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Fifield says (almost) all the right things to re-build Brandis' burnt bridges

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New Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield has immediately set himself apart from his predecessor George Brandis by stating his intention to be more consultative and listen to the arts community. In a marked change from Brandis’ open disdain for the large sector of the community which expressed concerns about his controversial National Program for Excellence in the Arts, Fifield has acknowledged the legitimate worries held by artists and the poor timing and processes of the program’s introduction.
Speaking to Michael Cathcart on Radio National’s Books and Arts this morning, Fifield said that there was no opportunity to “till the soil” with the NPEA as it occurred in the context of the federal budget and was necessarily a part of a closed process. He also acknowledged that it caused disruption to the Australia Council, taking place while the body was undertaking a funding round.
Fifield was asked directly whether he was open to scrapping the NPEA altogether and returning the funding to the Australia Council. It’s an option that he seems to have not entirely ruled out, responding: “My starting point is to endeavour to make the scheme work — to take on board the feedback that we receive. But I’m a new minister and I bring a fresh set of eyes. I’m not going to be just issuing publicly what’s on my desk.”
The NPEA would see $105 million stripped from the arms-length funding body the Australia Council to establish the new program. The Minister insists that the program would see no reduction to the overall pool of arts funding available and that the administration costs would be low.
Fifield previously objected to the establishment of a Senate Inquiry into the funding changes, but now says that he’s taking into account the concerns expressed in the some 2200 submissions about the potential harm to individual artists and small-to-medium organisations.
Over the last two weeks, Fifield has repeatedly stated his desire to be more consultative, telling Cathcart: “I’m someone who’s open, I’m someone who wants to consult and I’m someone who wants to listen.”
He also said that he did not believe that moving the administration of some funding away from the arms-length Australia Council to his own Ministry would have a negative effect on artistic independence.
“The arts should be provocative and disruptive and even on occasion outrageous, but sometimes gentle and affirming and embracing … But that is not inconsistent with having some programs which are administered by the Ministry for the Arts.”
Fifield is also the new Communications Minister and hopes that bringing the two portfolios together will allow for innovative solutions to regulatory crossover areas, like copyright and intellectual property.
“The arts, obviously, have value and worth in and of themselves,” he said. “And there is value to the community more broadly to have a vibrant, creative culture. It’s also economically important.”
According to Fifield, a strong artistic culture should encourage innovation in other areas.
“We want to have a mindset in our community and our society that is innovative and is creative — where people can use their talents to make something from nothing.”
Fifield also addressed the recently released National Opera Review discussion paper, saying that it gives the Ministry a much better appreciation of the challenges facing the country’s major opera companies. But he insisted that it wasn’t all bad news, with 700,000 tickets sold each year, 600 people employed full time and a per-seat subsidy less than orchestras or dance and less than comparable overseas opera companies.
On the subject of artistic vibrancy, he said: “[audiences] want variety, they want difference, they want to be exposed to a wide range of performances.”
Like everything under the new Turnbull regime, only time will tell if the policy outcomes improve. But the messages and style of delivery will certainly keep the public onside for the time being.

One response to “Fifield says (almost) all the right things to re-build Brandis' burnt bridges

  1. “We want to have a mindset in our community and our society that is innovative and is creative — where people can use their talents to make something from nothing.”
    Why do politicians keep coming out with these “motherhood” statements. Everyone knows that without money no artist can do anything at all and true innovation is not commercial by its very nature, so it’s unsustainable. I know I’ve lost vast amounts of money trying. What is amazing about the Liberal Government is that it is SO supportive of the big government funded art institutions but then so is Labor. The Liberals though are meant to be small govt but instead the arts sector is almost totally Government Art run by public servants with the typical public service mind set that is against innovation.
    The public service is notorious for no individual taking responsibility for anything, this is a self defence mechanism. NO innovation will ever come from the Public Service and since Australian Art is Government Art, Australia will never achieve innovation. Would people please just accept this fact!

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