CachedWednesday 25 of January, 2012 [15:30:00 UTC]

This is a cached version of the page. (Click here to view the Google cache of the page instead.)

Australia Council reports on arts funding and industry structure | Crikey

The plan to provoke a profound shake-up to the arts

In a week where so much has happened in the world, it’s not surprising a report from the Australia Council has not made the news. But in the rarefied atmosphere of arts policy, the release of a report entitled Arts and creative industries will make waves — the document, if followed to its logical conclusions, implies a profound shake-up to the current status quo.

Authored by a team of QUT academics led by Professor Justin O’Connor, Arts and creative industries is a long, detailed and rigorous examination of the context, shape and setting of arts and cultural policy in Australia. It’s not quite the Henry Tax Review, but it’s certainly the most academically informed piece of research to be released by the Australia Council in a long time.

Beginning with a historical overview of 19th century culture and the genesis of “cultural policy” in postwar Britain, the report then examines each of the issues that has bedeviled the arts debate: the role of public subsidy, the growth of the industries that produce popular culture, the divide between high art and low art, and the emergence of the so-called “creative industries” in the 1990s. It’s as good a summary of the current state of play as you’re likely to find anywhere, including in the international academic literature.

O’Connor and his co-writers conclude that “the creative industries need not be —  indeed should not be — counter posed to cultural policy; they are a development of it” and that economic objectives (in other words, industry policy) should be a legitimate aim of cultural policy.

Taken as a whole, the argument has big implications for the way Australia currently pursues the regulation and funding of culture. For instance, it argues that “the ‘free market’ simply does not describe the tendencies of monopoly, agglomeration, cartels, restrictive practices, exploitation and unfair competition which mark the cultural industries” and that this in turn justifies greater regulation of cultural industries like the media. That’s a conclusion that few in the Productivity Commission or Treasury — let alone Kerry Stokes or James Packer — are likely to agree with.

The report also argues the divide between the high arts and popular culture has now largely disappeared, and that therefore “it is increasingly difficult for arts agencies to concern themselves only with direct subsidy and only with the non-commercial”. This is an argument which directly challenges the entire basis of the Australia Council’s funding model, in which opera and orchestral music receives 98% of the council’s music funding pie. No wonder the Australia Council’s CEO, Kathy Keele, writes in the foreword: “This study proposes to challenge many of our current conceptions, definitions, and even policies.”

Intriguingly, the report stops short of any concrete policy recommendations. Perhaps this is because some existed, but were excised from the report. Or perhaps it’s because any recommendations that genuinely flowed from this report would imply the break-up or radical overhaul of the Australia Council itself.

As Marcus Westbury this week observed in The Age: ”While the Australia Council isn’t backward in promoting research, reports and good news stories that validate the status quo, there is not much precedent for it challenging it.”

That’s because the real guardian of the current funding model is not the Australia Council, but the small coterie of large performing arts companies and high-status impresarios that are its greatest beneficiaries. It won’t be long before a coalition of high arts types, from Richard Tognetti to Richard Mills, start clamouring to defend their privilege.


  1. Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanx for this report. I agree that the big performing arts companies have too much influence over the allocation of public funding of the arts. Of course they derive their power from being able to mobilise their wealthy patrons, so I suggest that any attempt to change cultural arts policy be directed to the wealthy patrons. One might seek to persuade them that, for example, to maintain the vitality of excellent music one must go beyond the traditional classical repertoire and even that is best supported beyond the big symphonies.

  2. Holden Back
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    The problem being that when Richard Mills says:

    Remove, say, a symphony orchestra from a city and you will kill concert life but also youth orchestras, school music programs, tertiary training and fine teaching for the general community - in effect, the capacity to enrich lives with real music.”

    He’s right. Sadly the big orchestras and opera companies are now even less likely to be adventurous in their programming. Mills might have added to that list the host of smaller ensembles which do provide more adventurous programming whose members are largely drawn from orchestral players. But if you don’t allow there is a particular value in the skills and cultural contribution made by the high art musical tradition that wouldn’t be much of a point.

  3. Simon Loveless
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Funny how these discussions always seem to revolve around bashing classical musicians.

