Support for the Arts

Cultural carpers who complains that arts grants from public funds always go to producers of modishly pretentious trash who display the correct ideological slant have presumably never tried to apply for a grant from the Arts Encouragement Board of the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang").

If they had they would discover that compared with that body the Australia Council and other state and municipal funding institutions are a model of even-handed eclecticism. Since the Arts Encouragement Board was set up – "to alleviate," in the words of Burchett Hill mayor Councillor Les Rhiannon, "the plight of local arts talent being suffocated by the need to earn a living" – it has awarded grants to one artist only, "sculptural destructionist" Brett Smale. Smale received 23 separate grants in the financial year 2010-2011 alone.

Yet even in Burchett Hill, where after years of Greens domination of the city council most citizens are inured to opacity in matters relating to public patronage, there has been some opposition to Smale’s monopoly of arts grants. Objectors have set up a "Reform the AEB" action group to demand fairer disbursement of municipal arts funds. "I hear what they’re saying," said Smale recently, adding that he was "happy to enter into serious cultural dialogue" with those who consider the Burchett Hill system unjust. A few days later two members of the action group found their cars used as the centrepiece of one of Smale’s "creative dismantlement tableaux". Another objector was reported missing until discovered trapped inside his home, which Smale had wrapped in tinfoil (under the title "Canned Suburbia" it won an extra municipal award for "redefining our perception of familiar objects"). Yet another noticed that the goldfish had disappeared from the pond in his front garden. He blamed the cat, until they turned up in a vitrine of formaldehyde in the window of an avant-garde Burchett Hill art dealer’s with Smale’s signature and "$100,000.00" on a discreet card. Several youthful composers, one a practitioner of "soundless music", who had had the temerity to apply for grants rushed screaming from the rehearsal room in the People’s Creativity Powerhouse (as the city’s arts centre is now known) when Smale exposed them to his multi-person animated performance sculpture "Street Battle in Homs with Rocket Launcher" ("terrifying brilliance, a work of enormous power" – Burchett Hill Bugle).

The AEB’s "chair", expensively groomed, bling- and Prada-clad Ms Larissa Heiss, denies there is any unfairness in the way grants are awarded and has labelled critics of the board’s assessment procedures "talentless losers". Stepping into her Porsche for the run up to her "weekender" at Palm Beach, Ms Heiss, who in private life is Smale’s "partner", said she didn’t have time to argue the point now, but that since only $102 was available for distribution in grants this year after her travel and "administrative" expenses had been met and Smale’s retainer as artist-in-residence (for the tenth year running) paid, she couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and anyway it wasn’t her problem. "Blame Howard and his cuts,"she said.

Christopher Akehurst blogs at Argus-online

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