pm (EST) today… link here.





The White stuff.

24 02 2013
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Image: White Night Melbourne via weekendnotes.com

What makes us human? We do something like this just for the sake of it, and love it… just because.

Last night, 300,000 Melburnians flooded into the CBD and embraced the inaugural ‘White Night’ arts festival.

I’m a rusted-on cynic. It’s rare for me to experience a flush of unconditional pride in my city and the people who live in it. But, today? Yeah. I love every last, crazy, one of you.

Bring on White Night 2014.





Rudd-y Hell! Might be time to change your link headers, Labor.

29 07 2010

OK – not arts related. Although in my defence, I did find this whilst in search of arts things. Googling away, looking for the ALP’s arts policy, this popped up in the search engine. Madam Prime Minister – I know you must be frantically busy, but you may want to update the ALP website links.





Is it right to copy? Visual artists and copyright.

7 05 2010

I’m not going to go over the well-trodden ground that is the appropriation debate, covered here and here. But I am going to throw this one into the ring… After the on-air discussion at the ABC earlier in the week, I asked Sam Leach a question that has been puzzling me for some time: what his response would be if an artist whose work he did not particularly admire – for argument’s sake I used Ken Done as an example – appropriated one of his works of art, altered it slightly and signed it, presented it as his own, then started selling postcards and t-shirts down at the Rocks in Sydney embellished with said image.

I won’t influence your thinking on this conundrum by repeating Sam’s very reasonable response. But the subtext to the question is – are the laws of copyright in the visual arts set to one side in instances where the appropriator is an artist whose work the progenitor of the image admires? If we’re to look at the cold, hard legal facts of the matter, the appropriated artist’s copyright is infringed where substantial portions of their work are reproduced by another artist without their prior consent. But it is up to the artist to enforce their rights – if they approve of the outcome of the appropriation, they’re hardly going to prosecute the artist who has referenced their work. But what if the maker of the original image is unhappy with the altered image? Or does not approve of the way the image is being presented or sold? Appropriation and the use and alteration of imagery that, according to strict legal precedent, can be subject to copyright laws is a central tenet of many contemporary artists’ work both in Australia and internationally. But the practice is characterised by many and varied shades of grey. Should the question of whether or not the matter is prosecuted depend upon the artist’s discretion, or should there be a more objective set of standards and procedures in place?

The debate has been well and truly sorted out in other arts sectors. The case in music is clear-cut – just ask Men At Work, who are no doubt cursing that now infamous flute riff in ‘Land Downunder’ (can the flute riff? Hmm). As it is in theatre and dance – if you stage a performance, the creator will be given due recognition, even where the director and cast may have dramatically reinterpreted the author’s original production. In that instance, all contributors to the production will be given due credit. But it will be promoted as “so-and-so’s production of such-and-such’s ‘thingumy-jig'”. In the visual arts it has, to date, mostly been an ad hoc approach based on artists willingly waiving their rights to accommodate the practice of appropriation. But it is interesting to consider what would happen in a case such as the example given above.

(image: Marcel Duchamp, ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’, via http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw)





The art of adaption: Keeping the arts afloat in stormy economic times

17 10 2009

Image: Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig

It seems that the arts are flourishing in the midst of these gloomy economic times. In a very interesting article published in today’s Age, Raymond Gill looks at the reasons behind the booming arts scene, and attributes it to programming decisions which have favoured ‘safe’, populist productions featuring stars who have household name recognition. Not surprisingly, this combination has proven to be extremely successful. Hello, Salvador Dali.

It’s not uncommon to hear voiced the opinion that populist programming is somehow a sell-out, and that it causes a dumbing-down of the arts which alienates loyal audiences who have a preference for more challenging productions or exhibitions. But in the absence of indexed government subsidies, what are arts companies to do to keep the lights on? Why wouldn’t you stage a Gilbert and Sullivan show starring perennial favourites Anthony Warlow and Lisa McCune if it will guarantee bums on seats, and allow you to subsidise the production of more challenging, less popular works?

Then there’s the question of access and diversifying audiences. Art galleries, live theatre and dance venues, and orchestral and operatic performance spaces can be terrifying and intimidating places. Who amongst you hasn’t been in the position of wishing the plush red carpet would open up beneath your feet and swallow you whole, to divert the disapproving glares from those around you as you attempt to suppress a coughing fit, or quieten an overly jingly-jangly piece of jewellery in the midst of a monologue? Even though I’ve been an enthusiastic audience member  for all things arty for decades, many are the times that I’ve cursed my choice of clattery stiletto at an opening in a cavernous, hushed white cube, or wished I’d rethought my second-act choice of snack – the enticing chocolate-sodden almonds mocking me from inside an impossibly crackly cellophane bag.

How much worse must it be for people who have little or no exposure to the arts? Arts education in the Australian government school sector has all but disappeared. Unless they’re lucky enough to grow up in a household where they’ve been immersed in the arts from a very young age, it’s likely that kids of the future will have little if anything to do with the high arts. Until relatively recently most school students studied music, art and theatre at some point during their education. Whether you loved it or hated it at the time, this exposure introduces people to the lexicon – gives them a passport and permission to partake in the arts if they wish. Without some grounding or background in the arts, it’s not even that people will find performances or exhibitions incomprehensible… they won’t even know to look for them in the first place.

And so we have Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig performing on Broadway to sell-out crowds in ‘A Steady Rain’. Although the production has only attracted lukewarm reviews, you’d have more chance of being invited to the Obama’s for morning tea than you would have of securing a ticket.

If the promise of seeing James Bond and Wolverine performing in the flesh entices people into the theatre who would otherwise rather watch paint dry than see a live theatrical performance, then surely that must be a good thing. Particularly if some of them enjoy themselves so much that they become converts for life. Or even if they just become receptive to the idea of the arts as an accessible and enjoyable past-time.

(Image: Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman at the curtain call for ‘A Steady Rain’. By Evan Agostini, AP, via msnbc.msn.com)