  4. Marcel Dorney
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    The problem that Simon Loveless points out is real, though perhaps a bit more complicated on both sides than ‘bashing classical musicians’ (in Simon’s phrase) or ‘defending their privilege’ (in Ben’s).
    People employed as professional musicians in Australian orchestras and opera companies , without exception, undergone an large amount of rigorous training, which training was, in itself, no guarantee of employment. The arguments mounted by Ben (and Marcus Westbury, to whose position he cleaves closely) tend to brush over that, with Westbury equating orchestras with ‘cover bands’. (http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/10/17/1192300857463.html?page=fullpage)
    The question of whether the public should fund bodies that create professional pathways in Australia for those who undergo such high-level training - as with the training of dancers, or for that matter, any elite sportsperson - should be asked, continually, and penetratingly. Such questioning should, as Marcus points out elsewhere, take into account that most Australians’ experience and enjoyment of culture is more firmly rooted in participation than the admiration of a distant elite.
    I do suggest, however, that rather than ignoring the fact - and it is a fact - that it requires more dedication and, yes, talent, to play Mozart (let alone the works that form the ACO’s main repertoire) than it does to play ‘April Sun in Cuba’, we should ask how these skills can better flow into - and have their choices informed by - the wider, more ‘participatory’ culture championed by Ben and Marcus (and not simply in print - they’ve both organised independent arts festivals).
    At those same festivals, I’ve observed that Australians respond strongly and positively to talent that’s been painstakingly trained into virtuosity: the feeling that ‘I didn’t know that was possible’ *can* actually complement the very different artistic excitement of ‘anyone can do it’.
    Simon Rattle’s experiences in pushing the Berlin Philharmonic into engagement with the wider community point one demonstrable way forward. Rather than calling for the heads of the classics scholars, perhaps Ben could prove himself an enlightened Red Guard cadre, and suggest how they might serve the culture of the people, in ways that he (and I) cannot.

  5. dr diversion
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Bashing big orchestras and opera companies is a small-minded approach of those who have no real understanding of the significance of classical music and opera to the world. WHere would the entertainment industry be without the performances of big orchestras? Goerge Lucas’ “Star Wars” would still be attempting to leave the realm of of the Sci fi fanatics book club, James Cameron’s “Avatar” would have simply lacked the magnificence that has seen so many flock to it around the world and the motion picture industry would simply die through lack of availability of competent classically trained musicians.

    As for the opera companies, imagine the last James Bond film without the opera “Tosca” overlying the themes of deceipt and betrayal by those in unopposed power. For the classical music and opera bashers, that was the underlying themes of Daniel Craig’s “James Bond” in the most recent movie. It is all too easy for those who are not “in the know” on such matters to vomit forth their ignorance and use unsubstantiated criticism to silence those who are knowledgible in these areas and who constantly fight to save the Australian arts industry from small-minded Gen Y’s who thing that vulger obscenity-spewing rap artists articulate the real meaning of art in the modern world.

    Orchestras and classical music have been used to sell everything from televisions to soaps in this country, to support aging rock stars and withering country music performers who can only pull a crowd when they appear with a well know classical group such as MSO and QSO. If not for opera, most of the modern cinematic successes would be performed without credible story lines.

    So, lets destroy the real classical arts in this country and then watch as pimple-faced teenagers are employed to strum guitars and beat drums to accompany the visual images while “classical” music is viewed as aging cocaine-selling gangster rap artists advocate the use of drugs and “bashing you bitch” and killing cops as a solution to society’s problems. Without real art, this country will die a rapid and rather monotone death. How fitting for those who knock the arts industries.

  6. AR
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    If’n yer not starving in a garret you lack commitment.

  7. Angel_Trumpet
    Posted Friday, 4 February 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the post Ben.

    Although I haven’t yet read O’Connor’s whole report, it indeed appears to be informed and insightful, and yet provides little concrete suggestion as to how greater economic and cultural value may be achieved through the distribution of OzCo’s funding.

    Perhaps he was concerned not to step on too many toes.

    O’Connor writes that subsidy ‘is … in short supply, it is cumbersome to administer and it fails to deal with the proliferation of individuals and micro businesses who now make up the majority of the arts sector’ and he is correct in that regard.

    It is next to impossible for many artists worthy of support to obtain subsidy through OzCo. This in spite of their perhaps broader appeal (computer game designers), pursual of innovative ideas and technologies (writers/playwrights/new media/cross media artists) that might provide greater economic benefits to society than those flowing from the status quo (see anything written by Monsieur Westbury or yourself in recent times).

    With audiences dwindling and aging for many (but by no means for all) of the major arts companies, there is no denying they will have to come down from their ivory tower and self-reflect. Without an audience, artistic evolution (new works, new works and more new works) and constant challenging of the status quo, many MPAB companies may run out of luck and eventually lose the support of their ‘constituencies’ and funders.

