Mar 21, 2013

Small Town Transformations - Let's start talking

Few projects have ever disturbed me more than Regional Arts Victoria's current $350,000, Small Town Transformations because it contains every single thing that I find sad and unfortunate about the state of art in our culture.

I am reliably informed that the original idea for this project was researched by Arts Vic but somehow the government gave it to Regional Arts Victoria, maybe because, at least, in terms of their name, they sound like the logical outfit to run it but when you look at RAV's track record and scale of operation you can see this is a long way out of their league. Whether they gained the right to run it by claiming abilities they couldn't substantiate or because the government just felt like giving it to them no one will probably ever know.

The catchy banner of How can Art Transform your town? lured many small towns in Victoria to waste 1000s of hours slaving over an unnecessarily complicated Expression of Interest document this summer/fire season. I suspect that the majority of towns gave up and didn't even submit their EOIs.

So what's so wrong with it? Well firstly you realise that the architects have got their paws all over it, not only are a large percentage of the guidelines and criteria all weighted towards architectural issues but even the selection panel is biased that way. Continuing with the selection panel, there's not a single reasonably high profile art expert, unless you count the Chair who is a writer and historian. There is an Aboriginal elder, a regional performing arts centre manager, a national voice for cultural diversity, and 2 that are architecturally oriented who seem to subscribe to "the any art is better than none" school of thought. The major problem is that you have a panel that is incapable of judging artistic merit, even though it was a stated criteria.

What this project shows more than anything else is that, these days, art in our society is controlled by governments. It really very clever, first they rip the heart out of art education by reducing funding, then they fund art through grant applications, and in those applications they add a few extra criteria, like engagement, multicultural, indigenous, disability, participation, sustainability, partnerships, collaboration, increased economic activity, community etc etc............and yes you've guessed it each of these usually score as much as artistic quality.

It sort of gets worse because as we the artists, lecturers, curators, writers, bureaucrats and venue directors scramble over each other to get funded we pervert art to meet the funding criteria.

Get this rapid response mine published 3:49 and this by 5:57................... and this is by far the most viewed blog I've done - already!!

Esther is the boss of Regional Arts Victoria and what she didn't say, in terms of feedback, is that she refused talk to the people who actually wrote the applications!! there is a really sinister perversion of the meaning of decent communication going on in all this.

A Small Town Transformations update!
Many thanks to everyone who has been in touch this week for feedback. Regional Arts Victoria was overwhelmed with applications for this new initiative. We received 65 passionate applications from all over the state, which represents around one in three of all eligible small towns. This is a remarkable testament to the creative vision and the community dynamism that makes Victoria the state of the arts.
For every call we’ve received, our team have been going through specific feedback noted by our expert independent panel during the assessment meeting. We’ve also been offering tailored advice on how to develop those ideas further, including alternative funding options, and further consultation with other Regional Arts Victoria staff.
Yesterday we presented the shortlist to the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria, and the former Minister, Ted Baillieu. They were as excited as us about the next steps. Come May, we will share these with the world.
As the shortlisted towns prepare their final applications in the privacy of their communities, we encourage all applicants to stay in touch with Regional Arts Victoria – and we look forward to meeting you again. Yesterday the Arts Minister emphasised that Small Town Transformations is intended as a pilot project, and we have every hope that it will be presented again in 2014 following a successful first round.
Transformation is a big concept – encompassing arts, community, place, vision and heart – and we encourage all applicants to keep developing your ideas. You’ve already taken that first important step, and we’re right here to support the next ones. Regional Arts Victoria exists to inspire art across the state. Take a look at our membership programs, join our mailing list, stay in touch via social media, and let’s keep making great work together!


  1. " Never ask a question unless you already know the answer " Rumpole of the Bailey

    Of course the outcome was known before the question was asked, as usual the criteria are written so that the chosen few have the maximum chance of success.

    This is nothing about art and everything about money

    1. It would be nice to know what some of the other towns actually thought about the "process" and why they gave up

    2. Doug, I should have said a bit more: one of the strangest examples that Regional Arts Victoria gave of something they might be interested in was... A portable structure that transforms an open area into a performance space........ something we've been doing in the bush for years i.e. a semi trailer with a band or two playing on playing on the back of it, but there is a bunch down in East Gippsland that have been trying to get funding for something a little wackier for some time - with no luck, so one of my bets is Gippsland's $350,000 will go down to somewhere near Nowa Nowa (not half as safe a seat as Wellington) I'd say Gippsland's only one will go East Gippsland, because the other prediction is that they'll award things evenly across the state regardless of quality.