Monday, July 13, 2015

A Thousand Cuts and Swipes

Over the weekend I was roundly lambasted by a Melbourne playwright and poet for daring to suggest that there exist other equally viable sources of arts funding in this country than those offered with more and more strings by state and federal governments. Her patronising tone was only equaled by her reluctance or inability to see that I was not in fact attacking her position, but merely pointing out that there are viable alternatives to the old tired model. She implied (albeit tacitly) that I was some sort of mouth piece for the philistine Right who seem intent on dismantling the Australia Council altogether and replacing it with a funding body operating directly from the relevant minister's office (in this case, somewhat perversely and worryingly, the office of the Attorney General, George Brandis). That I would condone such an act of Executive overreach was galling enough, but that she then implied that as a poet I was already alienated and marginalised enough and thus really had no place in the debate ( best leave this one to the real artists, Justin!), well let's just say an old soldier chooses his battles and I decided to concede her the thorny ground. I let the tacit implications of naivety slide, as to be honest I found them oddly refreshing.

What I never got around to saying, however, was that these political attacks are not going to stop. The concept of an independent "arms-length" arts funding body is fast becoming a quaint anachronism, and that the sooner artists of all stripes (yes, even poets!) face up to this fact the better for the heart and soul of this country. Johanna Featherstone of the Red Room Company faced an equally vitriolic attack some years back when she dared to seek private funding for her wonderful organisation, and it took me a whole lot of sangria and paella to convince her she wasn't some venal self-seeking traitor to the cause. Of course, governments are not about to abandon arts fundng altogether, but this "death-by-a-thousand-cuts" has been going on for a couple of decades now, long before the digital age offered artists myriad alternative platforms and sources of funding. If saying this makes me a mouth-piece for the philistine Right, then so be it. I loath posturing almost as much as I loath habitual contrarians. 

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