The call for Australia’s major performing arts companies to speak out against Arts Minister George Brandis’ gutting of the Australia Council by $104.8 million has been growing for the past two weeks, but it has been revealed that the federal government might have pressured some of the bigger companies to keep schtum.
Early last week Daily Review contacted all 28 major performing arts companies quarantined from Brandis’ cuts and was told by Melbourne’s Malthouse and Sydney’s Belvoir that discussions were taking place between the major theatre companies for a planned joint statement.
On the afternoon of Monday, May 18, a spokesperson for Malthouse told Daily Review “there will be a collective statement from CAST (Confederation of Australian State Theatres) coming out shortly, if not already”, but it never materialised.
When asked today why the statement was ditched, Belvoir responded that the company would not be commenting.
Now we may know why, as Daily Review sister site Crikey reports that in the run-up to last Friday’s day of national protests in capital cities, several of the big companies began drafting a letter criticising the Australia Council cuts. Crikey understands that one of those companies was the Sydney Theatre Company, but after Brandis’ office heard about the letter, pressure was applied directly to the STC’s chair, David Gonski.
“Crikey understands a meeting was held between Gonski and one or more advisers from Brandis’ office. The STC backed away from any public statement about the funding cuts, and other majors, sniffing the wind, also took fright. In Senate estimates on Wednesday, Brandis flatly denied that his office had met with any major performing arts companies. The STC issued a blanket ‘no comment’ to Crikey‘s enquiries.”
Circus Oz and the artistic directors of the Queensland Theatre Company, State Theatre of South Australia and Black Swan in Perth have all spoken out against the cuts but the heads of Australia’s two largest theatre companies, the STC and the Melbourne Theatre Company, have so far remained silent.
Read more on the Brandis’ Australia Council raid: