James Packer

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Packer's Sydney arts pledge

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Gambling and the arts have had an on-and-off, quiet, comfortable relationship in Sydney for quite a while now. The Sydney Opera House was funded largely through the Opera House lotteries (over $100 million was raised for construction), and one of the biggest commercial theatres, the Lyric, exists as part of a casino. And it’s not just in Sydney; performance spaces abound in casinos around the world, and in the UK, the National Lottery has injected around £2 billion into the arts over the last 20 years. But given what we know about the pervasive and destructive force of gambling, is it a relationship arts companies should be willing to continue?
James Packer yesterday announced a $60 million Sydney Arts Fund, as part of the Crown Resorts Foundation, one of the casino’s corporate social responsibility programs. Thirty-million dollars will go towards Sydney Arts institutions, with Sydney Theatre Company and Art Gallery of NSW the big winners. A further $30 million will go to Western Sydney arts projects.
The news has been, unsurprisingly, met with rapturous enthusiasm from the arts community. It’s big money, and arts companies are usually just a few poorly received seasons away from serious financial problems (just this month, the Arts Centre Melbourne announced a deficit of $7.2 million in 2012-2013). The donation should help to solidify the companies’ financial position and allow them to reach wider audiences.
Executive Director of Sydney Theatre Company Patrick McIntyre said the company is extremely excited about the “landmark gift”, and that it’s the largest philanthropic contribution it’s ever received, at $15 million. As STC reaches its 30th anniversary at The Wharf, they’ll be able to look to the future with a little extra cash. (Their annual turnover is around $30 million, and they’ll receive $1.5 million annually from the fund, for ten years.)
It might all seem like an unusual move on Packer’s part (he openly admits he’s not an art lover) but it’s clearly in his business interest. And he’s probably also hoping it might curb some of the public Packer-bashing, just for a little while.
The grant has been won through negotiations to secure political support for Packer’s new Casino at Barangaroo, so it’s not, strictly speaking, a donation. It does come with strings. But those strings don’t necessarily extend to the lucky companies who will benefit from the fund, so of course, it’s been accepted at a kind of arms-length, with open arms and open hands.
The Sydney Arts Alliance, an ALP lobby group, advocated for funding to the NSW arts community as a condition for the party’s support of the Barangaroo development. Though the eventual deal was reached by Crown and the other parties involved, it was they who initially put the issue on the table. Blake Briggs, of the Alliance, said: “It is critical that the people of NSW receive lasting benefit from the creation of a second casino in NSW.”
And perhaps that’s the attitude of a lot of the people involved – if gambling has to exist, if those commercial interests are so strong that they’ll push their way in anyway, it’s essential that we benefit. It might explains why this connection between gambling and the arts is not a new thing – as gambling is seen by many as a dark part of our cultural landscape, the arts are seen, almost universally, as the brightest. Perhaps good can come from bad.

One response to “Packer's Sydney arts pledge

  1. This is a VERY simplistic and naive text. I’m sorry it’s just not good enough to write up James Packer and gambling as ‘bad’ and the arts as ‘good’. In Neutze’s eyes the arts are “seen as, almost universally, the brightest” part of our “cultural landscape”. WHY? Is this actually correct. To my mind gambling and the arts are one and the same. Both are human activities prone to huge faults and huge successes. For example David Walsh’s MONA in Hobart is built on money from a brilliant manipulation of gambling. As MONA is widely regarded as the most advanced contemporary art museum in Australia then doesn’t that one fact prove Neutze wrong? And who said art was so wonderful anyway. Contemporary art in Australia is overwhelmingly Government art. The people employed by the governments to run the publicly owned Institutions are by the very nature of their jobs constricted by government policy, the recent actions at intimidation of public servants by the Abbott and other LNP State governments (the threats of Stasi-like ‘dobbin gin’ etc) show that we cannot at all trust our arts public servants to act either impartially or naturally now, it’s debatable they never did. Also the heavy links between the wealthy and the Big End of town personified by an institution such as AGNSW render Neutze’s ‘Light on the Hill’ view of the arts as hollow indeed. These days I just don’t go to openings at such institutions (even shows I’m in) because of the nauseating show of money and power that one has to endure.
    Art is a combat zone, it is not and never was some glowing beacon of humanity. To shallowly keep reiterating a false concept of Art is misguided at best. But to lay all the blame on Packer is also wrong. Packer is a business man wanting to whitewash the bad aspects of his profit making. In many way Packer is far, far more honest that Art. Packer is totally transparent in his actions. contemporary art in Australia’s Government art world is NOT!

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