Friday, November 14, 2014

The Melba Foundation and the saga of the magic money

Welcome to the long saga of the Melba Foundation and the magic money.

The natural bias of the current Australian Government in its support for arts and culture was accentuated in its recent decision to refund the Melba Foundation through processes which are being called, at best, opaque. There have been complaints of lack of transparency but it seems completely transparent to me. Let’s cut through the officialese. I presume the Melba Foundation hit Minister Brandis for funds, as it was always certain to do once the Government had changed and there was no longer a Minister with a particular interest in popular music. Brandis agreed because the Melba Foundation is his sort of arts organisation.

Cockatoo Island - music island, a home to a great diversity of musical expression. Once there was no longer a Minister with a particular interest in popular music, the Melba enterprise was back in the game.

I’m sure the Melba Foundation is a very worthy cause and the Minister is quite within his rights to decide to fund it. The issue is whether it should be receiving extra funding in place of many of the other worthwhile projects around. Like most of the other projects and organisations that are close to the heart of this Government, the Melba Foundation is one of the best placed of all arts organisations to reach into the philanthropic bucket so beloved of government, whichever party makes it up. Many other small arts and cultural organisations are far less well placed.

The other question that inevitably arises is where did the money come from and where will it now not go? According to the grandly named Ministry for the Arts, ‘funding was distributed through the Australian Government’s Arts and Cultural Development program.’ This could potentially encompass many different sins best not delved into too deeply. Ministers of both parties have a well-known history of raiding any funds that are not completely committed to fund their personal favourites or whims of the moment. It may not be fair but who can blame them? It keeps the constituents happy and makes for grand announceables.

Appearing and disappearing faster than a white rabbit
This decision represents the latest stage in what has been one of the most controversial and contested funding decisions in the arts. Here’s a few links to help track this history of magic funding – money that seems to appear and disappear faster than a white rabbit depending on who’s in and who’s out.

'New funding to Melba Recordings'

'Abrupt funding cut for music label'

'Boost for Melba Foundation'

In the sparse environs of the last budget – so near, yet so far now – the only other significant funding decision announced by this Government and its self-important Arts Minister was support for the Australian Ballet School. As I said at the time perhaps the money will be well used but it did seem to be such a cliché that the only extra funding in the budget in these notoriously tight times was for a mainstream, traditional, well-established institution.

As I also said at the time, referring to regional arts funding, it’s all the big end of town rather than the small end of country – a pity given Brandis’ avowed support for regional arts.

This is a consolidated version of an earlier post to my Facebook page 'indefinite article'.

See also 

An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future
‘My blog “indefinite article” is irreverent writing about contemporary Australian society, popular culture, the creative economy and the digital and online world – life in the trenches and on the beaches of the information age. Over the last ten years I have published 166 articles about creativity and culture on the blog. This is a list of all the articles I have published there, broken down into categories, with a brief summary of each article. They range from the national cultural landscape to popular culture, from artists and arts organisations to cultural institutions, cultural policy and arts funding, the cultural economy and creative industries, First Nations culture, cultural diversity, cities and regions, Australia society, government, Canberra and international issues – the whole range of contemporary Australian creativity and culture’, An everyday life worth living – indefinite articles for a clean, clever and creative future.

Things could be worse
‘The problem is not just the level of arts cuts, which may well be lower than in many other areas. It’s the nature of the cuts.’ After the Budget: things could be worse


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