Childers Group forum details vision for ACT's arts future and funds

Childers Group forum details vision for ACT's arts future and funds

Trams as mobile public artworks, living wages to support artists, and the need for an Indigenous multi-arts centre.

All sorts of suggestions came out of a packed forum at the Gorman Arts Centre looking at future arts priorities in the lead up to the 2016 ACT election.

Opposition arts spokesperson Brendan Smyth said the Canberra Museum and Gallery was too small and not fit for purpose at a forum into the future of arts in the ACT.

Opposition arts spokesperson Brendan Smyth said the Canberra Museum and Gallery was too small and not fit for purpose at a forum into the future of arts in the ACT.

Photo: Melissa Adams

But arts funding remained the key concern and none of the ACT MLCs present committed to an increase if elected.

The forum, hosted by arts advocacy organisation, The Childers Group, on Wednesday night brought together a panel of movers and shakers of the ACT art world with newly-appointed Arts Minister Chris Bourke, Greens arts spokesperson Shane Rattenbury and opposition arts spokesperson Brendan Smyth.

Mr Smyth said arts funding had gone backwards in the ACT over the past decade and a discussion was needed at a grassroots level to fix the problem.


But he didn't commit to increasing the territory's arts spend, instead saying it was up to governments to create the right environment for artists to thrive and contribute more to the economy, a sentiment Mr Rattenbury agreed with.

Mr Bourke said the arts employed almost 6500 people, equivalent to 3.1 per cent of total employment in the ACT.

But Mr Smyth said the territory was underperforming when compared to national averages, with the arts accounting for about 8 per cent of national employment.

Panellist, author Paul Daley, questioned why the ACT arts fund had not been increased beyond CPI since 2005, despite a growth in the arts' contribution to the economy.

Mr Bourke said the government was going through the budgetary process, but further leverage could be gained from local businesses to boost the arts – he cited making light rail carriages "moving pieces of public art" to showcase work of local artists as an example.

Mr Rattenbury said the ACT government budget was under pressure, but had to make decisions about whether it was better to fund capital infrastructure, such as an extension to the Belconnen Arts Centre, or provide money for individual projects to support artists.

Mr Smyth said the ACT was in need of more infrastructure and was without a state library, theatre or gallery.

"I think CMAG is fabulous, but it's too small and doesn't serve the purpose," he said.

Another panellist, visual artist Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, questioned why the ACT was the only jurisdiction without a dedicated indigenous multi-arts centre and called for its inclusion at the Kingston Arts Precinct.

The future of the much-anticipated arts precinct was also questioned by Mr Smyth who said he feared the residential developments planned for the area would become too expensive for the artists using its "marvellous facilities".

Mr Rattenbury said a recent rise in noise complaints caused by a clash between urban infill development and live entertainment, particularly at the foreshore, highlighted the need for defined entertainment precincts.

"It begs the question, you moved into a building above a pub, what did you expect was going to happen?," he said.

Another panellist, art historian and curator Helen Ennis, questioned why local and national arts institutions didn't work closer together.

Mr Smyth said Canberra needed to get over its cultural cringe, with few local artists showcased in centenary celebrations.

Mr Rattenbury said federal funding cuts were forcing the national institutions to cut "the luxuries" of local outreach programs.

He called for a discussion around arts funding allocations in the ACT in the lead up to the election, so mistakes made at a federal level by former Arts Minister George Brandis wouldn't be repeated.

"Currently they're accessed by a review panel which is a good sign but bureaucrats and ultimately the minister have the final sign off," he said.

"Having seen the Canberra Liberals response to the Nazi burlesque at the Fringe Festival a couple of years ago I'm more certain then ever I don't want politicians making arts funding decisions."

Clare Colley

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review.

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