Déjà vu in arts-politics forum

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Greens candidate Jo Clay: more artists in the Assembly?

THERE was a distinct air of déjà vu about the Zoom art and politics forum organised on Wednesday, September 9, by the Childers Group and Canberra Arts Action group.

On the virtual podium were Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay, retiring opposition spokesperson for the arts, Vicki Dunne, and aspiring Greens candidate Jo Clay.

The forum was very well attended, with 44 participants from across the ACT art spectrum visible at one stage, but the online format and the chat facility meant that few questions could be fielded in debate fashion after the formal statements by the political representatives.

Speaking from the comfortable and self-congratulatory position of incumbency, Minister Ramsay spoke of the importance of social connectedness in the time of Covid, his own philosophical position that “every single person is inherently creative”, and his view that the arts belong in the area of health and well-being.

He talked up the Labor government’s increased spending on the arts and pledged to work towards an arts facilitated recovery with a special emphasis on a “holistic creative industries policy”, a theme to which he returned several times.

Vicki Dunne, representing the Liberals, said, “We feel the arts have been shoved in the corner by poor decisions”, citing the defunding of initiatives like the music engagement program and the “H” course in music.

She said the ACT arts policy had not been revised since 2015, and needed to be “a living, growing document”.

“The Liberals want mass participation in the arts, she said, and as for grants, they needed to be more easily accessible – “We need to find that sweet spot”.

Jo Clay, speaking for the Greens, was the only one of the speakers who could claim to be a practising artist and talked idealistically about the connection between the arts and protest and the need for a longer term view of the arts, with more residencies and artist-led programs: “Arts give us connection”.

She also lamented the fact that the last Canberra Day had featured only 50 per cent of artists from Canberra.

Heeding the advice of moderator Alex Sloane to “keep it civil”, the participants proved exceedingly polite, with Ramsay, for instance, unwilling to take on Dunne’s assertion that Labor had allowed ACT arts facilities across the territory to become run down. And if, as Dunne suggested, he felt “embarrassed” that he hadn’t produced his own arts policy, he wasn’t about to admit it.

Questions from the floor related to public outcome of the role of the key arts organisations, a more artist-focused funding model and MusicACT’s drive for planning reform around peaceful cohabitation with sound and the creation of entertainment precincts or zones.

Then there was the age-old question, “Why does sports seem to get more funding and attention than the arts?”

It was indicative of the limits in such a forum that nobody had an answer – except maybe Clay, who thought it could be very different if there were more artists in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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