Upon reading Francis’ post on supernaut.info regarding the Victorian Liberals proposed Arts Funding overhaul (et ici), I got to thinking – a rare occurance, but one which does occur, at around the same frequency as showering.

What should our arts funding policy be? Is it important – how important, and whats the best way to spend limited funds? (note I am discussing the wider issues, not individual Liberal and Labour policies)

Now I am an elitist arts snob, I will be the first to admit that, and in days gone by, my reaction would have been much the same as Francis’. However, after reading John Carey’s ‘What good art the arts?’ a provocative book, I’m not so sure. The arguements he puts forwards (nicely sumerised here and here) are quite confronting for someone who has always believed in the inherent ‘value’ in the arts.
He argues, convincingly and somewhat distressingly, that the hugely subsidised public art institutions – galleries, the opera, ballet, etc, which are funded under the arguement that art has a beneficial and civilising effect on society, is totally unfounded. As Carey asks

“How does this person’s love of art affect his, or her, attitude to human beings?”

He gives an example during the world war where art was put into bunkers – but people weren’t, and of course Herr Hitler, who fancied himself an artist above all, and J Paul Getty who amassed a monstrous amount of art, but was a saloon fascist in personal politic. He argues, rather convincingly that

The religion of art makes people worse, because it encourages contempt for those considered inartistic.

It becomes merely a club that one can belong to, by virtue of refined taste and aesthetic.
While some of his arguements are a bit over the top, it is thought provoking – he offers as consolation that while art consumption may do nothing for society, perhaps through the act of making art, there is benefit and value. What matters is the making of art, the process and bollocks to the end result. He cites cases of art empowering people in disadvantaged communities and prison schemes.
The last half of the book is his own personal arguement for the supremecy of literature but I’ll leave that for you read if you are so interested. I’m not sold.

So where does this leave me? I would love to see Australia (not neccessarily just Victoria) ‘return to the forefront of arts excellence’, but in wider terms, what does that mean, other than an arbitary, self congratulatory judgement? What on earth is ‘arts excellence’? And, cosmically speaking, what is the point?

Perhaps, that contrary to Frances’ point that regional eisteddoffods promote passive consumption – it is a step in a irection in promoting and providing means for people to actively engage in the making of art. Eisteddfodds are not for the audience – they are for the participants. How many people actually watch the bleeding things if not a doting relative, or that somewhat dodgy neighbour who keeps appearing at thos ballet receitals….  They are a big deal for kids, families and their community.

The alternative, a push for greater funding for capital city dominant art? Well, I’d perhaps enjoy that immensely,but then, I tend to enjoy money, the question is what it achieves in a wider context, and other than making pretentious gits like me tremendously happy?  It does provide employment for the legion of Sydney critics to practice their tongue lashing and an excuse for the upper crust of the aestheticaly refined to exercise their ball gowns and drink champagne – but perhaps not so much otherwise.  Despite the funding the festivals and companies attract, the pricing structures generally prohibit anyone, ‘different’ attending.  Last I checked Chunky Move was going for $55 for a 45 minute show, Sydney Festivals Robert Wilson was going for nearly $200, Cloud Gate was $50 +.  So all in all its potential effect is limited – to the performers themselves, and i’m not saying that its not valuable to provide oppurtunities for growth in our artists, casse it obviously is,  but to the community – becuase only those wtih the means, and who are already interested are likely to attend.

After working in a regional dance company, I can quite confidently say that on our regional regional tours (I’m talking regional Tasmania) the audience was greater, more appreciative, our workshops were enthusiastically received and we really got the feeling that it actually made a difference in the community. In fact, people would come up and thank us and say just that. Which is a trifle embarrassing, as a dreadfully important, International Artist, I am not so used to, well actually talking to fans, just stamping my autograph while gracing them with a supercilious smile as I make my way to my chaffeur driven limosine to take me to my exclusive hotel for a rendevous with the Hilton sisters.

It wasn’t ground shaking work, and we aren’t the ABT, ABC or NDT, ADT, or any company with a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) for a name, and I doubt we live up to ‘the forefront of arts excellence’, but I would argue it was important to do, and worthwhile.
I’ve done work in the centres, it might even be considered ‘experimental’, pushing the boundaries of art etc, but hardly anyone saw it, the works tended to die in the arse, never to be seen again. Certainly I can probably name the people (Person) who came up and told me it changed their life, but then again, I was sleeping with them, and I’m not sure if they meant it in a good way.

This being said – the 1 day closed thing is a non-issue, every major gallery and museum in Europe is closed one day a week, and no one sees that as a shocking blight on the arts.

And I think we should make up our minds what we want for the arts – its sitting on the fence – demanding accontability, but also excellence in all fronts.  I’m no economist, but that seems rather impossible to me.  This will probably start off my next rant about the lack of research culture….

So thank you if you have followed me this far;

So whats the best to spend the precious few dollars we have for the arts?
Penny for your thoughts*

*pennies will not, nor ever be forthcoming

schonentag!

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