Three questions on the Arts Minister @artsculturegov: @burgewords #CreatingWaves

Photo: Stephen Siewert.

Photo: Stephen Siewert.

The federal Minister for the Arts has a standing invitation to participate in an interview for No Fibs’ Arts column #CreatingWaves. 

Contact was made with his office in January 2014, and I followed-up his staffer’s reply with full disclosure of my interview parameters.

I am keen to ask him about his government’s approach to independent artists in Australia; the rapidly changing digital and social media landscape which is giving these artists growing access to an audience (although exposure often comes at the cost of an income); and whether the fast-moving changes in technology impact on the scope and direction of the Arts Ministry.

In preparation for any forthcoming interview, I conducted a poll.

Not an official poll of any kind, mind you (they cost money), but one asking all the practising artists I know (including visual artists, performers, artisans, authors, and filmmakers who derive a level of income from their creative practice) about their knowledge of their Arts Minister and the role of the Arts Ministry in this country.

Many of them are award-winners in their field. They range in age from their 20s to their 70s. The majority of them use social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites etc. to promote and develop their work.

Who is the federal Minister for the Arts?

When asked to name the federal Minister for the Arts without researching, almost five months on from his appointment, the artists’ answers included:

“Simon Crean – but I’m sure he doesn’t have the job any more. I liked it when Peter Garrett was The Man”, (an actor).

“Brandis, who is also the Attorney-General”, (an actor).

“I’m ashamed to say I don’t know the answer”, (a musician).

“Blank”, (a jeweller).

“George Brandis”, (a filmmaker).

“Probably going to embarrass myself by saying, ‘I’m not sure!’. I know Arts is a big portfolio”, (an illustrator).

“George something? Or is it Tony still?”, (a singer).

Who is your state Minister for the Arts?

Then, just to add some perspective, I asked the artists about their knowledge of their state Minister for the Arts. Some of the results are:

“I thought it was Peter Garrett, but I know I’m wrong”, (a singer).

“George Souris”, (a filmmaker).

“I know George Souris is the NSW Arts Minister”, (a painter).

What does the Ministry for Arts do?

I then asked the artists about their understanding of the federal Arts Ministry. The answers included:

“Don’t know,” (an actor).

“Review arts and culture and its support and development in Oz”, (a singer).

“Funding!”, (an actor).

“To fund only a very tiny selection of those creatives in most need”, (an actor).

“They dole out money but have little clout, or they can never find enough dosh and are in bed with corporations”, (a jeweller).

“Promote and support the arts and the cultural life and advancement in Australia?”, (a painter).

“I believe the federal government gives the state some money that it divides up between theatre companies and bodies like Arts NSW, that in turn doles it out to people who have to compete for it by writing submissions. I think they probably both build buildings. I feel cynical about both, judge them as being user unfriendly, ill informed and uncaring”, (an actor).

“To support all major Australian artistic endeavours”, (a filmmaker).

The verdict

Unprompted, these artists added comments:

“Oh-oh, I know nothing!”, (a painter).

“Blissfully ignorant on all counts. 2014 is year of no TV, no politics and the antics of government. It depresses me. Not even reading the news these days! Shocking, I know”, (a visual artist).

“I’m useless and very humbled – thank heavens I’m anonymous!”, (an illustrator).

“Shame, shame on me that my I’m so ignorant at the moment when usually so switched on politically”, (an actor).

“What’s your article about? Dumb musicians probably”, (a musician).

“Isn’t it terrible – I don’t know the names of any of the arts ministers. I always seem to know when it’s a Labor government. Is this aversion?”, (an author).

The facts

George Brandis, Minster for the Arts.

George Brandis, Minster for the Arts.

The Honorable George Brandis, QC, is federal Minister for the Arts, in addition to his role as federal Attorney-General. He has occupied the role before, having served as Minister for the Arts and Sport in the final year of the Howard Government in 2007.

Mr Brandis is only the third Minister for the Arts as a Ministry in its own right, not attached to another portfolio, such as Communications, Sport and Tourism. The first was Simon Crean who took over from Peter Garrett.

This week Mr Brandis weighed-into the issue of digital technology as it relates to content creation and copyright. In a neat dovetailing of his two portfolios – arts and law – his speech to the Australian Digital Alliance forum put digital pirates on notice that some form of behavioral curb is being considered by the Abbott Government to crack-down on illegal downloading of music, movies and television content. Internet service providers have since flagged their wariness of the methods Mr Brandis has suggested.

Mr Brandis revealed a detailed Coalition Arts manifesto in an interview before the 2013 federal election, but has spoken rarely about his Arts portfolio since.

Australia’s Ministry for Arts is now listed under the banner of the Australian Government Attoney-General’s Department, in fine print, not bold, suggesting a sub-department of sorts has been created.

On its website, the role of the Art Ministry is described as follows:

“The Ministry for the Arts develops and administers programs and policies that encourage excellence in art, support for cultural heritage and public access to arts and culture.

“Work by arts and cultural organisations and artists can inspire and challenge us, provoke new thoughts and ideas, and give us fresh perspectives on the world. The Ministry for the Arts believes all Australians, whether in regional areas or major cities, should have access to artistic and cultural activities, performances and exhibitions.

“The funding and support we provide helps artists and organisations shape our cultural landscape, increase cultural diversity, and inspire, educate and entertain audiences across Australia and around the world.”

I look forward to discussing the unfolding impact of new media on these tenets with Mr Brandis.

The Ministry of Arts tweets @artsculturegov 

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  1. john921fraser says


    Not everyone can "download" thousands of dollars worth of books from the taxpayer.

  2. I wonder if Brandis has read The Book Thief.