Voting for the Arts

October 12, 2012 § 4 Comments

The ACT election is a bit over a week away. I wouldn’t tell anyone how to vote, but I would like to give you a few things to think about. And to use this blog as my personal soapbox, because I believe democracy can’t exist unless people say what they think and others engage with what they say/write/etc.

I’ll preface this by saying I am usually a Greens or Labor voter, depending on the candidates up for election. I am less inclined to vote Green this time in the ACT because of their Arts policies, and the way in which the party has handled (along with the Canberra Liberals) the ongoing Megalo situation and the completely unimpressive Inquiry into the use of the Fitters Workshop. Of course, I’m also thinking about non-arts related policies as I make up my mind who to vote for, but the arts is definitely one of my primary considerations.

All Arts representatives- Minister Joy Burch (Labor), Shadow Minister Vicki Dunne (Liberals) and Greens Member Caroline Le Couteur- released their Arts promises/ideas on the 19th of September. Media releases can be found here, here and here. Then that evening all three attended and spoke at a forum hosted by the Childers Group. I went to the forum. You can read their commitments for yourself, but these are the key things I took away from the Media Releases and the forum, and some of the major issues I had with the announcements.

• The Labor Party and Arts Minister Joy Burch are, in my opinion, the only ones even coming close to understanding the arts in Canberra and what they need. They’ve committed six million dollars to the arts in Canberra, and quite well placed, including a badly needed one million dollars to upgrade Gorman House- a ready-made arts hub which houses many of the ACT’s Key Arts Organisations, and has a fantastic new Director, Joseph Falsone. My only hope for a returning Labor Government on top of what they’ve announced is that they can work more closely with Key Arts Organizations to get a better idea of what Canberra’s artists, arts organizations and art-going public want and need.

• The Canberra Liberals and their arts spokesperson Vicki Dunne have committed around three million dollars, most of which has the potential to make the Canberra arts scene very dull indeed. They envision the Cultural Facilities Corporation developing and managing the Kingston Arts Precinct, which is quite baffling. When all of the legwork has been done by ACT government (and I’m talking bureaucrats here, not Labor), including a lot of work on arts hubs, and with ArtsACT’s good relationships with the arts organizations who would potentially move into the Kingston Arts Precinct (including Megalo), why wouldn’t this continue? The Corporation does good work with CMAG, the Theatre, and the ACT’s historic houses, but that doesn’t qualify them to develop a vibrant precinct and engage the tenants that this would require. Maybe the Liberals really do want to slash ACT government jobs? Dunne did have one solid criticism of the current government’s arts record, referring to the choice of public artworks (especially from artists outside of the ACT) by former Chief Minister and Arts Minister Jon Stanhope, which I have written about before, but it seems that Burch already gets this. Stanhope is gone; it is time to move on.

• And then there was Caroline le Couteur. I understand (and decry) that the Greens don’t get to do as much of the big sexy stuff in politics, except in partnerships, particularly with the Labor Party. But one of Caroline le Couteur’s ideas, the thing which she seemed most excited about, was a complete embarrassment. The doozy she came out with, and which left me so seething I felt I could run a marathon (or more aptly, cycle one) was that she wanted artists to make bike racks. The amount of money they would get to do this is debatable too, but completely irrelevant because A) IT IS NOT ARTISTS’ JOB TO MAKE BIKE RACKS, B) THIS DOES NO JUSTICE TO THE GREAT WORK DONE BY THE A.C.T.’S ARTISTS, and C) THERE IS A WHOLE FIELD OF PEOPLE – SOME OF THEM STUDYING AND TEACHING IN CANBERRA AT U.C. – CALLED INDUSTRIAL DESIGNERS, AND THEY WOULD ALMOST CERTAINLY LOVE TO MAKE BIKE RACKS!

What Caroline seems to not understand is that one of the reasons art is so valuable is because it doesn’t need to be functional, or decorative. Because artists are free to make whatever they choose (within reason and certain limitations, of course) they not only advance their own work and art in general, but can be responsible for the progression of ideas and technologies that are very beneficial for society, in ways that all political parties but ESPECIALLY the Greens should be happy to support. I will write more on this very soon, because the value of art in society is something that doesn’t get enough attention.

