The first target was the Premier’s Literary Awards, including the unique David Unaipon Award for unpublished indigenous writers. Noting Doris Pilkington won the award in 1990 for Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, which was adapted for a film.
Within days of taking office, the awards were axed as part of the Queensland Liberal National Party’s (LNP) promised cost-cutting drive. And it’s not the first time the awards have been the subject of criticism by the LNP. Last year, the LNP took issue with the short-listing of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks’ controversial book for the Non-Fiction Book Award, suggesting any prize money may have to be confiscated under proceeds of crime laws. Then Premier Ms Bligh hit back at critics of the independent panel’s decision, suggesting the LNP’s then arts spokesman Scott Emerson was trashing free speech and “reducing himself to a book burner”. Saying further, “The day that we see Premiers intervening in things like literary awards and making themselves self-appointed judges of the artistic merit… then Queensland takes a step backwards, and it will never happen while I am Premier”.
Author Matthew Condon said the decision to scrap the awards was “spectacular in its idiocy” and described the prize money as a pittance. Suspecting the amount was similar to Queensland mining magnate and LNP benefactor Clive Palmer’s “cocktail onion bill for the year”.
The axing attracted fierce-witted criticism, including multiple comments directed at Dave:
“That’s exactly like going to buy a $14,000 car and going to another dealer to save yourself 25cents!
Or “So Dave, that’s a cut of 0.00053%. Or if you like, that’s $5.30 in a $1,000,000.00. Dave, five bucks in a million is not going to plug any leaks, it’s not even enough to buy a bung.
Eco-worrier | Sunrise Beach
I will happily pay for a literary award, if you pay for the Commonwealth Games.
Scot | auchenflower
“In Newman’s world, writing, bookstores, films and publishing are not real industries? These awards do not grow wealth and the skills of Queenslanders? [This] is not about money, it is about hatred of anyone to [the] left of Genghis Khan. …But a casino for Clive, don’t you worry that, already approved. [Good-on-ya] Ashgrove.
Kfish | Qld
“Once you’ve read the collected works of Ayn Rand, what is [there] left to read? If anything, this doesn’t go far enough. They should announce a new Book Burning Award, abolish libraries, ban the letter ‘T’.
Then youth music programs took a hit and public art took a lashing. Most notably Andy Goldsworthy’s Strangler Cairn 2011 for the Conondale National Park Great Walk: “An egg-shaped pile of rocks that will crumble into its environment has cost taxpayers almost $700,000 after being built in a remote section of national park near the Sunshine Coast”. Comments are mixed and at the Huffington Post, a little misguided by the description of the location, but include “if they spent that much on a bomb everyone would be cool with it”.
Nor did Yayoi Kusama’s Eyes are Singing Out 2012, installed in the public square facing the new Brisbane Supreme Court, escape criticisms by the LNP and Courier Mail; a newspaper that lost any vague resemblance of impartiality when it proclaimed that it endorsed Campbell Newman in the days leading up to the election. In an article re-titled The eyes have it in $1m psychiatric art attack, Des Houghton alludes to a heart attack while emphasising that Kusama has been living in a psychiatric hospital for 36 years.
In a re-hash by the same author the following day, Attorney-General and Justice Minister Jarrod Bleijie is credited with describing the Kusama as “puerile”. And a quote pulled out of context, “suggestive not only of a watchful public but also omnipotence, enlightenment and inspiration” is described as “breathlessly” “pretentious”. Far-fetched, within context it seemed pretty straightforward really:
Like much of her artwork, it uses symbols that can communicate across cultures. The disembodied eye featured in Eyes are Singing Out is a symbol that appears in many cultures throughout time, for example, in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is suggestive not only of a watchful public but also omnipotence, enlightenment and inspiration. Kusama reminds us that it is through the experience of sight that our humanity and our empathy for others are instigated and negotiated.
A self-proclaimed “traditionalist”, Bleijie doesn’t like the other works either. Despite both being reminiscent of frescos, in a contemporary architectural context, and one by an Indigenous artist.
Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda (aka) Sally Gabori was born during the mid-1920s on Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the late 1940s the island suffered a severe drought and high tides. The low-lying island became uninhabitable and the people were moved to Mornington Island: an event so traumatic that no babies were born/survived a generation. As such, Gabori is one of the last remaining speakers of the Kayardild language of Bentinck Island. Her original painting Dibirdibi Country, which brings together four beloved places in Gabori’s life, has been translated to the wall overlooking the Banco Court.
In reference to Gemma Smith’s work in particular, painted directly onto the ceiling, often lying on a platform in the same way Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Bleijie was quoted saying “White paint would have been good for me”. In another article by Robert MacDonald that reminisces about former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen he asks “Does that make him a philistine?”
In the latest instalment, the arts portfolio has suffered a number of “savage” cuts including $2.2 million from The Queensland Art Gallery (QAG | GoMA), $1.6 million from the Queensland Museum, and $12.4 million from arts grants. According to Arts Minister Ros Bates funding to the major arts organisations has more-or-less been maintained, and in some areas funding has been increased. Namely, the Queensland Ballet Company has benefited (by just $25,000). Interesting.
Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean immediately appeared the strongest advocate for a sector reportedly worth over $30 billion to the national economy, stating “Governments must view arts and culture funding as an investment not just a price tag” and that it’s “a short-sighted attack on an entire creative generation”.
Crean refers to tourism, one of the four economic pillars for the LNP. But for this incarnation of the LNP, tourism and culture aren’t inextricably linked. Others might argue that the culture of a city is the main attraction. Say New York: The Met, MoMA or both, and in my case a whole lot of other galleries, maybe a band at the Bowery Ballroom, multiple books from Strand Books and something to eat, perhaps Korean. Brisbane, with its causal, unpretentious, benign climate, offers attributes that benefit residents rather than tourists. The city doesn’t offer choices, emphasising the plural, it offers singular institutions and lacks the clash of urbanity. So why specifically tour the city? Again quoting Crean, “This budget from the Newman Government shows they just don’t get it”.
Most concerning is that the cuts reiterate that free and subsidised arts programs may establish a democratic taste for the arts: art is good, it is even good for the public, but it is not something to which the public is entitled. For art dealer Judith Paugh, commenting in response to a piece by Ben Eltham Who’s making money in art? Everyone but the artists for Crikey, art is a capitalist product. Paugh’s clients “take pleasure in the beauty of, or are intellectually stimulated by, the images and ideas in the paintings, sculpture or prints they have bought”. Ultimately, arts funding is supported, governed, dictated, whatever, by the private patrons that can afford it.
But this is just one issue amongst many. Late last month, the 160-year-old spirit of a Westminster public service was destroyed when one of the most contentious pieces of Queensland legislation abolished the permanency of employment. A core principle of a professional civil service in which workers could offer frank advice to political masters without fear or favour in exchange for the withdrawal of other rights, such as the liberty to speak publicly on political issues.