When art and politics collide

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By: Pale Rider

Arts Minister George Brandis has threatened the Australia Council for the Arts that he will cut the funding of any arts organisation that “unreasonably” declines corporate funding, following Luca Belgiorno-Nettis’s resignation from the Sydney Biennale organising committee and his company, Transfield Australia, pulling funding from the event.

Transfield Australia manages the off-shore detention centres for asylum seekers. Artists who morally oppose the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and did not wish to lend or appear to lend support to its policies in that regard had threatened to boycott the Biennale unless Transfield withdrew from the event.

While Brandis has demanded the arts council formulate policy that “penalises any arts organisation which rejects funding from a corporate sponsor on unreasonable grounds”, what constitutes “unreasonable” has not been explained. But Brandis has stated he would direct the council himself to force them to adopt a policy to his liking. The definition of unreasonable then seems to be what George Brandis does not like.

In a letter reported by the Guardian, Brandis wrote: “Equally appalling is the fact that the board of the Biennale, apparently under pressure from certain individual artists, has decided to decline to accept funding from a generous benefactor, because of the political opinion of those individual artists, concerning a matter which has nothing to do with the Sydney Biennale.”

No surprise commercial interests trump objections to morally corrupt political positions. Corporations do not fund anything out of the goodness of their hearts there are always commercial reasons for any money they hand out. They expect a return of some sort or another: good PR, positive public image.

Any practising artist in Australia knows that making a living in this country independent of arts council funding is near impossible, with a few rare exceptions. It is the very reason we have an arts council funding body. Although the ideologues of the right would see nothing wrong in our entire cultural landscape being made up Hollywood blockbusters, daytime soaps, pop schmaltz and sport.

So if you’re an artist and you have this quaint notion that you have an absolute right to determine what your work will present, if anything, how and where it is presented and what it is associated with, and you also want to eat, then forget it. Tow the line or crawl into a hole and die is George’s position. Which pretty much defines the ideological culture warriors of the right today.

They’ve already told the public service “we’re in charge now get on board or hit the road”. Does that now apply to the whole country?

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