A Facebook and Twitter campaign by the arts community that aims to depose federal Arts Minister George Brandis and undo his plans for a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) is gathering momentum.
In the May budget, Mr Brandis redirected $105 million of Australia Council funding into the newly established NPEA, to be administered directly by the Ministry for the Arts.
Under the revised grant program, grants would be offered to organisations – not individual artists – with more money flowing to the large performing arts companies, such as Opera Australia and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and away from small to medium-sized arts organisations. Under the new model there would be fewer funding rounds and less money available.
Orchestrated by Australians for Artistic Freedom under the hashtag #freethearts, the social media campaign has issued a plea to newly-minted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to sack Mr Brandis and hand back funding to the Australia Council.
The post said:
“Hey everyone. We need as many people as we can to write to Malcolm Turnbull today and call on him to ditch George Brandis and the NPEA and send the money back to the Australia Council. “Maybe he [Turnbull] would like to take on being Arts Minister?
“This is our chance to get this thing fixed right now so spread the word and gets lots of people onto[it] as soon as you can.”
The Arts Minister has been widely criticised by the arts community for his abrupt funding decision, with many accusing him of compromising the Council’s deep knowledge of the arts and its independence when making funding decisions.
Some have also attacked the minister for attempting to fund pet projects to the detriment of the smaller arts companies, arguing that these have been the springboards for major industry players in the past; including theatre and film director Neil Armfield, who started out at Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre Company, or Circus Oz stage director Debra Batton, who began her career at Legs on the Wall.
But the campaign’s chances of success appear slim. Mr Brandis publicly declared his support for Mr Turnbull before Monday night’s vote and #freethearts will not be a lone voice of appeal. Mr Turnbull has already been bombarded with requests to undo some of Tony Abbott’s work since he replaced him as Prime Minister earlier this week, with calls on him to reverse cuts to international aid, parental leave, family payments and the Medicare safety net, among a host of other pleas.
The appointment of Mr Brandis as Arts Minister has already spawned an explosion of social media activity, including Twitter account #Theartofbrandis, which positions Mr Brandis in a range of satirical poses with comedic headlines.
There is a senate inquiry currently underway into arts funding, which is due to report on 26 November. The inquiry will examine the potential impact of Mr Brandis’ funding decision on individual artists, emerging artists, small to medium arts organisations, private sector philanthropy and the Australia Council, among other bodies. It will also look at the NPEA’s funding criteria and processes.
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