IPA Today

What’s The Refund Policy For Australia’s Arts Funding Sinkhole?

Written by
10 November 2021
Originally appeared in The Epoch Times

Liberal and National leaders have betrayed everyday Australians

During the 1990s, the French government spent more, per capita, on culture, than any other country in the world in the hope that it would encourage an artistic and cultural flowering of epic proportions.

However, the unprecedented infusion of funds did the opposite, and the results were meagre bordering on non-existent.

This phenomenon was noted by French historian and essayist Marc Fumaroli, who observed that government philanthropy does not buy genius.

“Where were the painters and the sculptors who were supposed to emerge from the conveyor belt of cultural engineering?” Fumaroli asked.

We might well ask a similar question of our very own conveyor belt of cultural engineering, the Australia Council for the Arts.

Since 2016, the Council has dished out a staggering $356 million of taxpayers’ money in grants to individuals and groups who it has judged worthy of financial support. This is not an insignificant amount of money, and it is only reasonable for taxpayers to be curious about what we are getting in return.

What we are getting in return is a self-indulgent, politically shallow, and ideologically questionable body of work which does nothing for anybody, except possibly depress the unwitting few who you might find attended a performance in which they find themselves being summoned onto a stage and served up a Devonshire Tea made with so-called “Indigenous blood.”

Three studies from the Temeraire
Visitors take a close look at an abstract triptych entitled “Three studies from the Temeraire” by U.S. artist Cy Twomby at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 16, 2004. (Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images)

We are getting artists who knit wool which they have placed—and there is no polite way of saying this—in their vaginas to protest about society’s expectations of gender.

We are paying for artists to sit for days in giant cubes to rail against conservative ideas. Our money is funding artists who cut themselves in front of an audience as a way of making a statement about indigenous incarceration, and it is funding artists who wrap giant knitted scarves around trees to deliver messages about coal mining and climate change.

Many of these projects were funded last year through a Resilience Fund, which was “designed to provide emergency relief to support the livelihoods, practice and operations of Australian artists, groups and organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Council explained that although “the arts and cultural industries, along with all Australians and communities around the world, have experienced incomparable disruption from the impacts of COVID-19, we have never lost sight of the enormous public value of the arts for all Australians.”

However, these grants revealed that it has well and truly lost sight of what is of value to all Australians.

If the Australia Council for the Arts were a business, we would no doubt be scouring the small print of the refund policy. But as it stands, the Council is run at arms lengthy by the arts community elite, who are answerable to no-one.

In 2015, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempted to cut funding, managing to divert around $105 million to a new fund that saw grants decided by the federal arts minister.

This meant that a democratically elected government could have more say about what was funded, rather than a blank cheque for this nonsense. But, unfortunately, the Turnbull government gave all the money back again.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during House of Representatives
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during House of Representatives question time at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Sept. 15, 2015. (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

The situation is not going to improve any time soon for the thousands of highly talented and productive Australian artists who are not bothering to apply for grants because they refuse to play the political game.

It is clear from the strategy being adopted by the Council that unless they subscribe to identity politics, they will not see a cent between now and 2050.

In its findings from Re-imagine: What next? (pdf) the Council has concluded that some of the most pressing matters for the arts community are “the immediate need for action, accountability and tangible change to create a just, fair and equitable industry” as well as dealing with language shifts that are occurring in other sectors and internationally: away from ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ towards ‘equity’ and ‘justice.’”

Further, its Creativity Connects us Corporate Plan 2021-25 (pdf) “highlights systemic barriers that require further attention and leadership to ensure our arts and culture reflect the diversity of Australia’s people” and states that it is committed to equity and the promotion of centrality of Indigenous Australian arts.

In “Art: A New History,” historian Paul Johnson opines that “Ideology is not necessarily the enemy of art, but it tends to become so when applied relentlessly and obsessively.” He said that while fashion plays a useful role in art when it tries to become art itself, it results in a culture war sooner or later.

“And culture wars are perhaps the cruellest and most demoralising of all wars,” Johnson said.

Moreover, the Australia Council for the Arts is relentless and obsessive in its funding of identity politics, grievance studies, and social justice.

It is, therefore, guilty of stoking the fires of the so-called “culture wars” by spending our money on pushing an ideology to which the majority of Australians do not subscribe, and for which they certainly do not want to pay.

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Bella d'Abrera

Dr Bella d'Abrera is the Director, Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs

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