australia council dumps new media arts board

This morning, the Fibreculture mailing-list was dealing with what will rank as one of the worst decisions made in Australian art funding’s history. On top of the endless funding cuts, a vitriolic government who sees any art that isn’t landscapes and portraits of dead generals as ‘elitist’, the siphoning off of any money that does get through to the bottomless pit of administration, public edifices, and the corpulence of the ‘major, debt-addicted performing arts companies, the next stroke of genius from the intellectually-unendowed Australia Council for the Arts is to cut the New Media Arts Board.

This ‘restructuring’ will take time and cost a large fortune. Ozco, like all government arts bodies under the Howard government has become embedded in endless commissioning of reports, reviews, and mindless restructuring which disregards the obvious: 12 years of government funding cuts to the arts have almost succeeded in destroying a generation of art.

What is more offensive, is this restructuring is being performed under the guise of propping up the Dance Board and the independent and small company dance scene, which has long been in severe crisis due to lack of funding. Cutting one board to fund another eviscerated art form is like a hospital killing one patient so there are not so many sick people lying around.

It is not hard to see this decision as another attack on the wider contemporary arts scene in Australia by a government that sees art which doesn’t fit its narrow and conservative agenda as promoting unlawful behaviour, which was Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock’s response to the New Media Art Board funding Escape From Woomera.

In what is going to be the storm in the arts for the rest of the year, The Australian is first in with the story.

THE federal Government’s main arts funding body, the Australia Council, is to be significantly restructured in a move designed to make it more effective and less bureaucratic.

The restructure, to be announced today, will cut across the entire organisation and will involve some staff having to reapply for their jobs.

On the chopping block are the council’s new media and community cultural development boards, which give grants respectively to artists working in new media, and with communities such as disadvantaged youth, prison inmates and the homeless. It is believed some of the operations of those boards will be handled elsewhere in the organisation.

The restructure is the outcome of a six-month review of the council’s operations led by its deputy chair Terrey Arcus, whose management consultancy Port Jackson Partners has handled major company restructures. It was signed off yesterday by the council board, which met at its premises in Surry Hills, Sydney.

It comes at the end of a year in which the council’s base triennial funding of $398million has remained relatively static. Following the May budget, chief executive Jennifer Bott flagged that the council would have to reorganise its priorities in light of its static funding.

Reports into the dance and small to medium theatre sectors, commissioned by the council over the past couple of years, warned that companies in those areas were in dire need of extra funding and would begin to collapse if it were not forthcoming.

A report about the health of the major performing arts companies, released last week, similarly warned that without extra funding the large companies such as Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and the state theatres, symphony and dance companies would begin to hit financial troubles.

People working in the community cultural development area yesterday expressed alarm at the thought that the board that funds community projects could be killed off.

They argued that Australia was a leader in the use of arts to build self-esteem among disadvantaged groups, and that the ability to apply for separate funding of such projects was critical to their success.