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(Some) local and international artists voice their anger at Brandis' Australia Council cuts

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When federal Arts Minister George Brandis unveiled his plans to take $105 million from the Australia Council budget to fund his National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), people across the nation and around the world held a wide range of emotions. Some were skeptical, many were shocked, and most were appalled.
Now the Senate has given artists and art supporters a platform to vent their frustrations and raise further questions about this proposed change in funding. The Greens combined with the Labor Party and Senate crossbenchers to initiate the inquiry which was opposed by the government.
The NPEA is now under examination by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which has invited both individuals and organisations to submit their opinions and proposals about the budget in writing on the Australian Parliament website. The inquiry is a response to concerns that independent artists and smaller organisations will be left to suffer, while larger and more “established” artistic channels will be favoured, seemingly at the whim of the Minister.
So far almost 100 submissions have been received by the committee, by individual artists and organisations alike. It’s no surprise that none of the 28 major AMPAG companies quarantined from Brandis’ cuts have made submissions. However it’s astounding how few major producers, arts centres, festivals and artist, musician and writers’ organisations have contributed submissions. While some organisations (privately) argue the inquiry is a point-scoring exercise by Labor and the Greens they do not want to be sullied by, their silence implies support of Brandis’ cuts and could be used by the government to demonstrate widespread industry support for the NPEA.
But in his submission, Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer discusses the possibility of artists having no choice but to move overseas: “When significant arts funding goes, then the making of artworks goes. And finally the artists go. And with them the stories of place, the celebration of Australian life and culture, the chronicling of these times, on this continent. It is an important commodity, and one which I fear would be noticed most tangibly in its retrospective absence.”
“Even before these cuts the Australia Council budget was, quite frankly, pathetic,” writes Kate McMillan, a visual artist who began her arts career in Western Australia and is now based in London. “There are so many projects that have not been realised or supported that should have been. Now there will be more.”
Although submissions are only accepted in written form, some have managed to work a creative angle into their opinions, as artists often do. One submission by individual Craig Coulson ended with a seven-stanza poem called “Arts Funding and the Minister”.
Writer and editor Craig Garrett sees a foreshadowing of politically-controlled art, calling the budget cuts “an act of political influence designed to erode artistic independence and erase freedom of expression protections.”
Many people fear that by cutting funding to smaller organisations, the larger organisations will also eventually suffer from a lack of fresh talent.
“…Over time even the protected major organisations will be impacted with a lack of talent and skill available as the ranks are depleted,” writes Amber Stuart, general manager of Big West Festival.
“We do not know which arts leaders we are cutting out of this nation’s future,” writes celebrated Australian composer Liza Lim. “We damage the vibrancy, the diversity and inclusiveness of this nation’s art making… by attacking the seed-beds of arts endeavour through cuts of this scale.”
Representatives from various studios and organisations have also chimed in with their opinions and concerns.
“The secrecy around the cuts to Australia Council was horrifying,” writes Sue Giles, artistic director of Victoria’s Polyglot Theatre. “This was an anti-democratic act against a stringently democratic organisation… We deserve support from government because we make a huge contribution through economic and social capital.”
Caitlin Dullard, the company manager of Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre, sees marginalised communities as the most in danger of the proposed cuts. She also disagrees with the proposal due to “a disconnect between the reality of the arts industry and government”.
Even overseas arts programs predict a negative impact around the world from the proposed NPEA.
Daniel Hahn, vice president of Community Engagement and Education at Playhouse Square (a large not-for-profit performing arts centre in Cleveland, Ohio), writes in his submission: “It is not an overstatement to say the announced funding cuts… have the capacity to cause irreparable artistic and educational harm, not only in Australia, but throughout the globe.”
The Playhouse Square often performs Australian work, which Hahn describes as “some of the highest quality, deeply educational, entertaining and enriching work for young audiences I have ever experienced.”
Willie White, president of the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (a European organisation based in Belgium), echoes the impact that Australian art has on other countries: “Nonetheless we ask that you consider the impact that the programme will have on the sustainability of your vibrant contemporary arts scene and the international reputation it has won for Australia in recent years”.
[box]Inquiry submissions close this Friday, July 17. The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will report by September 15. Main image by Getty of Simon Mordant, Cate Blanchett, John Denton and George Brandis at the Venice Biennale last month. [/box]
Read more about the Brandis’ cuts: 
You can read the NPEA Draft Guidelines here.
New details emerge about Brandis’ arts “Slush fund” 
The Brandis raid so far …in pictures
Video: Artists protest Opera Australia opening 
MTC (sort of) weighs in to Brandis’ arts cuts controversy 
Protest planned for Opera Australia opening night
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


One response to “(Some) local and international artists voice their anger at Brandis' Australia Council cuts

  1. There are way more than 100 submissions – over 600 as of last night – but the department hasn’t had time to upload them. Ring them rather than relying on what’s on the net.

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