The river or the boat?

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  • Published 20090303
  • ISBN: 9780733323942
  • Extent: 256 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

LIKE TINY TERRORISTS, a slew of toxic memories from the last twenty years swarm through my mind when considering Australian culture in the abstract. 2004: I attend a sponsors’ dinner at the Melbourne Theatre Company, a posh affair with a well-known investment bank. I talk to an executive, a keen theatregoer, about a show we have seen. We express our admiration for an actor in the production. ‘She did well,’ I say. ‘The problem,’ he replies, ‘is I have no idea what that means.’ 1997: Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett acquires a reputation for phoning Arts Ministry clients out of the blue, often the personal mobiles of artistic directors. People joke, but word is you had better take the call – and take it seriously. 1994: I read Framing Culture by Professor Stuart Cunningham, from Queensland University of Technology, a book that ‘brings together Australian cultural and policy studies in a lively and innovative way’.

I digest sections on advertising, pay TV and media violence. On the arts, there is nothing. 1993: I read the House of Representatives McLeay report, Patronage, power and the muse. It declares: ‘The Committee does not accept that artists should have the final, or even the principal, say in grant or policy decisions. The purpose of arts support is to advance the public interest rather than the interest of artists … This requires more than an assessment of artistic merit.’ Dorothy Hewett calls the report ‘simplistic, patronising, uninformed and destructive … The suspicion of artists and reliance on control run deep in our over-governed and anti-cultural society.’ 1992: my company, kickhouse theatre, folds and I start a PhD at La Trobe University.

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