Arts / Canberra artists rally outside Assembly

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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”.

Robin Davidson on stilts ‘waters’ the artists with art, Owens and Page, r., sing from “Lakme.”
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.

Arts Minister Ramsay, third from left, watches on
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.

Demonstrators make their point
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, 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.


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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor


  1. The turnout was, in truth, small–a gaggle of passionate artists [myself included] largely under-supported by a general public [where were you in your lunchtime, oh arts supporters??] who understand the deep relationship between arts, health, democratic expression, and prosperity. Yes, Gordon Ramsay ‘restored’ $230,000 of funding, but he [recently-elected as he was] is not responsible for the original loss of funding in the first place. This loss was due to a long-standing disrespect for professional arts practices deeply embedded in ACT Arts policies [which I have witnessed over the 16 years I have lived and tried to make work in the ACT].

    Mr Sollis and Ms Doyle Wawrzynczak will be amongst the first to acknowledge that many of us have challenged the condition [and lack of consideration] in ACT arts funding for many years. What was fantastic about today’s small but effective demonstration is that there is a COLLECTIVE of artists committed to no longer taking abusive disrespect of our profession lying down. Dancers Plevey and Fyfe were ‘resurrected’ by the watering/hopeful increase of arts funding [read: RESPECT FOR THE ARTS!!!].

    Art is a gesture which captures the passions and compassion of a community to understand why we live on this planet, how we relate to each other, why we bother to continue. It is both a soft and strong profession–a bath, and a bomb in our consciousness and conscience.

    And….like so many PAID jobs out in our community…it is also…filling in forms; budgeting and accounting; childcare, childrearing; educative of young and old; responsive to health-care needs; respectful of differences; nourishing [like food]; essential, and …yes, beautiful.

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