13/01/2013 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

Missing the National Cultural Policy? It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good report to chew over, since, forever, it seems the only thing slower to be released before The Creanimator’s NCP is the new Hobbit movie (although the race is not over yet). For the interim, we present our handy A-Z guide to the incoming shakeup to the arts funding body, cutting through the lingo, the red tape and the communist clause; so you may better understand what’s next for the Australian Arts Community.

This will be the motto for the new paradigm of ideas. Cutting straight to the demystification of creativity so that even the cashed-up-boganest of Manly-Warringah Supporters can find value in our creative economies. Or at the very least offer a considered post-Bakhtin critique of the dance acts at the Grand Final Half-Time Show.

Arts funding in Australia is about 0.084% of GDP, which is laughable compared to similar economies such as New Zealand or Canada, who subsidise the arts at a rate double that. To put things in perspective, that’s around $740 million per annum, half a dozen superhero movies, give or take what the City of New York hands out to the arts in a year or what a CEO of a bank might pocket in a retirement bonus if they haven’t entirely crashed the economy yet.

While the coal and gas will eventually run out, our capacity for ideas is as limitless as the sun. The creative industries are the fastest growing urban sector, and how – with cost-effective productivity and an insatiable global audience for quality creative content, it’s a wonder we aren’t doing more to encourage the arts conversation on a national and international level. We certainly have the minds for it, the diversity of talent, and the infrastructure for major events a-la Vivid Sydney (which if projections for the festival are correct will take on SXSW proportions by 2018). Go to these kinds of events and it’s clear. People are talking about the arts, even though there’s no money in it. Now just imagine what might happen if there was… at this point; you may say I’m a dreamer.

You might be right; checking the wake of the recent closure of Theatre Notes – that paragon for budding critics and theatre webloggers the world over – many seem to feel that ‘Serious Criticism’ the bell tolls for thee. Keeping up with a thorough, vigorous criticism of a thriving theatre culture (let alone the dance/festival/live art circuit) is unmanageable for any author with aspirations to (oh-I-don’t-know) try writing about something else for a change. And here at 5th Wall we pray for those poor souls who choose to only ever write criticism of others’ work; without ever attempting their own… But I digress. Perhaps that is an issue for another day.

The point, in summary; is that art without criticism becomes a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. It may crash and roar, and there may even be people nearby to see and hear it and maybe even find meaning – but for that to resonate we must encourage, nay demand our finest theatrical minds step up to probe and interrogate the art, expand on why it’s there, assist the broader audience in understanding that projects place in the continuum of creative conversations that have been happening since BC. So that other, unborn artists can look back and know just a little bit more about our theatre scene than fatuous clichés describing the plot or set (we have photos for that now) or who gives ‘a commanding performance’ or who’s ‘heartwarming’.

The Sanchez Cultural Policy advocates all kinds of critical conversation, from the observant to the obtuse and the obsidian. It’s been a bumper year for disagreements (and cranky makes good copy to be sure) – yet much of this happens in the fringe medias or on social channels. Challenging ideas are sometimes brought up in the mainstream press (in soundbite form) but the average arts journalist is either copy-bound or too witless to interrogate these issues in detail. From now on our theatre professionals will be fiscally obliged to elaborate and dispute their work, and to engage on a critical level with others so that we might better sharpen our cultural dialogue skills on the whole. After all, one assumes one’s position is gained through years of craft-mastery, research and practical development of creative ideas, understanding and studying of movements – so let’s hear it. Weblogs and podcasts aren’t just for geeks, freelancers and entrepreneurs. For a bunch of people interested in drama – everyone seems to shy away from conflict. Boring!

Oh, and build a fucking Casino Barry. Sure. That’s Cultural. Pro-Tip: just put a couple of mid-size theatres in it for future generations to enjoy. Too easy mate.

For years this has been the policy towards Communism and Neo-Marxism within the arts sector, particularly amongst [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]; or the [REDACTED] Festival in [REDACTED] every September long weekend, where sneering cliques of video-artist-poets scribe angry tirades against the government with one hand whilst happily accepting their grant money with the other. This in full knowledge that such grant money would not be possible without the apparently limitless coal export boom. To avert this trend we have relaxed the policy such that it is now OK to be political in all forms of creative expression, whether it’s marriage equality on Home & Away or the blood-soaked carcass of a Blue Whale on the steps of the Japanese Embassy, we hope to normalise the politicisation of art to such an extent that the aforementioned fair-trade-latte-lifting hipster poets will shuffle off and find something more esoteric to do.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “excellence” as:

The quality of being excellent; state of possessing good qualities in an eminent degree; exalted merit; superiority in virtue.

and as Abraham Lincoln said in the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure:

These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!

With this in mind, it is our position to make ‘Excellence’ one of the cornerstones of the National Cultural Policy and the foundation of our funding model. And since nobody can really say what “excellence” looks like, this should keep you busy for another twenty years or so. Meanwhile, we shall keep the benchmark set firmly across the seas, defining our excellence by the successes of our transpacific cousins and colonial forbears; until we collectively stumble across the conclusion that true excellence does not come at the measure of others, but from within.

When the initial OzCo report came out the writing was on the wall for Major Performing Arts Companies; demonstrate your relevance and success or face the chop. That is: loosening the requirements to MPA eligibility can potentially threaten or advance an organisation’s position, funding-wise. The subtext here, judging by OA’s monster corporate sell-out production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle: means business as usual, but bigger, bolder and badder. It’s either an attempt to flex some relevance muscle through profitability and the veritable excellence of Neil Armfield’s direction; or a last-ditch attempt to spend the living fuck of of what could soon be a smaller-than-usual slice of the funding pie while they can. Our guess is the latter.

However that plays out for the established theatre sector the good news is that glorious euphemism “unfunded excellence” should mean some extra coin will be spread about for some, increasingly over several years to get some of our more excellent volunteer art-makers into rotation. Assuming this doesn’t interfere with the surplus of course.


*Review of the Australia Council, May 2012; James/Trainor

Entry filed under: Sydney THEATRE.


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