    That said, many benefits flow from having highly-skilled musicians, singers, dancers, actors etc in each of the capitals, not the least being their contribution to the wider arts scene, their education of young artists in schools and universities, and their contribution to the community arts scene, often as volunteers.

    Hopefully the trend among academics towards greater appreciation of the economic value of the arts and cultural industries will lead to a larger, but more equitably-awarded pie rather than a continued fight over the spoils of a smaller one, which remains the likely scenario at present. It should be interesting to see if any radical models are suggested as an alternative to the current form of subsidy in the coming months as a result of the report.

    In any case, artists who fail to innovate and evolve, lose touch with their audiences, or fail to add value to society should be allowed to fail. O’Connor’s suggestion that the larger arts companies are essentially exempt from the free market and exhibit characteristics of monpoly seems spot on.

    (Declaration of vested interest: I work for a major performing arts company and sincerely hope for Australia’s artistic vibrancy and cultural future that the larger, established companies will flourish alongside those who struggle under the current model)


  8. Ben Eltham
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    It’s perhaps unfortunate that this discussion has devolved down into the usual “bashing classical music” fracas. As I usually have to point out in these situations, the issue is not the merit or worth of a particular set of organisations working in a particular artform, it’s the inconsistency and incoherence of the funding model as a whole.

    For the record, I’m *not* advocating defunding the orchestras, but I am arguing that the current distribution of funds by the Australia Council is manifestly unjust - for instance to those who don’t happen to play in orchestras or work in the major performing arts sector. There are similar issues over at Screen Australia, by the way, but this was an article about an Australia Council report.

    No-one is denying the merit of western art music played by orchestras. But the ABS statistics tell us that ordinary Australians enjoy many different types of cultural past-times. The very issue I pointed to - the tendency of those who support a certain type of art and culture to believe that is is more meritorious and “excellent” than all the others - is on display in these comments.

    Dr Diversion - I’m sorry, but I don’t think classical music was essential to the success of Avatar. I’m pretty sure James Bond fans still flocked to the cinemas when Shirley Bassey was the hit tune, not Tosca. But then, you seem to harbour some pretty impressive prejudices about certain types of music, so perhaps there’s little point in debating you.

  9. Angel_Trumpet
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Ben, not everybody who questions aspects of your posts is a revolutionary classical music guerilla. It is fairly obvious from my post above that I work for a classical music MPAB company (and am not allowed to comment as a condition of my employment), and yet happen to agree with you wholeheartedly about the inequity of the current model in my post.

    I am sure most of the classical-music-defending commentors on your blogs generally have 1) a vested interest in the survival of their industry through their employment (or other association); and 2) also consume artistic and cultural products from many other areas such as literature, television, film and online media.

    So the issue appears to be how those with a vested interest in the status quo can work together with people like yourself and Marcus to lobby for a larger pie, as well as a broader approach to cultural policy that crosses government portfolios and industries. Any suggestions as to how that might be achieved?

    Nothing is black and white :)

  10. Eric Sykes
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Marcel Dorney:

    …”and it is a fact - that it requires more dedication and, yes, talent, to play Mozart”

    and it is a fact”…

    No MD it isn’t.

    Now, I know that’s worrying for you, that other creative practice can be just as demanding….I know that shatters your entire world view, but hey…..change happens, face it and get on with what you are good at. And try to show other artists the basic professional respect they demand and deserve.

  11. Ben Eltham
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink


    I wasn’t specifically replying to your post, which was a good one. But to take up your point, the major performing arts sector has already enjoyed the bulk of the increased funding since 1999, following the Nugent Report and the Strong Report. One of the consequences of the Nugent model is that the major performing arts board enjoys indexed funding, while the other parts of the Australia Council do not. In other words, year after year the major performing arts board enjoys a larger and larger share of the pie simply by dent of inflation.

  12. Angel_Trumpet
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink


    Although the MPAB enjoys a larger share of OzCo funding every year as a result of inflation, this isn’t a situation to hold against those that benefit from it. Even the flagship MPAB companies are struggling as the funding increases from OzCo are often not enough to meet rising labour costs. Several of the orchestras posted large deficits last financial year, for example, and are turning increasingly to philanthropy and sponsorship to make ends meet.

    Surely it is your intention to improve and increase funding opportunities (alongside the reestablishment of a New Media Arts Board), and also to ensure inflationary indexation across the board for all art forms and artists?

