OPINION: There comes a time in the ancient Chinese lingering execution, lingchi or Death by a Thousand Cuts, when the prisoner begs for the final stroke to end the torture – and life.
The good news is that the latest round of Australia Council four year funding grants shows that it is not there yet. Some essential visual arts publications have had their four year funding renewed, as have some exhibition spaces with a fair national spread.
From looking at what has been funded (and from hearing the start of news of those who have been eliminated) there is a sense that the meeting of the board that signed off on these grants must have been a grim one indeed. The full list of grants as announced by the Australia Council also gives access to the names of the assessors. Unlike the Ministry’s Catalyst program, decisions by the Australia Council are open and transparent.
There are some decisions that seem utterly inexplicable. Neither the Australian Centre for Photography (Sydney) nor the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne) have had funding renewed. Is there a bias against organisations concerned with one particular medium?
With two exceptions, exhibition spaces devoted to the broad spectrum of contemporary art have their funding continued, so Artpsace (Sydney), ACCA (Melbourne), the Institute of Modern Art (Brisbane), Perth’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Hobart’s Salamanca Arts Centre are all safe.
The exceptions are both in Adelaide: the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia and Australian Experimental Art Foundation.
It is not a good look that the national arts advocacy organisation, NAVA, which is also a significant source of information on artists' rights, has lost its funding. The Australian Design Centre has also lost funding.
The Australia Council’s careful management of severely limited funding has meant that some of the essential engines that enable art to be exhibited, performed and published may well just die anyway. Those that survive will be increasingly dependent on private philanthropy.
This may well be in sympathy with a government that likes its arts to be delightfully subservient, existing only to add a little soupçon of beauty to an otherwise dull and corporate life.
However those who understand that the creative arts are at their essence intertwined with creating knowledge and understanding see this as a further degradation of Australia’s intellectual capital.
It’s hardly “the most exciting time” to be in an Australia run by a government that is deliberately dumbing down its people.
Joanna Mendelssohn is Associate Professor, UNSW Art & Design and Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, at UNSW
This opinion piece was first published in The Conversation as part of an article on expert responses to Australia Council cuts.