Canberra Visual Arts being Turnbulled

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Last Friday 13th May was sad day, and very much a black Friday, for many in the arts across Australia.

It was not simply that many small to medium organisations had lost all or most of their Australia Council funding. What made it hurt even more was the reasons for this drastic situation.

What was being rolled out last week was the inevitable result of the decision by the present Federal Government to cut a whole swag of money from the Australia Council. Some of the missing funds are now under the minister’s own program – curiously called Catalyst – which while informed by a committee of experts, is still subject to the minister’s own will.

This style of potential political interference is exactly why in the 1970s the arms length model as practiced by the Australia Council was established. Several ministers over the years before have thought about interfering in this arms length process, but it took this particular brand of conservative federal government to apply that devastating blow.

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All these actions remain the responsibility of the current government led by a Prime Minister who had portrayed himself as being committed to cultural development and to innovation. What a load of … !!!

Locally the most devastating news was that a most cherished and very successful visual arts organisation received that dreadful call about the loss of their funding. That organisation is the Canberra Contemporary Arts Space (CCAS) – currently based at the Gorman Arts Centre with a separate exhibition space in Manuka.

Before I say much more – a declaration: I was the first chair of the CCAS way back when we oversaw the amalgamation of two very successful visual arts spaces – namely Bitumen River Gallery and the Arts Council Gallery. In more recent years – I have little to do with the space beyond the occasional visit. Enough of that.

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I am sure that the CCAS will do something to carry on, but life is not going to be easy for all the volunteers and the low paid artworks involved. This is just the first layer of the casualty – as the work they are committed to doing is to assist artists in their early years and to promote contemporary visual arts practice.

All this and more is exactly what the Prime Minister says his government stands for. HA!!

For the moment at least – the CCAS can say that they have joined the many arts, community and social NGOs across the country that are being Turnbulled out of existence.

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I understand completely what the Australia Council had to do. It had lost a load of Commonwealth funds and this had to result in some programs being downsized. Understood. Sort of.

There are statements that arts organisations such as the CCAS have not been cut-off as they can now apply for project funding. What the Australia Council failed to explain was that such project funding is only ever short term (maybe only months – not years) and comes with no guarantee that there may be any more in the next round.

This ignores the many years of advocacy and negotiations that have taken place to achieve some certainty for key medium size arts organisation. Having multi-year operational funding stopped arts workers having to allocate so much of their time filling out various project grant applications. It allowed the organisations to concentrate on doing the things they are there to do – working with and for the artists. It was never a lot of money.

Of course there were also many winners around the country. Locally the Canberra Glassworks has achieved multi-year funding for the first time. This has been a long time in coming.

The concept for the glass workshop commenced way back in the late 1980s. There was a stage when many letters and reports were being landed on various agency desks. The number of meetings and the amount of advocacy was just amazing. Eventually the place as we know it today came into existence.

It was always envisioned that there would be suite of arts organisations across the city to function alongside each other working servicing the cross section of artists/craftpeoples and assisting the community to participate more in the arts. So it is really great to see the glass centre succeed at last.

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I have to also mention the sad note that Ausdance national has suffered a similar cut to the CCAS. This also really stuns me given the important work I know they have done. One important aspect was their work on the safety issues around being a dancer. All that and more is now under question. There are tough times ahead for those advocating for dance nationally.

To finish where I began.

The visual arts remain an important aspect of the cultural life here in Canberra. The Canberra Contemporary Arts Space is a vital link in the local arts scene and deserves to be funded well and in a manner that provides multi-year certainty – not just through ad hoc project funding. All those volunteers, those under paid workers and the many new artists are worthy of real support.

I wish them all well. Being Turnbulled is not going to be much fun.

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Here are some background links:

The Canberra Times on this funding – click here

The word from CCAS themselves – click here

About Ausdance – click here

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