Oh and then there’s le Couteur’s other idea that it’s difficult to find out what’s going on in Canberra, especially since Canberra Arts Marketing (CAM) was axed years ago. Well, here’s the thing- it seems that no one quite knew what the point of CAM was and no one missed it too much when it wasn’t there anymore. And more importantly, when anyone I know needs to find out what’s on in town the first port of call is BMA’s Gig Guide, either in print or online. Please don’t overlook this territorial treasure or waste money trying to replicate it in a boring brochure or drab website. I know I’ve been pretty harsh on le Couteur here, but I expect more from the Greens.

I am always interested to hear what others are thinking about as the election approaches… Happy voting!

§ 4 Responses to Voting for the Arts

  • Kate says:

    It’s a dim witted policy. None of them (that I am aware of) have come from an artistic background and only artist’s are going to know what they really need to support themselves and other infrastructure for arts in the community. A lack of vision and monetary support won’t stop an artist being an artist. As as artist myself, priorities are human rights (refugee and marriage equality) and animal rights (welfare and law changes). In that sense, the Greens still need work, but they are a step in the right direction compared to the others.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kate. I appreciate where you’re coming from and I agree that artists will keep making art no matter what. The things I’m concerned about are:
      – that they will move away from the ACT if the support isn’t here (both through government funding and government-funded organisations) and the art scene is not up to scratch. At the moment, interstate and international visitors to Canberra are usually pretty impressed by what’s on offer, and as ND notes below artists have started to stay in Canberra after art school rather than move elsewhere.
      – and the fact that it’s pretty unfair to artists not to have good government support. Artists contribute so much to the community, and for the most part support their own practices with money from their part- or full-time employment. I agree with NAVA that art organizations should be able to pay artists to show with them, to give back even a bit of what they put in.

      I’d also just like to point out that refugees and marriage equality are mainly federal issues, and that ACT Labor has been in support of marriage equality but had changes to laws vetoed by the federal government. They’re a pretty progressive Labor government- also committing to 90% renewable energy for the ACT by 2020. I am definitely in support of The Greens’ animal welfare activity, such as their (unfortunately failed) motion to ban battery hens in the ACT, and I’m really interested in their ideas around food and of course the environment, but for me that’s not quite enough to put them in first place against Labor’s commitments.

  • ND says:

    I think this article considers some very important issues we face after the next election if the Greens and Liberals are given power. In particular this lack of vision and the appalling Arts policy that the ACT Greens are proposing will have a huge impact on a professional and amateur artists alike in the ACT. Of course (as Kate writes), an individual artist or crafts person may retain their own creativity, but a dire lack of visionary policy and financial support in the community will have a huge negative impact on critical networks and key arts institutions that are currently funded by the ACT Government. This in turn will have far-reaching consequences on the ability for individuals and groups of artists to follow a career path, work with others and develop an audience. For example, only in the last decade have recent arts graduates started to stay in the region because of increased opportunity due to good policy and increased funding for local organizations. However, this good work will be in vain if the Greens are allowed to implement their ludicrous Arts policy – to have us all making bike racks. I think we as voters should be vigilant and scrutinize all the Green’s policies on all social issues to see if their proposals really stand up to both their ability and financial backing – already it has been reported that their proposals are inaccurate. We shouldn’t just vote for the ACT Greens just because they say they are ‘green’ or say that they have the moral high ground on progressive issues. The ACT Greens are not Bob Brown (who I follow), far from it in fact, they are already siding with the ACT Liberals on key Arts issues. As an aside, we might not have liked all of John Stanhope’s public sculptures, but remember, he did stand up in support of same-sex marriage.

    • Thanks for your comment, ND. You make some excellent points. I agree we shouldn’t just vote for anyone based on what we think of a party in general. The ACT’s politics is definitely very different to the federal game. It will be really interesting to see who gets voted in this time and how they work together. I would be hugely relieved if Caroline le Couteur is no longer the Greens’ arts spokesperson. Another part of her track record which you touched on is teaming up with the Liberals’ Vicki Dunne, not once but twice, to keep Megalo out of the Fitter’s Workshop. The findings of the Inquiry were, as Joy Burch put it “less than persuasive”, with a majority of submissions in favour of Megalo and the strong arguments against the acoustics being even useable for most types of music, and against the soft option of keeping it a multi-purpose venue. I sigh every time I go past that (empty) building. It is highly ironic that Dunne and le Couteur attacked Stanhope’s lack of proper procedure when allocating the Fitter’s Workshop to Megalo, and then failed to conduct a proper Inquiry. Also, it’s pretty appalling that le Couteur’s sister is on the board of The Song Company, a Sydney-based vocal music company who want to use the Fitter’s Workshop as a venue… Conflict of interest much?

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