Funding Mozart cover bands just isn’t right

Photograph of crowd at Gallery 4A

If art is about creativity, then why does most of the government funding go to a few relics from the past?

Last night’s exhibition launch at Gallery 4A included reminders that contemporary art galleries struggle to survive: a begging bowl on the bar, and speeches studded with polite requests to become a member or make a donation, and genuinely thankful thank-yous to the private patrons.

Yet as Marcus Westbury writes in the Sydney Morning Herald today, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra gets nearly $9M funding annually — more than all of Australia’s visual arts artists put together. Or all writers and publishers. Or all the dancers.

Scathingly referring to the SSO and their ilk as “Mozart cover bands”, he writes:

Opera Australia receives more than $10 million a year from the Australia Council. Sure, opera is lavish, expensive and glorious but I simply cannot think of a single sensible, logical or sane reason why one opera company is valued roughly on par with more than 400 separate organisations supported by the music, dance, literature and inter-arts boards of the same organisation.

Great art to me creates a resonance and opens up possibilities; it isn’t the echoes of the past. It’s not something you reproduce proficiently. Art is made out of anger or curiosity or awe or beauty or because you’re in love or want someone to fall in love with you.

Artists don’t just preserve the past. They make new things from the sum total of human experience. They tell new stories and find new ways of telling stories from the tools and influences that they have around them.

Culture isn’t something that happened in Europe centuries ago that needs preservation. It’s actually all that messy, beautiful, inspiring and wonderful stuff that is happening around us right now. Arts funding should reward innovation not preservation and vibrancy over bureaucracy.

My my, Marcus! Put that sort of thing into the SMH and the entire arts-administrator industry will be a-flutter! Well done.