Flat White

How Dan Andrews is using covid as cover to kill the arts in Victoria as we know them

17 January 2021

7:13 PM

17 January 2021

7:13 PM

Victoria’s state budget cash splash is a boon for the state’s arts industries and a guarantee that they will continue to vote Labour for years to come. It’s a budget founded on the government’s underlying alliance with the construction industry and a continuation of the Kennett legacy known as the “Edifice Complex “. As the budget papers claim, it’s a massive new investment, that will permanently cement (sic) Victoria’s reputation as “the nation’s cultural capital. “   

It’s showtime -the biggest ticket item is more than $1.46 billion dollars (out of a total cultural spend of $1.68 billion) allocated to break ground on the ongoing transformation of Melbourne’s Arts precincts. I’m not sure how the network of Melbourne’s private galleries will feel but this tranche of money will be largely used to build NGV Contemporary, supposedly “the country’s largest gallery dedicated to contemporary art and design.“ According to the budget forecasts the $1.46 billion will create 5,000 new construction jobs that will, in turn, create  200 ongoing jobs in the creative sector. You don’t need me to interpret this equation.

In the edifice stakes the state marches on with what must be the fourth or fifth reconfiguration of  Australian Centre for Moving Image ( this one a steal at $40 million ), the State Library redevelopment , the Collingwood arts precinct ( who hired a CEO three years ago but the is still not yet open ) and the redevelopment of Geelong Arts Centre. This latter is part of an ongoing development of Geelong’s business district and part of a public relations campaign to persuade the citizenry that the city is liveable. According to Development Victoria the Geelong redevelopment is a better equation — 600 construction jobs to create 300 ongoing jobs in the creative sector.

If that all sounds overly city-centric then it’s more than balanced by attention to voters out in the regions.  There’s $34.7 million for regional infrastructure -including significant amounts in Kyneton, Castlemaine and Shepparton – because, as the budget states, it wants to bring art to “every corner of our state”. In addition, there is more money for Victoria’s screen industry($21 million), an additional $20 million for state-owned cultural institutions to “recover, adapt and meet the challenges ahead “and packages for independents hard hit by the shutdowns.

Plenty of commentators have had their say on the responsibility, or lack thereof, of state Treasurer’s maxing out their credit cards. In the grand scheme of a projected state debt of $150 billion Victoria’s cultural spend is but a crocodile teardrop in a vast ocean; it’s a spend that mirrors the same government tactics as level crossing removals – hang the expense, we will be seen to be active and out in the community.  

So much for the maths. Behind the figures and motherhood statements lurks another tale of the arts in Victoria, a state that operates according to a cultural strategy implemented by its chief instrumentality, Creative Victoria. The state’s first cultural strategy is about to expire, but the Creative Victoria website tells us that “work is now underway for the 2020 – 2024 cultural strategy “.

It’s currently a strategy dominated by the politics of “cultural diversity” and “creative equity”.  Various toolkits on the Creative Vic website advise how to remedy society’s injustices. Referencing the Human Rights Commission (which some might suggest was ignored during the state’s lockdown) its main standard bearer is a “First People’s Action Plan for the Creative Industries”. It includes a number of action items, including Putting First People’s First, initiatives to address the under representation of First Peoples in creative practices(Action 8) and ensuring organisations funded by Creative Victoria regularly report in the number of First People’s board members and senior employees and work within organisations to prioritise the appointment of First Peoples in leading roles and positions ( Action 12).

The politics of putting First People’s first is a hornet’s nest. Although many will empathise I wonder if it’s equitable. How will the official assessors at Creative Vic reconcile putting First People’s First with the principles of The Creative Equity toolkit on the same website? Murky waters comrades. The toolkit borrows from the British Council and focuses on the importance of establishing policies – Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism – to create a culture that tackles problems such as discrimination and privilege. Which form of discrimination becomes more and more evident the further you drill down into the site. The toolkit recommends an article entitled 100 Ways White People Can Make Life Less Frustrating for People of Colour, as a resource. Its written by one Kesiena Boom, a freelance writer for various outlets including Buzzfeed and Vice. In case you were wondering, her other articles include From Nipple Clamp to Voice Recording: 30 Foreplay Ideas to Mix Things Up. And what, pray tell, does Kesiena offer as advice in her article?

27/ If you go to an art gallery, notice how many works are by people of colour. If its lacking, make some noise, send an email, query the curator. White people shouldn’t have a monopoly on what can be considered “art.”

35/ If your upper or middle class try to avoid moving to an area that has historically been populated by low income people of colour. Gentrification tears communities apart.

I could point you to other examples including links to 27+ diversity and inclusion influencers you should know, but you get the drift. The ones who hold the purse strings are pushing a raft of social justice agendas, suggesting, advising, dictating the tone and content of highly politicised versions of society and history (or should that be her story.) 

I haven’t heard a contrarian peep from the arts community. Maybe they are all too busy writing their actively inclusive, racially equitable script in the expectation of a grant. If they get through the political hoops perhaps, they will be able to supplement their average income of $48,000, of which less than 50% is earned by creative pursuits. For many artists that’s the biggest issue screaming for attention. Meanwhile stand by Victoria, as Pallas and his mates dust off their black ties in preparation for the opening of another cultural edifice next to you sometime soon. 

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments