I’m in what I fondly refer to as grant-writing hell. Somehow out of desperation I’m in the middle of six pending applications and another four loitering around the back of the bike shed. It’s been 10 hour days in front of my laptop all week and my eyes are completely blown apart, like the ones in Bladerunner. So, I’m not sure how much blogging is going to happen in the next few days, weeks, years. But the research is getting me all excited, Taoist Plague Demon rituals, creepy Eastern Alps pagan festivals, all the usual stuff.
Slagging match of the week goes to Melbourne Festival vs. The Media, wherein Robin Usher tries to sound a rhetorical question and get us all wondering, “Hey, yeah, maybe the Melbourne festival has lost its touch.”
Is this journalism trying to find an angle to cut down contemporary arts in Melbourne and put the big companies — Oz Ballet, Opera, and Melbourne Symphony — back in their rightful place as the upholders of culture? I’m not a great fan of Kristy Edmunds, the current Melbourne Festival director who, it was announced last week has been given and “unprecedented fourth year”. She does go for contemporary work, but I feel in the manner of a shopper, contemporary as commodity, and she isn’t really exerting herself in finding anything outside the safe avant garde. That is to say, if the rest of the world wasn’t raving about Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, and they hadn’t already been at Australian festivals this millennium, I’m not sure how probable it is Southbank would have been graced by the sound of falling truncheons.
It’s programming based on prior box office, support of the contemporary by relying on publicists’ copy rather than finding stuff on your own and be willing to say, “I think this is good art, even if no one else knows what I am talking about, and I’m willing to look like an idiot and take a beating in the press in my support of it”.
Though contra this, the international apprehension of a nation’s art is based on the commodification from within of a body of culture as representative of that nation, so from Taiwan we always see Cloudgate, even though within Taiwan there was a surprisingly low opinion of the company, and thus for an outsider to find interesting stuff not on the menu, and for there to be the funding and support to get this stuff to festival … it’s usually easier to go with Cloudgate.
Comparing Edmunds’ efforts with the execrable neo-colonial antics of Jonathon Mills, she at least is looking outside the cultural snobbery that often comes with festivals. Both though, and this is a general annoyance for me for Melbourne Festival seem to think art comes from Europe and its descendants, is of a certain size and weight (i.e. medium to large companies), and there is a striking lack of engagement with Asia, by which I mean everything east of Pakistan, south of Mongolia and north of Antarctica. The inclusion of plenty of Japan stuff, coming on the end of two interminable years of Australia-Japan-Art-Freundschaft in my mind doesn’t count, for the same reason touring Cloudgate from Taiwan doesn’t.
But Robyn Usher’s extra- controversy-mongering and reductionist bottom-line dollar-dollar-bill-y’all art-as-finance in The Age is disingenuous.
A few days ago also, dance reviewer Hillary Crampton remarked, “Ideally such debates should take place in the mainstream media, but sadly they do not, owing to the lack of commitment by publishers to cultural debate”. The context of this, within a commentary on critics vs. artists becomes another mediocre ‘old vs. new media’ trope or ‘blogs vs. newspapers’. When the critical and intellectual position of the arts in mainstream Australia is represented by people like Robin Usher and Andrew Bolt, why should such debates take place where these pseudo-critics get a paycheck for feeble drooling?
More importantly though is the assumption that such debates find a natural home in traditional media. It’s been a long time since I have paid more than cursory attention to the arts columns in old media. Even RealTime, which is by far the best arts periodical in Australia suffers from press-release-plus-advertisement-as-journalism. It is impossible to engage with old media without the suspicion of being on the receiving end of manipulated publicity, and there is a singular untrustworthiness in mainstream media that precludes exactly this presence of integrity.
Or to regard it from the perspective of a debate, old media is bereft of dialogue in any meaningful respect. A review, opinion piece, column, whatever, is a statement in which response is not part of the deal. Does the inclusion of a ‘have your say’ pretend-blog comments box at the bottom of these constitute debate? More particularly, where is the community? Blogs as an ecosystem of communities have this as one of their primary attributes; the comments on blogs as diverse as Peking Duck to Theatre Notes all have regular commentators or guest writers whose erudition and passion for their interests make for inspired reading.
Periodically, I return to old posts and I cringe. I wrote this 12 years ago and there’s language there I’m deeply uncomfortable with using now. So, while trying to retain whatever it was I was pissy and performatively outraged about, I’m swapping out dodgy language. I made a couple of other changes also. You can probably find the original on the Internet Archive, or I can save you a trip and say the inserted changes replace two instances of the word ‘lame’, and one of ‘mentally feeble’.
Coincidentally, a few years after this, I ended up working with Roméo Castellucci (twice), and he was a joy — as a person and artistically.
Quoting my recent self here,
As for the rest, I remember why I wrote it, anger upon returning to Australia (and specifically Narrm (Melbourne)) and seeing something like a diffuse nepotism in who was getting the gigs again and again. I think today it comes across as much more misogynistic than I thought I was, and in that, misses a pertinent point about (white, cis) women recreating the power structures feminism purported to be all about changing (lol to that?). Misses also a huge point about Indigenous, Pasifika, trans/non-binary/queer artists in the (white) mainstream (or even fringe) at the time. Basically I’m calling myself an uneducated, opinionated pig.
