CANBERRA’s arts community rallied in force outside the ACT Legislative Assembly at lunchtime today to make the point that, as one banner put it, “Art changes lives”.
Organised by the recently-formed Canberra Arts Action Group and led by arts writer and curator Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak, the event, held in front of ACT Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay and other members of the ACT Legislative Assembly, saw one of the biggest turnouts of local artistic luminaries in recent memory.
Spearheaded by a group of practising artists under the leadership of musician Michael Sollis, the demonstration derived from the announcement of surprise cuts to the Project Fund component of the ACT Arts Fund in December last year.
Wawrzynczak was quick to assert “we know we have a friend in the new Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay,” going on to explain that initially the cuts meant that only 14 arts projects were to be funded in 2017 compared to over 60 in previous years, until a group of concerned artists approached Mr Ramsay, who restored $230,000 of funding, amounting to 14 more projects.
But still, she said, the total amount of Project Funding in 2017 is only 65 per cent of what it had been in previous years, so the Canberra Arts Action Group has now set up a five-point online petition to seek reversal of cuts, to increase project funding and achieve a fairer, more transparent appraisal system.
Civic Square was alive with art for the short demo, in which dancers Olivia Fyfe and Alison Plevey were sprayed by actor Robin Davidson on stilts from a large watering can labelled “arts”. Sopranos Louise Page and Sarah Louise Owens entered into the artistic gardening exercise as they sang snatches of the “Flower duet” from Delibes’ opera “Lakme” to accompaniment from a small combo and the violin played by Tobias Cole.
Most of the banners borne by demonstrators were pointed and some witty. “Don’t break my art,” read one “I am an artist and I vote,” another said. Perhaps the most expressive was held by Dutch-born Canberra dancer Luke Mulders, whose one-word banner read “Kunst” – it’s the Danish, Dutch, Estonian, German, and Norwegian word for “art”.
Among the many senior artist spotted on the sidelines were ANU professor David Williams and former “Citynews Canberra” Artist of the Year Elizabeth Dalman, who each expressed relief and pleasure that such a lively bunch of younger artists were there to take up the cudgels in what seems to be to be the perennial battle for arts funding.
The petition can be found at canberraplusarts.com, and closes on April 21. Artists living beyond the ACT borders should look out for a special button to click on.
All photos by Martin Ollman.