    Arts and cultural sector support is so far off the radar of most political leaders in Australia that they will only welcome public scraps (such as the comments above) over the pie and use this as another excuse to write us all off as ungrateful ‘artistes’ undeserving of further support and producing little value for society.

    Rather, musicians, dancers, writers, indigenous and ‘ethnic’ artists, visual artists, gamers, directors, screenwriters, ad agencies etc etc should be holding dialogues to decide how we would like to achive our ideal society and funding/support models in the future. (Heaven forbid it should turn into a 2020-style love-in though.)

    The alternative is a continuation of the current bickering multitude of artists who feel unloved and underappreciated, as the MPAB companies will always have a strategic advantage in campaigning and lobbying for funding through strength of numbers, as you have implied elsewhere.

    Name a time and place, and I’m sure there will be many willing to join a constructive discussion outside of the political arena as to how the younger generation of artists in this country would like to see change.


  13. Ben Eltham
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    AT -

    I’m in favour of greater public funding for the arts, yes. But I think any such support should be highly targeted and should be extended after a thorough review of current priorities. Areas which are currently not receiving any support, or minimal support, should be favoured over areas that already enjoy considerable subsidy.

    One place that any extra funding should *not* go to is the Australia Council’s major performing arts board - as I’ve mentioned, this part of the sector already enjoys substantial public largesse and has vacuumed up the majority of federal funding increases over the past twelve years.

    I’m aware of the struggles of some of the major performance organisations. But many of these will not be solved by more funding. For instance, the repertoires of the capital city orchestras are failing to attract younger audience members. As you mention, labour costs continue to rise. One response would be to pay orchestral musicians less or employ fewer of them. This was in fact a recommendation of the Strong Review (not acted upon, of course). Frankly, given the low wages and precarious working conditions in nearly every other sector of the arts, raising the labour costs argument is not calculated to produce a constructive

    The major performance sector certainly enjoys support, but most of it is institutional and structural. Ordinary artists are by and large excluded from the current system and many of them have little love for the big cultural institutions. They *do* hold the current situation against those that benefit. This is a much bigger problem for the Australia Council and the major companies than any are prepared to admit.

    What it gets down to, I suppose, is whether you think the current model is basically all right and needs a bit of a tweak, or whether you would like to see a wholesale reappraisal of the current inequalities. I sit in the later camp. I believe many others do too.

  14. Angel_Trumpet
    Posted Monday, 7 February 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Arguments also abound that public sector interventions in the form of subsidies/tax breaks/concessions/intellectual property rights represent unjustifiable interference in the free market, and that governments shouldn’t intervene in the case of such market failure at all. I’m sure we can agree that most of that is rubbish, or at least doesn’t suit our interests as a society :)

    It is well known that the orchestras and opera companies are struggling to attract younger audience members. There are however also market research studies showing that audiences for classical music have always been and always will be a little longer in the tooth than most arts audiences (sorry I can’t lay my hands on them at the moment but will search for them). Perhaps it just takes a few years under the belt before one is comfortable sitting still for an hour or two and contemplating whilst hearing music that is easier on the ear than JJJ’s Three Hours of Power?

    Couldn’t agree with you more that it was foolish to ignore some of the recommendations of the Strong Report with regards to orchestra sizes, as there are often many casual freelance players available in the capital cities when large-scale works are performed. However, Strong’s recommendations in particular to reduce the size of ASO to 56 and TSO to 38 players showed no grasp or perception on his part with regards to the size of orchestra necessary to function on a basic level in those two states.

    No doubt smaller orchestras will be the way of the future, with lower fixed costs and slightly higher variable costs to perform the odd large Mahler symphony.

    I’m aware that many feel disenfranchised and poorly-treated by funders; the musicians at Elision are a good example. Despite their undoubted excellence and innovative approach they have been forced to flee to Europe as they couldn’t find sufficient government or audience support here.

    Although of course it is desirable to have higher funding for many more artists, life at the top isn’t exactly rosy either, with salaries in most of the larger companies significantly lower than in other sectors. Keep in mind that many of the MPAB companies were branches of the public service until recently, and may well develop into more successful businesses over time as business acumen increases in the sector. Although it is easy to throw stones from an under- or non-funded position, programming to appeal to mass audiences (across all artforms) is difficult, and is surely not just a criticism that can be levelled at the larger companies?

    IMHO, the broader necessity is (and may remain for a while yet) that artists and other cultural workers find a way to make their voices heard publicly and in a reasonably unified manner. No politician concerned about reelection is about to step up to the plate and abolish the Sydney Opera, Australian Ballet, Sydney Theatre Co or ACO, and those organisations will always have government’s ear due to their influence.