Plus I slag off some big names.
I didn’t even know about my own history in 2006.
A couple of days ago I wrote about the new Small Arts Sector Research Project the Arts Industry Australia (Victoria) are involved in and Deloitte who are conducting the research. I missed the meeting this morning, so I can’t say much about that, but they have announced a survey as a part of the project to conduct research into the size and nature of the state’s arts sector, with a particular focus on small unfunded organisations.
As much as I want to be really supportive of any projects that could benefit the eviscerated state of small arts groups in Melbourne and Victoria, there is a lurking nemesis in me who remains unimpressed and can’t fathom why research is again being conducted. Australia Council has a junkies habit for blowing large wads of money on reports; when I was at VCA the same thing seemed to be occurring, and now this, in which I am trying to think happy thoughts but reading the first question of the survey, I went “meh…”
Is your organisation’s average revenue from all sources more than $3 million annually? If your organisation has been around for less than 1 year, please answer based the projected annual revenue.
Look, I might be a bit slow, but “based the projected annual revenue” I have this niggly suspicion isn’t well-formed English, and possibly missing an “on”, but doilooklikeliknow?. Perhaps it’s just my irrational hatred of apostrophe-death in “your” for “you’re” that is spurring my language fascism, but if you’re getting government funding at least make the sentence legible, especially if the survey is specifically aiming at organisations where English isn’t a first language.
“The results of this study will inform future policy and funding decisions. So the (questionnaire) represents a golden opportunity for small arts organisations to have a say.”
I was about to go through some of the questions wherein providing a meaningful answer is precluded by the suppositions of the survey itself, but realised I was about to get waspish, and really without daily chocolate I do get a bit psychotic. So, please go and fill out the survey now. It is open for the ridiculously short time of one week from today, so unless you have no life like myself and hoover up announcements in a facile pretense of purpose you probably won’t hear about it until some time mid-2000-and-x when the results get published and wtf?!? when did they do this survey? is your considered response.
To save everyone time though I have done my own esteemed and peer-assessed research and can give the results forthwith: The answer to the question of “the issues facing small arts communities” is money. Money money money money. Can I say it any more clearer? We need more money! Unless the results of these surveys cause vast tides of currency to flow into art – not edifices or administration but new art made by artists – … arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic springs to mind. Must … have … money … …
An anecdote: The only time I have ever been in a situation making dance that could not be solved by throwing more money at it was funnily enough in China, where at 6:1 exchange rate, I could throw quite considerable piles of Chairman Mao’s mug at any impediment I might encounter. I have never had that giddy experience in Australia.
Arts Industry Council (Victoria)
– the independent voice for the arts
NOVEMBER NETWORKING MEETING
Small Arts Sector Research Project
Please distribute through your networks!!
You are invited to an industry networking meeting for a briefing on the Small Arts Sector Research Project.
Briefing by project staff from Deloittes, commissioned by Arts Victoria
10am – 12 noon, Friday, 1st December
Hoopla! Room, Malthouse Theatre,
Sturt Street, SOUTHBANK
PLEASE RSVP TO THIS EMAIL
AIC(V) has been pushing for research into the small arts sector for many years and now Arts Victoria has commissioned Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to conduct research into the small arts sector, focussing on small organisations. Small arts organisations play a critical role in the cultural vitality of Victoria.
Learn more about the project
Does the research include me?
Learn how you can contribute to this research
Time is of the essence, as the research is being conducted now – to be finalised BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR
AIC(V) are hoping that this research will provide key information about the size and nature of small arts organisations and other organisations with arts activity across the state.
“This research aims to determine the scale of the entire small arts sector, not just the funded sector, and to better understand the characteristics of small arts organisations across Victoria including the extent of their activity, the people involved, and their contribution to the state.
The results of this study will inform future policy and funding decisions. So the research represents a golden opportunity for small arts organisations to have a say.
The study’s success hinges on the participation of all small arts organisations in Victoria and involves the completion of a basic questionnaire by small arts organisations.
The research aims to cover the full spectrum of Small Arts organisations across all art forms, those who currently receive Government support, those who operate independently and those who may need support in the future. To plan for the future we need to have a clear understanding of the issues facing small arts communities.”
On behalf of the Board, AIC(V)
Two dancer/choreographers, slightly past emerging and maturing into fine mid-career torpor met for coffee this morning in East St Kilda, a day into the blazing hangover of the Labour victory in the state elections. Amidst much of the usual elite art conversation by the inner-city elite artists who do not like rural eisteddfods and are quite aware that the ‘$5 million spare change for rural eisteddfods’ platform is precisely what lost the Liberals this election, a new performance was, how to say, imagined.
