No other occasion in Australia best exemplifies the hyper-politicisation of the arts than the annual Australia Council for the Arts awards. This year, the recipients, though no doubt highly talented in their particular fields, ticked so many diversity and inclusion boxes that the Council might as well be done with it and call them the Annual Woke Awards.
The Lifetime Achievement in Literature, for example, went to writer and human rights advocate Arnold Zable, whose work is underpinned by the ‘rights and experiences of refugees and asylum seekers’. The recipient of the music award was William Barton, didgeridoo player, ‘proud kalkaduunga man’ and ‘distinguished artist of extraordinary musicality’. Over in Emerging and Experimental Art, Cat Jones, who ‘deals with concepts of sexual and gender politics, human and inter-species empathy, anthropomorphism, and science’ pocketed her $25,000 prize money.
The Visual Arts category was won by Vivienne Binn OAM, who was one of the ‘first artists in Australia to critically engage with feminism’. The Community Arts and Cultural Development award was picked up by Marianne Wobcke, a ‘Girrimay woman from North Queensland who was born on Wakka Wakka land’ and ‘third generation of Stolen Generation women’. Marianne, who is a trained nurse and midwife, has developed a practice called ‘Perinatal Dreaming’ which ensures that ‘all birth practices are culturally safe, using art as a tool for empowerment and expression’.
Last but not least, the Kirk Robson Award for Community Arts and Cultural Development went to Mama Alto who is a ‘jazz singer, cabaret artiste and gender transcendent diva’. According to her bio., Mama Alto ‘is a transgender and queer person of colour who works with the radical potential of storytelling’. Her stage show, Queerly Beloved, ‘was designed to heal some of the trauma that had been caused by the marriage equality postal survey’.
This list of winners proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the sole purpose of the arts in Australia is as a means to a political end. The pursuit of beauty for beauty’s sake has long been considered anachronistic. The elevation of the human spirit, the desire to aspire to something greater than ourselves, has been replaced with self-indulgent and predictably woke ideology masquerading as the arts, which is ultimately unappealing to mainstream Australians. This means that artists, musicians and performers can only achieve acceptability if they belong to a group, preferably representing a protected minority. Those creatives who choose not to play the social justice, intersectionality and identity politics game simply not do not get a look in.
Meanwhile, the Australia Council continues to maintain the fiction that it is committed to making the arts accessible to all Australians. But the reality is that this inner-city cabal is not interested in what the rest of the country would like to see performed on stage or displayed in galleries. It is no surprise, therefore, that there has been a decline in the percentage of Australians who support government funding of the arts. Yet, Australians are still being asked to dig deep into their pockets. The Coalition government has just promised the sector an extra $135 million. Last year, it spent a massive $2.5 billion on arts funding at a time when Australia had fallen into its first recession in 30 years and thousands of small businesses were going under.
You would hope that the federal government might exercise some degree of vigilance on behalf of the Australian taxpayer. Last year, as part of the Council’s ‘2020 Resilience Fund’, millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on a number of projects which were so absurd that one could not help but conclude that the end of Western civilisation is now a matter of ‘when’, rather than ‘if’.
Melbourne’s own Casey Jenkins came up with a project entitled Immaculate in which she was going to film herself performing monthly self-inseminations in order to ‘elevate the experience of queer reproduction and disrupt heteronormative parenting narrative’. Even the Arts Council baulked at this one and asked for its, or rather our, money back. Previously, Casey had knitted for 28 days using yarn placed in and drawn daily from her vagina to mark one full menstrual cycle.
In 2015, the Abbott government attempted to cut funding from the Council and diverted around $105 million to a new fund which saw grants decided by the federal arts minister. This meant that a democratically elected government was able to have more say about what was funded, rather than simply handing out a blank cheque for such projects. Unfortunately, the Turnbull government returned the funding to the Council, so it now operates on a ‘peer’ review process which means that public money is being dished out by the few to fund political and identity politics obsessions.
This elite was recently identified as ‘the cosy club’ by federal Minister for the Arts Paul Fletcher in a speech he delivered to members of the Sydney Institute. He implied that funding should be wrested from the hands of the progressive strongholds in inner-city arts companies who dictate culture in this country and that it should be transferred instead to popular organisations and events in the suburbs and regional areas.
Remarkably, Fletcher mistakenly appears to believe that the problem with this cosy club’s elitism is because it is interested in classical music. His solution, therefore, is that symphony orchestras and chamber groups should get less funding than, say, Lego Land or Harry Potter World on the grounds that the latter are more accessible to Australians.
But he is wrong. The Council does not inhabit a lofty and mysterious world of high culture. It does not care for Bach, Mozart or Wagner. It sees no use in funding someone to perform Greig’s Piano Concerto in A Minor or helping an artist who just wants to paint pictures which are free of identity politics.
Rather, the Council is only interested in the arts as a means by which to berate the public how irredeemably homophobic, sexist, racist and bigoted it is, and demand that that same public keeps paying for it, whether it likes it or not.
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Dr Bella d’Abrera is the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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