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Protest planned for Opera Australia opening night

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A group is planning to protest Opera Australia’s reaction to Arts Minister George Brandis’ Australia Council cuts at the opening of Turandot at the Sydney Opera House next Wednesday.

The protestors who, according to a spokesperson, are made up of artists, producers, managers, independent artists, and people from the small-to-medium sector, are hoping to force the country’s major performing arts companies (particularly the 28 members of AMPAG) to speak out against the government’s controversial funding changes which quarantine major companies but leave smaller players vulnerable.

The group, who has called themselves “Speak Now AMPAG” intends to hold similar protests at other companies around the country. They’re encouraging protestors to dress as ghosts and hold signs which read: “your silence is killing me”, and hope other individuals and groups will follow in their footsteps to pressure major leaders to enter the debate over arts funding.

A spokesperson who has a leading position at one of the companies potentially facing cuts spoke to Daily Review on the condition of anonymity and said the AMPAG companies’ voices are essential in protecting the health of the entire arts sector.

“This situation wouldn’t be possible if the major organisations were actually willing to speak out and to discuss, in public, the impact of these changes on the arts sector overall,” the spokesperson said. “They are the organisations that Brandis has put forward as representing the nebulous idea of ‘excellence’ that he seems to want to promote. And they’re also organisations that are incredibly connected politically, particularly to the Liberal party.”

“It would be really difficult for George Brandis to make the arguments he’s making if he was having to make them with Richard Tognetti [artistic director of Australian Chamber Orchestra] saying ‘look, George, we love your support. We really appreciate it, but we rely on small-to-medium sized companies and independent artists for what we do.'”

Opera Australia has been chosen as the first target largely because of Opera Australia CEO Craig Hassall’s comments to Fairfax immediately following the announcement: “Speaking [for] Opera Australia, my first thought is that I am relieved and delighted that major performing arts companies’ funding hasn’t been cut … I don’t really have a view on where the money comes from, as long as the government is spending money on the arts.”

Artists from the small-to-medium sector are also angry about rumours that Opera Australia has already been promised a chunk of new funding from Brandis’ National Programme for Excellence in the Arts.

There are separate rumours circulating that other major companies have been offered similar deals while Daily Review has been informed by reliable sources that clear directives have been issued by management at some AMPAG companies to artists not to speak out about the funding changes.

The spokesperson for Speak Now AMPAG told Daily Review their protests were not about causing division in the artistic community, or starting a battle between the small-to-medium sector and the major companies. Rather, their aim is to encourage healthy debate from their colleagues at larger companies.

Speak Now AMPAG says they’re concerned that the boards of AMPAG companies have played a role in keeping arts workers quiet.

The spokesperson said: “Artists and people who work on the ground in major organisations understand that we are all interdependent, but they’re under instruction from their boards not to say anything. Their boards are really focused on the short term business of making work and a lot of those people don’t understand, fundamentally, the way the arts work. We’re going to see damage done which will take decades to repair.”

They also said that there are legitimate concerns in the community that this is the government’s first move to dismantling the Australia Council given how little funding will be available to the Council in discretionary funding. The government has said repeatedly that they’re committed to the role of the Australia Council as the central arts funding body.

AMPAG this week released a new statement addressing the concerns in the arts sector. Speak Now AMPAG says the statement doesn’t go far enough, but is a good starting point.

Read more on Brandis’ Australia Council raid:

Major arts companies issue fresh statement on Brandis’ cuts

Senate Inquiry launched into Brandis’ arts cuts

Australia Council cuts: the companies on the chopping block

Editorial: Shameful silence over arts cuts

The Brandis Heist

[box]Featured image: Opera Australia’s Turandot[/box]

2 responses to “Protest planned for Opera Australia opening night

  1. History repeating … Cut backs a couple of decades ago pretty much killed the indi T.I.E. industry, Youth Theatre and placed many actors, writers, directors, designers, costume makers, props builders, lighting designers, puppet makers, and more, out of a job. Here we go again.

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