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Government defends Enlighten Festival's unpaid mentoring program

The ACT government has defended an unpaid mentoring program offered during the Enlighten festival in the wake of criticism from local artists.

The mentoring program, advertised as a way to support young artists and develop skills, came under fire this week from several identities in Canberra's art circles who expressed concern at the use of exposure and promotion as payment for work.

The ACT government and Enlighten organisers Electric Canvas offered four artists – two from Canberra and two from interstate – as well as a fifth from the National Library of Australia a place in the program, during which they were mentored and had their work projected onto buildings during the festival earlier this month.

The expression of interest for the program noted "this opportunity is aimed at skills development and as such selected participants will not receive any financial remuneration", however, travel and accommodation expenses were covered for trips to studio sessions in Sydney and preview events in Canberra.

Established artists were welcome to apply, according to the advertisement, but one of the criteria stated successful participants would be "local or emerging in their career (including students)".

Artist and former You Are Here festival producer Yolande Norris said the idea of offering exposure as remuneration for emerging artists rather than payment was a major problem in the industry.

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"It's just a shame for a festival of that size and reputation perpetuating the culture of not remunerating artists and that's disappointing," she said.

Author Nigel Featherstone also spoke out against the decision, claiming Enlighten's contribution to the ACT economy was enough to justifying paying all artists for the festival.

"The ACT government should be leaders and lead by example and pay professional artists," he said.

"Artists can't survive by exposure."

Freelance writer and comedian Chris Endrey has also penned a column criticising the lack of payment.

The government's Arts, Events and National Arboretum director, Adam Stankevicius said the artists were aware from the outset that the mentorship would be unpaid.

He said the program was "developed to be consistent with the principles outlined in the Australia Council's handbook 'Getting Connected: Making Your Mentorship Work' ".

"The participating artists were appreciative of the opportunity, the skills they developed and the experience of seeing their work at the event," Mr Stankevicius said.

"The mentorship was considered a fantastic opportunity to meet professionals they would like to work with in the future."

Some 70 local artists involved with Enlighten were paid for their efforts during the festival.

Participants in the mentoring program were acknowledged both on the website and at the festival, according to Mr Stankevicius.

He said Enlighten's creative director "volunteered many hours to help transform each emerging artist's vision into a projection".