Thursday 14 May 2015

George Brandis and Government funding - Max Berghouse comments

All arts bodies suffer from the same problem: backbiting, undermining, personal jealousy – a whole range of genuinely perceived artistic differences, but they were all wrapped up into a ruthless and relentless pursuit by too many for too little.

Even before the Second World War I think there was a class of person (politician) who could be said to be artistically aware and knowledgeable and I think would be genuinely inclined to allocate funds in a fair manner at least as that person saw it, if there were any such funds in such period – which there weren't, although the evidence in Australia is of great conservatism. A random guess would put Richard Casey as someone trustworthy.

Minister Brandis on all the evidence is not such a person. In any event I don't think appointments to boards, whether those boards are intended to be self-governing, should be in the hands of any politician, of any stripe, even if that person is genuinely of artistic sensibility. It's a difficult issue because there is absolutely no guarantee that an appropriate person for such boards or executive officers – call them "artists" - is going to be any more accurate and sensitive than a politician. It is rather like the superintendence that Rupert Murdoch has over his media empire. He certainly calls the shots and if you read anything in his media, you have to take account of his "prejudices". But there is no evidence that his minions, the reporters, if given their head, would be any less prone to prejudices of their own.

If we were to start with a reasoned view as to what funding to the arts is supposed to "achieve" and I acknowledge there may be an argument that it is not designed to achieve anything, it would be, assuming there were some general agreement as to this, at least in theory, possible to construct some matrix as to whether or not funding were successful.

To give a simple example which relates to my own prejudices. I particularly like classical ballet, or at least ballet music particularly the 19th century. Much of this music is very professional but it is second rate. Some of the classical choreography is considered superb by people who have a much greater interest in the dance than do I. But ballet generally (I will reserve comments for such modern groups Bangarra) is an extraordinarily small sliver of interest in terms of the entire arts pie. Thus it could be completely justifiable to exclude it from funding. As a matter of fact I don't know what funding is given to ballet but whatever it is, the relevant group will no doubt say it's not enough.

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