Jean Battersby, the founding executive officer of the Australia Council of the Arts from 1968, delivered a lecture in May 2005 which bemoaned a situation in which the focus and funding of the arts appears to have more to do with managers than with artists. Cultural policy and cultural economics have become the staple of the day, so much so that the thought of an economist actually proposing an Arts Council protected from political manipulation and scrutiny—‘with antennae sensitive to public opinion or political advantage’ and ever ready to apply the ‘child of three’ test (Battersby, 2005: 2)—seems an absurdity. Yet, in July 1945, Maynard Keynes proposed that Britain have an Arts Council without government and its bureaucracy intervening in the relationship between artists and their public. The task, as Battersby records it, ‘is not to teach or to censor, but to give courage, confidence and opportunity’ without prescription (2005: 6).
Half a world away, in December 2004, we find the Australia Council proclaiming itself the ‘arts catalyst, playing a proactive and leading role in driving improvements in the arts sector’ by way of altering its organisation (2004: 1). Battersby’s astonishment is palpable. Surely, as Keynes recognised, artists are the catalysts:
In answering this question, this paper aims to question some of the seminal ways in which the nexus between management and culture have been discoursed and conceptualised during the preceding decade, the so-called entrepreneurial ‘nineties. We shall highlight key trends and tensions within Australian government, industry, and the arts during that period by considering four facets of the decade. Firstly, there is the refusal or inability to define the arts and their relationship to culture, the repercussions of which continue to mark public discourse in potent ways. Secondly, there is the nature of the prevailing neo-liberal or ‘economic rationalist’ creed whose impact has dominated the very terms by which government and industry, let alone art and culture, have been articulated. Thirdly, there has been a systemic mercantile sponsorship of the arts, the growth in which has been overtly induced by successive federal governments. Finally, there has emerged a legacy of deep divisions within the ‘art world’ which, even if not solely perpetrated by its management, nonetheless needs to be faced.
A Decade for Avoiding Definitions
Surveying the various genres of the literary arts in particular by the final decade of the nineteenth century, Pierre Bourdieu (1996: 114-116) reminds us of a world not unlike our own. Two hierarchies exist simultaneously–the aesthetic and the commercial–each an inversion of the other. At the economic summit stands theatre, proving highly profitable for a very few whose ‘cultural investment’ is relatively small and, if successful, highly entertaining for a great many whose ‘cultural investment,’ too, is relatively small in the eyes of communal arbiters of taste. Poetry, by contrast, languishes at the base of the hierarchy, securing next to no profit for its few practitioners. At the midpoint lies the novel, potentially profitable for the relatively large numbers of its practitioners, providing, however, its appeal extends beyond the confines of the bourgeois literary world. Aesthetically, the reverse holds: poetry, the romantic artform par excellence, retains its pre-eminence whilst ‘almost totally devoid of a market’ (1996: 114) whereas theatre, publicly acclaimed in the mass media and honoured by governments, occupies the opposing end. Bourdieu claims that an economic principle of differentiation is at work here in at least three respects:
Yet, having claimed that, have we not rushed into too close an identification of the arts with culture at large? Symptomatically, Colin Mercer (1998a), not unlike earlier commentators such as Hilary Crampton (1992) or Raymond Purdey (1992), is quick to note how the first major statement by the federal government in April 1992 attempted to integrate ‘culture in its more specific sense’ as ‘intellectual and artistic activity’ with ‘culture in a broader sense’ as ‘a whole way of life, in both its material and spiritual dimensions’ (1998a: 10-11). Whilst acknowledging that the specific sense is presumed to be a function or subset of the broader sense and that the specific includes ‘the practice and appreciation of music, the visual arts, literature, theatre, cinema, the preservation of our history and heritage,’ Mercer identifies the lack of explicit reference to, say, the electronic media as stemming from the political assignment of the latter to another arm of government, namely, transport and communications (1998a: 11). At this juncture, he observes that the April 1992 statement redefines ‘culture’ for ‘contingent, pragmatic and political reasons’ (1998a: 12). However, Mercer then continues, ‘our inability to define culture in terms of some universal essence’ is not worrying since the ‘meaning of culture’ is not at stake; rather, we should take a ‘pragmatic’ approach where ‘culture is what culture is defined as being’ to enable us to focus upon ‘the ways in which meanings of culture are used in the planning and policy domain’ (1998a, 12).
