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Editorial: Turnbull's chance to dump Brandis and win over the arts community

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It’s wishful thinking to imagine our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is going to spend much time considering arts policy this week, but it’s one area where the government is desperately in need of a new direction.
At the centre of Turnbull’s pitch to his party room colleagues on Monday was a promise to return to a more consultative style of government. If Turnbull is committed to this principle, then Arts Minister George Brandis’ much maligned National Program for Excellence in the Arts must be scrapped or the $105 million of funding cut (0ver four years) from the Australia Council to establish the new program must be restored.
The announcement of the NPEA this May took the entire arts community by surprise as there was no consultation beforehand. Indeed, Brandis only told Rupert Myer, the chairman of the Australia Council, about the slashing of funds to his organisation to pay for the NPEA a few hours before it was revealed in the Federal Budget. Brandis justified the policy by saying that he had heard consistent complaints from artists and administrators that the Australia Council shut out certain organisations and projects.
While it’s true there has been a long and ongoing debate about the effectiveness of the Australia Council and the principles by which it allocates funding, the arts community has since been consulted and has expressed overwhelming opposition to the changes.
A Senate Inquiry into the funding changes has received a reported 2200 submissions, of which almost 900 are available to read online. The vast majority of them are harshly critical of the changes. Even the leaders of companies and organisations who stand to benefit immediately from the NPEA have voiced their concerns.
Brandis has brushed aside the worry expressed by the arts community as “predictable“, telling The Australian: “Whenever a group of people have a cosy arrangement that they’re comfortable with and a reforming minister comes in and proposes to change those arrangements, the loudest screams come from the protectors of the status quo”.
His comments have alienated vast swathes of the arts community and created the perception that the Arts Minister is at ideological war with artists. And that’s not an unfair assessment: Brandis has set about denigrating the work of the small-to-medium companies and individual artists who are the innovative life force of Australia’s arts scene. He’s stated explicitly that he prefers to fund the larger companies who provide for the larger audiences (although the small-to-medium sector provides for an even larger audience with less funding) rather than individual artists who are “responsible only to themselves.”
Brandis is known as an avid supporter of the more traditional art forms including opera and ballet. The Minister is moving funding away from the artists at the forefront of innovation and discovery back to traditional art forms under the guise of an “excellence” based system.
Brandis has lost the faith of artists all around the country and for this reason should be dumped from the arts portfolio. He has revealed that he was one of the government ministers who supported Turnbull’s leadership bid, but rewarding his loyalty with the portfolio should not be the highest priority when the minister no longer has the confidence of the community he is expected to work alongside.
If Turnbull genuinely believes that this is the most exciting time to be an Australian and that Australians must take advantage of the opportunities which lay before us, our arts and creative industries cannot be neglected. Scrapping the NPEA, or at the very least restoring the Australia Council’s budget will make next to no difference to the budget bottom line, given that that it would require only about $26 million a year in an approximately annual $400 billion budget.
But the return on investment for arts funding is massive, not only in terms of economic impact, but also in terms of inspiring, fostering and developing the kind of creative and intelligent thinking Turnbull says is necessary for this nation to prosper in the years ahead.
[box]Featured image by Veni Markovski/Flickr[/box]

One response to “Editorial: Turnbull's chance to dump Brandis and win over the arts community

  1. Ok so now Big Bad Brandis is gone and probably Turnbull will restore funding. Then the Arts will be all happy with their pocket money back from Daddy. Now we all can go back to our cossetted, provincial, cozy ways. All will be rosy once more….

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