    So it may well be a decision between with us or not at all for those lobbying for funding changes.


  15. Jezza65
    Posted Tuesday, 8 February 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Let me make my position totally clear, as far as I’m concerned Art is a completely subjective business, I do not care one jot what you like to see or hear, nor should I, your choice of preference is entirely up to you. I differ to none in my abhorrence of those who would thrust their particular barrow at me or you and insist it is the be all and end all and that we should have it in exclusion to all else.

    As a professional musician of some 25 years I will only talk about my own area of expertise. I see the biggest single impediment to positive outcomes for the future of the music industry is that the funding models are inevitably based on the opinions of some clique of self serving, egotistical, unemployable, ignorant public servants who see themselves as the self appointed guardians of taste and culture. The powers that be for too long have thrust their heads into the sand and ignored the unfortunate fact that throwing money at the “mendicant arts” (i.e. Opera, Classical, Ballet and increasingly Jazz) has done little to benefit the vast number of Australians whose livelyhood depends on this sector. While we have dithered about arguing amongst ourselves, the pie has shrunk and shrunk until it’s all but gone.

    Their is no other area of public funding and education which caters for the employment and industry development as poorly as that of the music industry. It is an absolute nonsense to create an army of classical and jazz musicians with no chances of employment other than a government funded position or as a mentor/teacher to create more victims to share their plight. Having worked for many years in music retail has taught me that the the music industry encompasses an army of people who are never ever considered by government.

    The music industry employs teachers, wholesalers, luthiers, manufacturers, technicians, retailers , printers, lighting and sound engineers, A&R, Radio and live production staff, publishers, recording studios staff, rehearsal studios staff, security staff , publicans , merchandising manufacturers, cleaners, food and beverage staff, accountants, managers, booking agents, publicists, promoters, Web designers and many more who DON’T EVEN PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT for a living. Quite apart from the incredible diversity of performers, bands, ensembles, etc who actually play to the public. The actual size and annual turnover of the industry as a whole is unknown, as the Departments for the Arts at a fundamental level, DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS.

    What we need is a fresh broad industry based approach that looks at funding, legislation, employment, and training in a sensible down to earth manner that will ensure that their will be an Australian music industry for our grandchildren to work in, rather than see the entire thing end up destroyed while we pathetically bicker amongst ourselves about what constitutes “high art” and “low art” (whatever that is).

    In the meantime if you want to support Australian music, go out and see some, have a beer and enjoy yourself. Your memories may be all you will have to pass on in the future of the days when Australians had a proud musical culture and heritage.

  16. JohnofOz
    Posted Thursday, 10 February 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    It has little to do with years of practice or whether the big end of town has too much influence. It is just industry support, which varies according to the economic benefits and the perceptions of value at the time. Major Arts Organisations will continue to be funded in the same way that the auto industry has been funded over the last forty or fifty years. Good. We need the major arts organisations more than we need a car industry. No one is guaranteed a job or a future. Funding should go where market failure exists, in areas such as arts education, indigenous arts or the funding of infrastructure. The creative impulses will bring about the developments we all seek, some high art some commercial. And so be it. There will be cross flows of immense value, and interactions of no value whatsoever. That is fine. Let the discretionary funds flow where there is real market failure. But let the industry support funds flow too. Private and Government. We need a vibrant and wealthy arts sector, from the MOD Dance Theatre to the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. From the Australian String Quartet to Film Australia. And we need Andre Rieu. No one is owed a living. Those worthy of a living will survive. But some will have to go under. For my (indulgent in the first few paras-sorry-) view, see http://johnofoz.wordpress.com/

  17. Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    But why does the overwhelming bulk of the subsidies go to the reproduction of the culture of the 19th century European elite in classical music, opera, ballet and theatre rather than, say, performing works by contemporary composers, choreographers and writers?

  18. Eric Sykes
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Gavin…..these are issues of cultural status and identity. The status awarded to particular means of expression above all others. In a colonial culture such as Australia the need to show that we are “as good as” overwhelms any serious investigation of contemporary, living, indigenous (in all senses of the word) culture.

    Indian artists and musicians strategically claimed the word “classical” after kicking the Brits out, the claiming of the word re-asserted an indigenous culture as having both a vast heritage and contemporary application in the search (ongoing) for post-colonial identity. We now refer to particular strains of Indian arts as “classical” (even tho they are never written down in the way Mozart was). So the status has been undermined, the socio/political strategy of the Indian artists has worked. Ravi Shankar is regarded, broadly, as a musical genius, whereas before independence he was at best “traditional” or merely “folk”.