Well known to those familiar with this period, that same 1992 paper issued by the then federal Department of the Arts. Sport, the Environment and Territories summarises governmental policies and goals in terms of five central issues. These range from
But whether one can even begin to embark upon such questioning without enquiring
about the notion of culture itself seems a moot point. Somewhat covertly, the 1992 statement itself recognises the potential impasse when, after vaguely alluding to culture as ‘increasingly being seen as having an economic dimension,’ it predicts the major policy issue for the ‘nineties in the following terms:
Why the reluctance to investigate the nature of culture? Mercer himself suggests two overlapping reasons. Firstly, there is ‘our inability to define culture in terms of some universal essence fixed for all time’ (1998a: 12). Yet whether such an inability is, for instance, linguistic or logical, psychological or sociological, is not actually specified. Secondly, there is ‘the relativism of cultural understandings’ where western thought since the latter part of the eighteenth century possesses ‘a number of ways of talking and writing about what we define as art’ but whose ‘capacities’ need not be shared by ‘every other cultural system’ (1998a: 13-14). Perhaps unwittingly, this reason seems to conflate culture with humankind’s variable capacities or skills of cognition and discourse. Nonetheless, the cumulative force of both reasons understandably allows Mercer, in his other contemporaneous paper at the decade’s end, to focus on what counts as culture and to include activities associated with
Leaving aside the occasional circularity, if not sarcasm, cited above, perhaps much of the difficulty afflicting discussions of culture and its connection with the arts in the ‘nineties is fundamentally a conceptual one. The disputes endemic to cultural policy are centred upon ‘essentially contested’ concepts, a notion initially depicted by W.B. Gallie in the mid-‘fifties (and subsequently modified by others). Appeals to ‘art,’ ‘culture,’ and even ‘democracy’ in the public arena are appeals to concepts which are typically ambiguous and general, evaluative and vague, and which are open to modification as circumstances change, yet whose exemplars, be they historical or other, provide no immediate or self-evident reason for accepting or rejecting any proposed interpretation. Typically again, parties to the dispute oppose each other’s particular use of the term to describe the complex achievement or enterprise, entity or practice instantiating the given concept. So, rather than finally dissolving the dispute as little more than a terminological difference, the disputants continue to insist that their use is the proper one and that the others’ uses are incorrect.
Such disputes need not be purely academic. For example, in conversation with Melbourne art dealer Brian Kino in September 1998, the question of what makes an artwork valuable arose. Kino nominated nine features. In order, they were the work’s identification, condition, rarity, provenance, history, size, fashion. subject-matter, and, last of all, aesthetic quality. We were then interrupted by an eavesdropper insisting that this was true of anything one might care to collect, from molluscs to marbles, and so challenged the very standing of the arts. Similarly, it would seem, Mercer’s open-ended response above to what counts as culture invites disputes characterisable as essentially contestable, whether stemming from governmental quarters or any other, and therefore enabling mooted definitions of culture to broaden or narrow in scope over time.
A Decade Gripped by Ideology
Is the presence of essential contestedness the reason why Antipodean debates about art and culture in the ‘nineties seem so repetitive? Or is the inability to resolve what constitutes culture and what constitutes art so persistent because we are dealing with that peculiar blindness that aff1icts people in the grip of an ideology or a theory? Or are we misled into thinking that disputes in the public sphere are actual, rational debates when they may well be verbal manifestations of struggles for power by the disputants and their respective supporters?
If, unlike Gallie, we were to answer the foregoing questions affirmatively, then we need to examine the dominant ideological thrust of the decade. Virtually neglected by the burgeoning list of publications in the sphere of cultural economics and arts management is the pervasive adherence to neo-liberalism or ‘economic rationalism’ by a succession of conservative, if not reactionary, federal governments throughout the ‘nineties. A cursory glance at such collections as The Leadership Challenges for the Cultural Industries is a case in point. Here, for all the anthology’s cognisance of the polysyllabic jargon of the day—‘restructuring,’, ‘re-engineering,’ ‘rationalisation,’ and the like–only one passing mention is made by Ruth Rentschler and Elizabeth Creese of ‘the discourse of managerialism, where the dominant model is economic rationalism and quantifiable outputs’ (1996: 5). Indeed, neither of the major local works on cultural policy at the beginning and the end of the decade, namely, Framing Culture by Stuart Cunningham (1992) and Art and Organisation by Deborah Stevenson (2000) respectively, makes a concerted, systematic attempt to appraise ‘economic rationalism.’
