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Rare news: Australian politicians admit their love and respect of the arts

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The arts and the political world exist largely in isolation from one another in Australia. Artists and politicians don’t tend to meet regularly, or respond to one another’s work, or rely on each other’s perspective, or call on one another’s advice.

Why is that? Yes, both are incredibly busy and incredibly determined. Both can get lost in the detail of one particular idea, or pulled in a thousand different directions as that idea takes them somewhere unexpected. And both have a sense of how their work contributes to that constantly evolving thing that is the Australian culture – a sense that’s extremely difficult to articulate, but one that is complex, galvanising.

For exactly that reason, I suspect also that both find one another too intimidating to contact or talk to easily. Artists suspect that politicians aren’t interested in them, or worse, that they might be hostile towards them as they focus on other national priorities. Politicians suspect that artists create work that they can’t understand, or work that might unsettle their convictions and challenge them publicly in ways they’d struggle to overcome. Each suspects that the other is more articulate, more confident, and ultimately, more powerful.

Last week, artists informed Parliament’s first sitting with their passions, concerns and bold expectations for addressing the nation’s key priorities.

“The arts should be provocative and disruptive and even on occasion outrageous.” – Arts Minister Mitch Fifield.

As Parliament began its 2018 sitting, Australia’s artists were showing new work in independent and state-owned galleries, in public and unconventional spaces, in studios and online. Each one of these exhibitions offers a perspective on contemporary Australia that’s sensitive and complex, timely and urgent. Like each bill before Parliament, each of these exhibitions has involved many months and possibly even years of work to be ready for this moment.

So what’s on the arts agenda? What have Australia’s artists chosen to make work about? What does the critical mass of all these exhibitions tell us about what’s most pressing right now? And how can we inform decision-making at the highest levels with the voice of the artist?

“The arts should be provocative and disruptive and even on occasion outrageous. They’re sometimes gentle and affirming and embracing as well,” Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield said in a recent interview. “We want to have a mindset in our community and our society that is innovative, that is creative. Where people can use their talents to create something from nothing… Part of the role of the arts is to push boundaries.”

“Visual art touches us and affects us from the first glance, Tony Burke, Shadow Minister for the Arts, told us. “It is anything but silent and needs to be heard in the corridors of Parliament.”

“Australian artists regularly produce world-renowned works that hold a mirror up to society and show us in new ways, what Australia’s struggles and triumphs are,” said Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Spokesperson for the Arts. We can all acknowledge the wealth that the arts community provides by visiting our local galleries and supporting our artists.”

Sometimes, after years of quiet coexistence, each going about their work with passion and rigour, the arts and the political world collide. It might be an policy change, causing unexpected damage. It might be a human rights protest, achieving unexpected impact.

If those conversations were ongoing – artistic conversations, political conversations, policy conversations, ethical conversations, and ultimately, civic conversations – then neither such event would create massive, irreparable disruption. It would be a normal part of the Australian conversation.

Our elected representatives want to hear from us. So while they’re busy in Canberra this week, #artsagenda lets them appreciate all the work that’s creating the Australian culture.

And that’s a conversation we can all join in on. If you see work that moves you this week, tell the artist. And then tell your local member.

If you see work next week that moves you, tell everyone.

Let’s champion the voice of the artist in setting the national cultural agenda.

Esther Anatolitis is executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts which organised last week’s #artsagenda program

[box]Main image; John Kelly’s etching Big Foot from his Moo Brew series.[/box]

10 responses to “Rare news: Australian politicians admit their love and respect of the arts

  1. I am sorry but I don’t believe a word Mitch Fifield says.
    This Government does not want art to ”be provocative and disruptive and even on occasion outrageous. ” Also this Govt does not want to have a mindset in our community and our society that is innovative, that is creative. Where people can use their talents to create something from nothing… Part of the role of the arts is to push boundaries.”
    This is all political flim flam and al artists know it. I have a recent story to prove what I say.
    Last year some friends and I wanted to float a serious concept. As the National Gallery of Australia has 160,000 works in storage sheds in Canberra, most of which have never been exhibited, we thought that these unseen works, of high quality, could be used in Regional Centres around Australia, starting with the Gold Coast Australias 6th biggest city, to give world class art collections to those regional centres for both the enjoyment of the people who own them and for obvious cultural tourism potential. So we got in contact with Steve Ciobo, Member for Surfers Paradise, and he agreed to present something to Cabinet. Now I don’t know if it was actually presented BUT the reply was utterly patronising and overwhelming dismissive. Ciobo was particularly rude and wrote that the whole thing was about MY OWN access to the NGAs works.
    We note that a number of Museums are devolving and that President Macron of France is offering to lend on permanent loan a number of African works held in storage unseen in Paris Museums back to Africa.
    So here was a perfectly serious but ambitious idea totally dismissed by the Turnbull Government. We haven’t given up on it though. Unless something is done those 160,000 artworks will still be in sheds in Canberra in 2050 or 2100. However I have given up on Fifield and Turnbull and the rest of this conservative Govt. Labor has bad form on the Arts too so we have a long way to go.

