Scott Redford is a prominent artist who lives in Queensland. He’s also a frequent commenter on this website, mostly about how public servants employed as curators reaffirm their own tastes when they make choices about who, and what to show in their state-funded museums.
Redford is the first to admit he’s a “ratbag/whistleblower” whose — to put it mildly — forthright views have burned many bridges. Below is his letter to the director of the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Chris Staines. It looks like he may have burned another one.
The reason I cannot bring myself to meet with you is that I know that whilst it will be a pleasant enough meeting NOTHING concrete will come of it. I have no interest to be involved with mainstream Australian government art anymore, it only deeply depresses me. I have NO TRUST whatsoever in the publicly waged managerial class anymore. I firmly believe we have entered a time of Art Without Artists: see Anton Vidokle in e-flux, the online magazine.
In fact even writing this greatly distresses me. What I am interested in is somehow making some good out of bad art world experiences by trying to get ye olde art worlde to maybe…maybe, start to think about their duty of care to artists, especially local artists.
Over the 30 plus years I’ve been involved with Australian government art I have witnessed the most appalling and totally unaccountable BAD behaviour by many art world public servants. Often this bad behaviour has been sheer ABUSE…abuse of power, of course, comes as no surprise.
What I would like to know is what actual policy QAGOMA has towards the treatment of artists, especially local artists? Do you actually have a Charter of Rights for artists? I intend to not rest until I can get the rights and issues for the 99% of Australia’s artists be thought about. We all know contemporary art can be anything and of any quality.
In fact without “identity content” the art world would have no real way to make “quality” decisions on what needs to be exhibited and what is to be EXCLUDED. The last Asia-Pacific Triennial_was full of such bad art only chosen because of national identity is sickening. The “critics” we have are flown up by QAGOMA and very open for “cash for comment”. Their lame and half-hearted reviews prove this.
Artists are NOT part of the Government’s team. Artists are self employed small business people. We have ABNs, we collect GST, we pay tax, we vote.
Anyway. I am really only writing you this letter to publish it later as I know and you know the “system” is way too entrenched for any meaningful change. I will be writing to Museums Australia, Arts Law Centre and other places for their input…if it indeed comes…I’ll just get weasel word responses I know. The managerial wing of Australian government art has actually only contempt for the 99% of artists…Why?….because there are more artists than them and the minority needs to control the majority to maintain their cushy jobs.
Below are some suggestions that I feel all Australia’s publicly funded art museums should adopt. Please remember it is NOT your money…it’s public money and artists are foremost members of the PUBLIC!!! And you people are public servants!!!
GOAL: That real and concrete change is initiated to improve the status of Queensland artists.
Every five years or so a Queensland artist will enter the media to air complaints about the Queensland Art Gallery however QAG are impervious to such complaints, bar face-saving measures and some nice words. No real action is initiated.
The huge bulk of Australian culture IS NOT funded by Government! Australia culture is funded by individual artists taking low or no wages.
INITIATIVE 1: All spending on purchases (including purchases made with donated monies) be made totally transparent. All budgets also should be made totally transparent. The Queensland Art Gallery is a public institution and we must insist on total transparency to dispel any perception of bias etc.
INITIATIVE 2: A written and formally approved strategy which provides practical and ethical guidelines and procedures relating to our commitment to Queensland art and culture, one similar to the recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) Engagement Strategy.
Too often the government-waged who administer Australian and Queensland art assume it is the general public they must serve first. Artists are somehow perceived as “part of the team” even though artists struggle financially with superannuation, proper wages etc. We even have to pay for our own computers, internet connect and pens and pencils. Public servants don’t!
Yet somehow because there is some government funded politicians and the public perceive artists as “leaners”. The huge bulk of Australian culture IS NOT funded by Government! Australia culture is funded by individual artists by taking low or no wages.
Usually we pay to make and show our art to the public. The state galleries have free entry because artists are not properly paid. Think of all the actors, writers, artists, musicians and film people etc, all of these people live on extremely low wages and yet they produce the culture. The government-waged who administer that culture to the public ignores this fact. To them living artists are an annoying hindrance to their jobs. As we all know, the public service gets caught up in the public service system and forgets who they are meant to serve.
The situation was perfectly summed up when Malcolm Turnbull stated that artists were “viciously ungrateful”. It was as if we were angry peasants who should never dare to question. We are actually VOTERS Malcolm!
INITIATIVE 3: A permanent independent committee of Queensland artists is set up to advise on and instigate Queensland Art Gallery policy AND Queensland Government policy. This committee should be made up from nominations from the arts community state-wide.
INITIATIVE 4: That the Queensland Government be made aware that they must facilitate real measures to promote and nurture Queensland art. Nice words are not enough. Just giving the bulk of the money to the fine arts flagship QAGOMA and believing everything QAGOMA says is nowhere near enough.