Yet the ‘nineties was inaugurated by a prolonged exchange over the provocative contentions of Michael Pusey that the dominant ‘economic rationalist’ ideology, partly promoted by the demise of liberal education amongst the ruling class and intelligentsia influencing public policy, became ‘distilled into contests over the proper “role of the state” and of its relation to “its” society’ (1991, 14). According to Pusey, the ‘economic rationalist’ doctrine may be formally defined as an unyielding adherence to the proposition that ‘markets and money are, at least in principle, the only reliable means of setting a value on anything; or, alternatively…markets and money can, again, at least in principle, always deliver better outcomes than governments, bureaucracies and the law’ (1994: 1). In practice, the laissez-faire prescriptions arising from this central doctrine have seen an accelerating re-distribution of wealth, resources, and power during the ‘nineties from the public to the private sector, from individuals to corporations, from consumers to producers. It has also witnessed a noticeable reduction of fiscal support to those communal and public institutions devoted to health and welfare, media and education, often accompanied by systematic challenges to their legitimacy. At the same time, ‘economic rationalist’ appeals attempt to project blame upon past policies for a marked fall in standards of living amongst the chronically insecure majority of the populace reflected by unacknowledged mass un- or under-employment, by increasingly de-skilled or casual labour, by pervasive consumer debt, and by poorly serviced, outer suburban ghettoes. To cite Pusey again, the decade has been dislocated by ‘a series of reductions, namely, that needs reduce to wants; that social welfare reduces to the welfare of individuals; that the individual is the self-sufficient judge of his/her own welfare; that the welfare of individuals cannot be compared’ (1992: 46; 1991: 226). In sum, the ‘economic rationalist’ creed is ‘caught within projections of reality that give primacy to “the economy”’ since it mistakes ‘the need for an immanent logic’ for ‘an immanent logic of needs’ and ‘tries to neutralise the social contexts…in every area’ (1991: 10, 21 & 11). It results in a rampant utilitarianism that
A Decade for Systematic Private Sponsorship
Although less than 0.05%–less than one in two thousand–businesses sponsor the arts and cultural activities and events (as official 1996/1997 data culled from Ingram (1999) reveals), of those businesses involved in sponsorship apart from medical and allied areas, 64.7% in number provide 70.7% of funds to sport whereas 8.3% in number provide 7.3% of funds to art and cultural activities. Combing through the available data regarding charitable trusts and major patrons towards the end of the ‘nineties, the figures provided by Cromie (1998) suggest a similar proportion of total funds distributed to the arts and cultural activities. Whilst the arts find almost ten times their funds are directed at sports, the ‘nineties has been a decade in which trends in sponsorship by the private sector–notably but not exclusively, the major financial and insurance, legal and property, telecommunication and utility interests—have followed North American and West European practice.
The British consultant, Camilla Boodle, has argued that international companies with ‘a culture of sponsorship…often transfer that culture if they buy businesses elsewhere,’ not only because ‘they tend to benchmark from head office,’ but also because of the realisation that the arts can offer them far more than ‘simply exposure’ (in Turner, 1998: 19); something more than equating signage at a stadium to posters on a proscenium arch. Boodle contends that the arts can resolve issues of philanthropy–presumably speedily and diplomatically; they allow for ‘corporate positioning and entertaining’; they can enhance ‘employee training and motivation’; and they cater for specific audiences by way of ‘niche sponsorships’ and local, rural, or regional programmes (in Turner 1998: 19)—which, we might add, enables direct mailing to their subscribers. Furthermore, the growing trend towards fewer but larger sponsorships since the beginning of the ‘nineties was eventually formalised by both the Gonski Advisory Committee of May 1999 on taxation deductibility for ‘cultural gifts’ and the Nugent Report of December 1999 on governmental funding ratios for and the hierarchical standing of the performing arts across the continent. In this context, as Craig Richards (1998: 21-49,320-332 & 332-342) and Fiona Smith (1999: 49-59) disclosed, corporate sponsorship, nowadays aided by advertising and public relations agencies, has come to be regarded more and more as a “marketing and communication” tool. Both parties, the corporations and the agencies, remain aware of the need for measurable, observable consequences of any business interest in the arts. The effectiveness of such interests can be assessed, for instance, by the frequency of being mentioned by radio and the press, by having signage, logo, or brands at events and in accompanying brochures and programmes, by being recorded on linked television and internet coverage, and/or by surveying the resultant change not only in consumers’ purchasing patterns, but also in their perceptions of sponsors or allied commercial interests.
