Apr 10, 2013

Small Town Transformations - continued!


i-muse too 2012


Since I started posting comments about Regional Arts Victoria’s “Small Town Transformations” I have had many requests asking me to explain how aspects of the art scene work. I shall try to make it as brief as I can, it is entirely predictable and not particularly complicated or mysterious.

By far the largest portion of the State’s Arts budget is consumed by government paid arts administrators and by comparison almost no funds go to artists. The money that does go to practitioners goes almost exclusively to artists who would be categorised as emerging but on the  threshold of becoming established or have just become established. Almost all major art prizes, grants, commissions and university lecturing positions go to this group. Government support usually ceases just as artists move from early established to mid established, the expression “mid-career artist” actually denotes irrelevance.

So - pretty much all the money goes to one group of artists and continues for no longer than 10 years. Of course it is highly discriminatory but as everyone gets one chance it could be described as fair.

Government ministers responsible for the arts rarely know anything about the arts and unthinkingly trust the advice they receive from their bureaucrats, who, over time, have developed numerous techniques to justify their own existence. There is some mobility between academic, government bureaucratic and institutional arts careers and to ensure smooth promotional progress all these agencies use exactly the same language and effectively collude to maintain their power, influence and prosperity. To guarantee maximum career opportunities within the sector the same language and system is used in much of the world.

In Australia, capital cities are only places where artists can proceed from “emerging” to “established”. The art scene is entirely controlled from the capital city. The whole system fails when the notion of the arts in regional and remote areas of the state is introduced and is exemplified by Regional Arts Victoria's Small Town Transformations. For a start there are almost no artists in the favoured "emerging to established" category living outside the city. The few that there are, assiduously maintain their city links and pass through the bush at a very rapid rate as they climb their career ladders. There are a few mid-career artists living in rural locations. They often contribute the most to the cultural life of their district but as the system has already dumped them they rarely receive any support at all. The discrimination against them is so entrenched that, even though there are no other artists of any stature at all to choose from, all government agencies do their level best to find a class of artists that they can pretend are emerging or newly established. Sadly, in the bush, enthusiastic amateurs are regularly chosen to perform this role.

Just for the record – I’m not a mid-career artist.

Let’s pose a hypothetical, what would happen if, instead of pouring money into bureaucracies, we simply made all art purchasing and support enticingly tax deductible?  My guess is that the kinds of art that are currently being made would change very rapidly because artists would be free from government interference. Currently artists do not make work that will not get funded. The criteria listed in funding guidelines always control the new art that is made, seen and promoted. Sure artists are free to make whatever they like but they won't attract any government support.

The political parties cannot be blamed for government interference in the arts because the bureaucrats promise them that there is no such interference and all the listed criteria for funding always makes the process more accountable, fair and transparent – which of course is not actually true! 

Footnote: Minutes after posting this blog I had a terrible vision, as there are rarely any real artists in small towns in Victoria, Regional Arts Vic may stoop to the lowest and most artistically insulting ploy of the lot by playing the dreaded "anyone and everyone is an artist" card. Oh no - surely not kiddy art on a grand scale.

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