    Australia could call Aboriginal arts, including dance, story and song “classical”. Much Australian Classical dance, story and song then doesn’t even factor as art in cultural policy terms, it is ineligible for any arts funding at all, because at best it is “traditional” or merely “folk”.

  19. Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    So why doesn’t Australia call Aboriginal arts, including dance, story and song ‘classical’? Or to ask the question in another way, who decides what is classical?

    I suggest that status, like other forms of privilege, is mostly but not entirely reproduced, even in so-called meritocracies.

  20. Eric Sykes
    Posted Friday, 11 February 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    In terms of our current system and without meaning to be flippant in any way I would argue that the decision rests with the Governor General (and as we already know, eventually, nothing will save her).

    Many republics have, after much struggle and after many generations, flattened out the status game….there is an equality of resource provision across “the arts”. The French have been particularly good at it ;-) and so are the Indians.

    Thus Mozart gets his due, but so does video installation. Imagine a contemporary arts organisation with exactly the same resources as the Australian Opera…this is in fact not unusual in Europe…but even the thought of such a thing in Australia is attacked as …well…undermining our entire way of life… ;-)

    Every time the contemporary or indigenous requests parity, they are attacked, very effectively by the imperial straw man. This stretches way back to the introduction of 78 records into this country, where the classical buffs lobbied ferociously to ban the importation of jazz discs (jazz of course undermines our way of life). But they couldn’t stop em; US Forces abroad flooded Australia with discs that had never been seen or heard here before. And in the history of Australian community radio, the allocation of licences went first to…yes…you guessed it…the classical stations ;-)

    And of course, Australian colonial classical music culture is, in itself, desperately conservative. I remember being asked to curtail a public lecture at the Victorian Arts Centre in the 90s because I had the audacity to suggest a talk about Stockhausen and his use of the tape edit…….

  21. Marcel Dorney
    Posted Saturday, 12 February 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Eric Sykes:
    “Now, I know that’s worrying for you, that other creative practice can be just as demanding….I know that shatters your entire world view, but hey…..change happens, face it and get on with what you are good at. And try to show other artists the basic professional respect they demand and deserve.”

    Eric, take a breath. The comparison that I made - the single ‘fact’ that I pointed out - was an attempt to rebut what I saw as a false equivalency with a fact that I’ve felt and observed at the level of my fingers and ears. Playing Mozart in what Mr Westbury described as a cover band requires skill and practice that playing Dragon in a cover band does not. So - just as much if not more so - do many other artistic practices, which are underfunded to a degree which insults the immense and lonely labour which goes into acquiring the skills necessary to practice them.

    My observation does not place Mozart ‘above’ anything, nor constitute an argument that orchestras should receive funding. But discussion of the cultural value of artistic skills has to include the method and difficulty of their acquisition: as opposed to arguing for their intrinsic cultural value via a mindset which you accurately describe as colonial.

    The points you’ve made about the cultural history of Australia and the residual colonial attitude to status reflected through funding are, I think, excellent.

  22. Angel_Trumpet
    Posted Saturday, 12 February 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink


    As a member of a Mozart cover band myself, I wouldn’t suggest that it’s easier to play Dragon than Mozart at all. Surely it’s all about the level of expertise one desires to reach in one’s art form? Will you now suggest that Jimi Hendrix, Paul Kelly, Radiohead, Jamiroquai, Elvis, the Stones etc (whatever your taste may be) do not or can not reach the same level of artistic skill or worthiness just because it is not the music you happen to hold in high esteem? Surely Jimi spent just as long perfecting his art form as you did, and yet he played in a band that ‘covered’ Star-Spangled Banner :)

    Comparing a funded symphony orchestra with a Dragon cover band is a provocative farce and you know it! Perhaps you might have taken a world class rock band that is both commercially and artistically successful as a comparison, considering that is the level our ‘Mozart cover bands’ aspire to? We won’t make any friends in the orchestras by looking down our noses at other artists and publicly firing offensive rockets :)


    As I’ve posted over at my blog this morning, the OzCo pie is only a slice of the whole shebang for the arts, which just happens to be dominated by the MPAB/lobby. There are also state and local bodies, other funders, tax breaks for philanthropy etc, which seem to be left out conveniently when it comes to discussing the plight of those artists who are not recognised or supported by OzCo’s funding.