Originally published in The Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 6 April 2022.
By Robert Morgan, Chair of the Australia Council.
Anyone who works in the arts is well accustomed to criticism. It comes with the territory. Indeed, a well-constructed critique can be just as illuminating and thought provoking as the work which is the subject of the criticism.
However, some of the recent criticism from the Institute of Public Affairs of the artists who have received Australia Council funding has been neither of these things. It has come from a narrow view of the world which puts political ideology ahead of creative freedom.
I have spent over four decades in the advertising business working with hugely talented and creative Australians. I know first-hand the power of creative expression to influence, inspire, entertain, motivate and engage an audience. And sometimes to make them squirm when faced with a difficult or challenging question.
Every year, the Australia Council invests more than $190m in artists and organisations across a wide range of art forms and creative endeavours. It’s actually a pretty modest contribution when you consider the economic and social dividend from a culturally vibrant nation.
From young writers to our world class performers and musicians; from the grandeur of our largest concert halls to the smallest country hall; our First Nations artists who bring 60,000 years of cultural expression through to those who have arrived on these shores more recently from diverse cultural backgrounds.
During 2020-21, the Australia Council supported arts activities that generated almost 17 million attendances across Australia. That is more than all of our major sporting codes combined. For over five decades now, the Australia Council has been supporting the development of our nation’s creative capabilities.
Many of the artists we have assisted have gone from humble beginnings to international acclaim in their chosen fields. Others are enriching the cultural life of the communities in which they live and work, in our suburbs, country towns, regional cities or remote First Nations communities.
All of them, in their own way, are using their creative skills and talents and making a terrifically important contribution to our quality of life, telling our stories and reflecting the Australian experience in all its diversity.
The legislation which governs the Australia Council requires us to uphold and promote freedom of expression in the arts, as well as promote community participation in the arts. We want the arts to be accessible to all Australians and to reflect our diverse society.
Our funding decisions are made at arms-length from government. That means that projects are supported on the basis of their artistic or creative merit, not the political preference of the day. It’s a long standing and fundamental principle that ensures we support a broad diversity of artists and art forms that reflect Australia and its people.
To be sure, not every project funded by the Australia Council may be to my liking, nor that of the Minister of the day or some ideological think tank or media commentators.
But thankfully we don’t live in the kind of country where the state sanctions the art and culture its citizens can enjoy and participate in. It does mean from time to time there will be artists and creative types who challenge, confront or infuriate us.
Robert Morgan is chair of the Australia Council for the Arts