THERE IS the waste of course, always that with this lot, and also the shamelessness of directing public monies to artists who must return the favour by pledging their muse to a government program. But unsavoury as it is, Arts Minister Simon Crean’s plan to sling bulk cash at one of his party’s most dutiful constituencies is not the worst thing about the National Broadband Network’s scheme to generate some “visionary” propaganda. Nor is it that we have an Arts Minister who believes the Dark Ages to have been an aesthetic wasteland. In a government where the Treasurer can’t add, the media minister advances censorship and Peter Garrett has something to do with education, it should come as no surprise that the arts minister is a philistine.
What artists, circa 900AD, were producing before Labor
But even that deficiency is not a major issue, not when there is comfort to be drawn from the sure knowledge that this government of rabble and perpetual adolescents will survive no more than another 18 months or so.
The real cause for alarm is Crean’s citing of submissions to the National Cultural Policy discussion paper, which the minister sees as demonstrating “that artists and those in the creative industries understand the significance of the NBN for reaching new audiences and encouraging innovation.” Crean should spend a little less time sounding prime ministerial and a bit more reading his briefing papers.
Now it is true that broadband does figure in quite a few submissions, but they are much of a kind. Originating with groups and organisations already on the teat, they make much of the NBN’s ability to find them larger audiences. That great exemplar of the arts, Gold Coast City Council, has a vision of spreading the online word about “the development of the Gold Coast region”, while Sydney Film School believes $60 billion spent on zippy modems will fill the need for “a great deal of imagination right now in order to envision a peaceful future for our children and our children’s children.” The film school's apparent mission to promote world peace and happy nippers may come as a surprise, but it certainly explains why so many of its graduates' films are unwatchable.
According to Justice Action, NSW, the kiddies can wait their turn. Far more urgent is the need to equip each and every Australian jail cell with computers and high-speed connections. If you have reservations about rewarding miscreants with access for which honest citizens must pay, keep those sentiments to yourself. As its submission notes, “there is also a high prevalence of Aboriginal people in prison”, so any objection would undoubtedly be racist. There is no doubt about grant snafflers. If there is a box to be ticked, they tick it.
And if you are wondering why so many artistic mendicants make glowing mention of the NBN, look no further than the ninth paragraph of the short document outling officialdom's view of what the National Cultural Policy should be all about. It is a very broad hint that submission references to the NBN would be very much appreciated. What Crean means when he says artists “understand” the NBN’s “significance” is that they can read well enough to follow instructions.
On the other hand – and this really stresses the need for Crean to do his homework, there is this from Lisa D. Sampson. It is very sound advice indeed, and here is how it begins:
As an artist who has self-funded every production (2 musicals and 1 cabaret; hundreds of custom acts for various events) in her arts career (spanning 7 years) through working as a not for profit and social enterprise consultant, I am constantly dismayed by the grant-subsistence mentality prevalent in the arts and creative industries. In the USA, there is NO funding for film and all investment is private. Yet, film is a huge industry in the USA and many of its screen products reach a global market. I’ve never gotten a government grant, nor do I want one. And I have a major musical work in production, 2 film scripts almost finished, 1 film based on a true story which is going into production where I am the invited script writer and another 3 cabaret shows I’m in the process of writing.
And here is how Sampson concludes her plea for an oputbreak of artistic self-respect:
I want artists to realise that sometimes you need to work your contacts for YEARS, pitching your artistic product to them and that this is a GOOD THING as it actually refines your arts practice, makes you more self-reflexive and responsive to the market. My set of educational entertainment productions is in this very situation and while I’ve felt frustrated and sad and disappointed etc. I am actually pleased that I am developing a way forward that clearly responds to what education departments, curriculum authorities, parents and students actually want out of a product. When its perfected, I plan to sell it to overseas educational markets and how else will I learn how to negotiate with all the players that will arise in those markets unless I have gone through a similar process here?
Isn’t it refreshing to hear an arts professional urging fellow luvvies to produce work that audiences want to see? No wonder Crean picks and chooses what he reads. He would not want to see Sampson’s letter under any circumstances.