Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Minister for or Against the Arts?

George Brandis is off to a rocky start in his new job as Minister for the Arts. His first policy statement since taking office looks like being an attack on the Australia Council's funding independence. Comments in a letter he has written to the Chair of the Australia Council Board indicate that he does not understand the fundamental premise of government arts funding. Public funding of arts companies is actually not about doing arts companies a favour. Rather, it is there to ensure that the arts-loving public sees, hears and enjoys the highest possible artistic standards and the greatest possible diversity of arts performances, exhibitions and screenings.

He has also displayed a clear disregard for the arm's-length principle at the heart of arts funding. Instead he has been sucked into an illconceived response to an individual funding problem. As Julian Meyrick rightly points out, Brandis should realise that the the arm's-length principle is there to protect him, as arts minister, as much as anyone else. The “art" of the twentieth century dictatorships show us what happens when the arm's-length principle is trashed and politically compliant artists are the only ones who get public funding. 

Brandis needs to decide if he is going to be a Minister for the Arts or a Minister Against the Arts. 

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