Funding to mount fuck.dog remains a difficult issue, but in the interests of addressing ABC bias we have already done the publicity. Remember, a vote for the Liberals is a vote against fuck.dog and elite Melbourne art.
Far too many of these excuses for not blogging in the last couple of months, and here’s another one, as always with a mitigating excuse. Having retired from applying for funding and all the hijinks and public humiliation that is grant writing back in June of this year, like an enfeebled alcoholic whose turpentine bladder displays a paucity of self-control, I’m at it again. I have this lurking suspicion were I to adopt a less timorous demeanour when it comes to begging for currency, viz. the nuclear brinksmanship of Kim Jong Il, I’d be rather less unemployed.
Until then, or sometime during this week when I learn important skills of non-vacillation blogging will be sparse. Oh, and I’m back in Adelaide for the week, sun, dance, bodies in vats.
A few days ago, I was talking with someone about a certain hack from the Herald Sun, whose name evades me and I’m too lazy to Google him, but who is notable for describing Diamanda Galas as something like a goth who shrieks and carries on. The philistine in our conversation is actually an arts reviewer for the paper though more notable for being something of an arts hater and pandering to the more imbecilic, vile, uncultured and cretinous sector of the population that comprises the Sun’s readership.
We’d both read his unnecessarily toxic remarks on the Melbourne Arts Festival, and I remarked I was so completely astounded by his vitriol I couldn’t even bring myself to slag him off here, and that it was really disappointing the very targets of his attack remain mute and unresponsive. He replied that unfortunately those people who are getting flayed are in the public eye and to some degree their continued funding is dependent on them being uncontroversial.
So this in a country where largely the very people and organisations being lined up for the abattoir are too afraid to speak out because they may lose funding, Dance Works gone, Sydney Dance Company, La Mama on notice, and I’ve lost track of the number of remaining companies also with that noose around their necks. It seems like all of them.
The last thing the arts in Australia needs when Australia Council is busy trying to work out how to not fund anyone, and Neil Jillett, Andrew Bolt and assorted other colonial trash are basking in the right-wing anti-arts thuggery of Australia today is for the artists themselves to be too pathetic to even respond. It’s in no small way ironic the voice for survival of performing arts so often comes from journalists who aren’t concerned with self-protection so that we artists can have our freedom of speech.
ANYONE who cares at all about Melbourne will be shocked by the news that La Mama Theatre may lose its federal funding.
La Mama is unique in the world: no other city boasts a company of this nature, with its committed and democratic support of artists. Famously, it was the seedbed of the Melbourne theatre revolution of the 1970s that launched many a stellar career.
It still provides an umbrella for a huge diversity of new work. As one of the small Victorian arts companies that are, according to state Arts Minister Mary Delahunty, “the bedrock of our thriving and innovative arts industry”, La Mama recently has received a 20 per cent boost in its state funding.
But this bonanza came as La Mama’s artistic director, Liz Jones, was reeling under a totally conflicting evaluation from the Australia Council, which has put La Mama and three other companies “on notice”, warning that if the company does not change its ways, it is in danger of losing its federal funding — about $170,000 annually — next year.
So how has the Australia Council reached such a different conclusion from that of state funding bodies?
Normally I wouldn’t quote from The Age as it’s really little more than mediocre tabloid sensationalism, and if I want that, I’ll go to the Herald Sun where sensationalist flair and tabloid panache is writ large, bold and in short words. Buried in the gutter of Metro, what the once separate section of the arts has been reduced to, the announcement that Australia Council for the Arts’ Chief Executive Jennifer Bott is resigning next month.
Bott is the overseer of eight years of bludgeoning Australian art into a vegetative coma, who argued we should regard Australia Council staff members as our peers, while disemboweling the New Media Arts Board, and seems to have spent much of her time either closing down companies or putting them on notice, possibly to scavenge the necessary dollars for endless surveys, reports, and studies.
The cynical realist in me says don’t expect her replacement to be any better.
A former chairwoman of the council in the Keating era, Hilary McPhee, said earlier this year that artists seemed to have been displaced from the centre of the cultural debate during Bott’s term in favour of the “comfort of output managerialism and corporate smugness”.
While having coffee with one choreographer who knows firsthand the House of Un-American Activities Commission blacklist trials that is Australian federal and state arts funding, I was told Graeme Murphy and Janet Vernon, founders and artistic directors of Sydney Dance Company for 30 years, have chosen to resign rather than endure the witch-hunt of justifying art. We are witnessing the Auto de fe of Australian contemporary dance
“Having seen dance blossom in the past 30 years increases the sadness we feel at seeing it enter a less dynamic phase,” Murphy and Vernon said in a statement released yesterday. “Potential for new adventures is greatly diminished in these cash-strapped times.
“The exciting new undergrowth has never been sparser and old growth (we consider Sydney Dance Company as such) has never been more threatened.”
In their statement, Murphy and Vernon were deeply critical of the Government’s “indifference” to dance, an artform which, “could bring so much to the troubled culture of Australia’s identity.
“How can the arts flourish in a society where war and sport take centre stage?” they said.