Artists around the country are rejoicing as Malcolm Turnbull has dumped George Brandis as arts minister, as calls for his replacement to undo the damage done by the former minister dot the media landscape.
Mitch Fifield was named as the new Minister for Arts on Sunday, the former Assistant Minister for Social Services and Manager of Government Business in the Senate also taking over the role of Communications Minister.
Leaving a sad imprint on the arts, and Australia in general, Brandis’ short tenure as Arts Minister was marked by rampant cuts to the Australia Council and other arts funding bodies. While he was gutting these institutions, he was turning around awarding generous grants to for-profit companies like Melba Recordings and establishing his own funding body, personally overseen by himself.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Nicole Beyer, co-convenor of ArtsPeak, the confederation of national peak arts organisations spoke on big George’s time in office and what she and her fellow arts industry members hope from the future.
“I think [Brandis] was a terrible Arts minister; I think history will show that clearly,” she said, adding that “with the new Arts Minister, we ultimately hope that he will see sense and return the funding taken from the Australia Council.”
The funding in questions was, under Brandis, funneled into the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) a body created by the Abbott government and over which Brandis had personal control. With Brandis personally singing off on any grants, many members of the arts community were outraged at such direct interference from a minister and feared he would show favouritism towards the classical arts such as ballet, opera and the symphony. The NPEA is currently under review by a Senate inquiry.
However, as the new body has yet to be officially put into operation, Beyer says it’s not too late to return to funding to the Australia Council and other arm’s length arts bodies.
“Arm’s length funding has been proven to be a really great way to ensure a broad range of art gets funded, not just what the minister of the day fancies,” Ms Beyer, who is also the director of Theatre Network Victoria, said.
No news yet as to whether Fifield will heed to calls of the community and undo Brandis’ reforms, but stay tuned.