I started this piece at the opening of the Venice Biennale. It was going to be about all the tote bags I’d scored, the outrageous outfits, and my lack of party invitations. The fact that Arts Minister Michael Brandis opened the new Australia pavilion didn’t even register until the following week when he announced massive changes to arts funding.
The changes include the establishment of the ‘National Program for Excellence in the Arts’ (it deserves inverted commas), the funding of which will be transferred from the Australia Council for the Arts (Ozco) – a move that will disproportionately and deliberately affect individual artists, particularly visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and small and/or regional arts organisations. Tasmanian artists and audiences should be concerned.
In Venice, Brandis basked in the reflected cultural prestige of the world’s largest visual arts event, rubbing shoulders with the Australian art world’s most influential players. I guess it wasn’t the place to announce cuts to the very organisation that administers Australia’s involvement in the biennale. To give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he hadn’t decided yet. One of the stated aims of NPEA is to encourage cultural philanthropy, and as the pavilion was largely funded with private money, perhaps it inspired Brandis’ scheme. Unfortunately, it's only ever financial donations that are acknowledged on golden plaques and programs, not the in-kind support provided by artists who often go unpaid or underpaid for their essential work. If we stopped participating tomorrow, the cultural economy would collapse, which explains why last year’s Sydney Biennale boycotts were so threatening to the status quo.
I did attend one party at the biennale by the way. I wasn’t invited, but the champagne was flowing and the art was terrible. I guess I was a welcome rent-a-crowd. The Sheikh had evidently paid a large amount to stage the exhibition (it costs $30,000 just to register as a collateral event), but as the saying goes, money doesn’t buy taste. Ozco isn’t perfect, but if we leave it to rich individuals to decide what is and isn’t supported, the diversity of Australia’s art scene will undoubtedly suffer.