  2. I think Gerard Vaughan has resigned from the NGA after only 3 years because the Govt stopped money for new aquisitions. NOW if the concept of devolving aspects of the NGA across Regional centers in Australia were taken up enthusiastically by the NGA Government would then see NEW IDEAS and innovation coming from the Govt Art Public Service and money could very well come. Especially if those Regional centers found ways to build new Galleries, perhaps through Private / Corporate sponsorship.

    What Anatolitis is doing with this article is an attempt to “mend bridges” between artists and politicians. I have always believed that politicians have lost interest in Art and the Arts because all Arts. bodies want is more money, more funding. NAVA is such a body. In my opinion the way to renewed interest in Art by both major parties is for truly new and perhaps money making ventures to be put forward.

    I truly believe that our Art Public Servants are addicted to public funding and don’t think outside the square because in essence they have no skin in the game.

  3. Have read this article , three times, and still can’t work out what it is that it is talking about.

    And to Scott Redford -Gerard Vaughn was appointed as a night watchman , occupy the crease , quiet things down, until we have sorted out who the next ( real) batsman will be.

  4. Politicians are not at all innovative or creative in any way ,it’s a fact ,look at the tate of water security , electricity supply ,public transport etc etc ,NO forward thinking of any kind , they never plan for the future at all! and sell off what they can to abdicate the responsibilities that goes with it, whatever IT may be , they just care about helping the wealthy get richer and do anything to get reelected to get that lifetime pension, when you look at those in Govt now it’s a pathetic group , ap[art from a few who do the odd good thing they are tied to an ideology that does not benefit the people of Australia as a whole , So the Arts will suffer for a long time ,look at the live music scene in Sydney , it barely exists even the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar is being redeveloped in the Cross ! The NSW LNP Govt are redevelopment Mad!! Sometimes they give money to the Opera , but who goes to that catcall ,noone I know , blues and Jazz Me !!

  5. Scott, your idea is a very good one and would arouse great public interest. But I’d suggest you might need to do two extra things before launching a campaign along the lines of that letter. First, ask for a copy of the costings used by the Minister in considering your proposal. Funding is inevitably a competitive game, and you need to show an interest in how your project was ranked against others if you want other arts campaigners to back you. If you choose to use Ciobo’s alleged rudeness and stupid questioning of your motives to add fire to your campaign you need to publish the relevant bits of his response.
    It’s not that I believe any of the happy generalisations we get from Fifield and most of his colleagues ; but don’t make yourself an easy target for the ‘hissy fit’ counter-attack if you want long-term success.

    1. Just saw this. Look I have been an artist for 35+ years. I have tried to get ideas going. What happens is that people nod and say “yes” and then forget about it. I have decades of such.

      Hissy fit?? Well that’s the problem of Aus Art, its SO POLITE and no one takes any stand and therefore no action. Maybe I will get a reaction but probably not BUT at least I will have tried.

  6. Look I want to very honestly reply to Esther. Esther is the new person at NAVA which is a Govt Agency so Esther has to try and curry favor with the Politicians. In the end when your wage depends on those politicians you will opt to bow to them. So as well meaning as this all sounds in the end its just “blurb”, no artist would truly believe this text and lets face it its an insult that we even might.

    If Esther wants to actually do something for artists in her tenure at NAVA I would suggest she start with making sure Museums Australia have a Charter of Rights for Artists at present they have NNOTHING! Yes nothing! When I contected them they did the classic public servant buck pass of “Conact NAVA”. So who on earth can trust anyone in Australian Govt Art.

    ALSO Esther if you want to do something INSIST that Australia’s Govt art galleries (local, State and Federal) actually stop breaking COPYRIGHT LAW and start both paying artists for the use of their images in print and online AND also make same Institutions send out Agreements for the artists to sign. As far as I know only QAG sends out forms, but I reciev no Viscopy fees. I bet those Institutions pay OS artists on Viscopy! This shows how Australia’s Art Public Servants really believe individual artists are third rate citizens. Galleries such as NGA, NGV, AGNSW and all the others just beoieve they are doing artists such a favor that the artists shouldn’t be paid properly even thought these public servants get their wage and superannuation!

    The Intitutions will say: “oh we have no budget” Well I say stop buying at least one vastly overpriced Insternational art star that will pay for it all. QAGOMA bought some stuffed furry animals for over $3 Million by some Chinese art star which they can only show once in a blue moon, that money could have gone to paying all the copyright royalties they OWE Australian artists!!

    So I say to Esther, PROVE you are more than just the next Govt public serant in the conga line AND DO SOMTHING REAL!!!

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