This shift from previously sporadic towards systematic involvement in the arts by the private sector has been explicitly encouraged by federal governments in the throes of withdrawing or at least reducing their subsidies to the arts in accordance with their ‘economic rationalist’ predilections. Nowhere is this more pointedly demonstrated than in the Barbara Bridges’ 1998 pamphlet, Dancing as Fast as We Can, prepared for the federal Department of Communications and the Arts. The ministerial foreword is quick to extend the ‘arts organisations’ being addressed into the ‘cultural community’ at large and ‘corporate sponsorship’ into ‘commercial partnerships’ in a context where ‘the economic landscape is continually changing’ and where ‘support must extend beyond the public sector.’ Before endorsing the pamphlet in terms of its ‘practical guidance for cultural groups,’ the minister emphasizes the ‘need for cultural organisations to understand the relationship between business and the arts’ rather than vice versa in what he pre-emptively terms the ‘partnership equation.’ The pamphlet’s concluding explanations by way of the extended metaphor of dance fail to disguise a growing sense of the predatory. We need but only listen to the euphemistic account of sponsorship, partnership, and cause-related marketing respectively dubbed the swing, the two-step, and the tango. To quote the first:
Similarly at the decade’s end and in reaction to the financial vulnerability of major performing arts organisations—orchestra, ballet, opera, and theatre—several managerial recommendations came to the fore. As summarised by Ben Holgate (1998: 15), these organisations were urged to ‘share their infrastructure to reduce costs through economies of scale’; state governments were urged ‘to redress the “funding imbalance” towards city festivals which disadvantage companies’; and performing arts companies, in turn, were urged to ‘reduce operational costs through collaborations’ by means of ‘greater use of co-productions…sharing of visiting artists and the development of joint commissions,’ not to say ‘minimising program clashes.’ Needless to say, apart from the apparently quantifiable attractions of cultural tourism and heritage, major exhibitions and associated merchandising, and urban property redevelopment fostered by state governments aggressively seeking sources of revenue, the federal government of the day ended the decade still pursuing the implications of its ‘economic rationalist’ approach. By so doing, it could in effect ignore the role and needs of small arts groups, let alone innovative ones, as much as the increasingly casual forms manifested by Australian culture, ranging from its wining-and-dining to its domestic electronic entertainments. In other words, little of its attention has been focused upon the sheer diversity, and hence the competition, characteristic of the arts nor upon the curious logic of insisting that artforms combine or merge on demand.
Against this background where clear divisions have surfaced in the selective promotion of artforms and practitioners, the discourse of the decade has become increasingly fractured and vitriolic. Two opposed voices of the late ‘nineties with all their anger and inconsistencies will have to suffice here. Radio director and lobbyist Anthony Adair, for example, articulates the kind of stance upheld by ‘economic rationalist’ concerns:
If we want to subsidise the arts, we should shift support away from producers to consumers. For example, why not link at least part of the subsidy to arts organisations to the number of people who buy tickets? …
What we have to encourage is individual and family support for the arts. Encouraging private philanthropy or patronage through the tax system is far more liberal, democratic and diverse than allowing taxpayers’ money to be used to subsidise State-owned monopolies… (1999: 41).
Arts managers, as Battersby (2005: 4) herself recognises, can never work in a vacuum. Operating at the intersection between art and commerce, art and politics, they are compelled to be cognisant of background trends and tendencies impinging upon their domain. Hence, in light of such clear divisions above that were beginning to ossify during the ‘nineties, perhaps we can end upon a more specific artistic trend for which an ideologically acquiescent management might well be blamed in the future. Emerging artists, it would now appear, have become increasingly trapped by the almost mutually exclusive choice between adopting a local community or regional focus and adopting a premature commercialisation of their work. At the same time, for all the recent espousal of hybridisation amongst the arts, a gulf has intensified largely between the visual arts and their pre-occupation with the construction of objects and the performing arts and their pre-occupation with the exploration of ideas. It has become a gulf where the former can be readily translated into the more easily manageable forms of commodification and where success for the latter often has little choice but to follow suit.
1. On essentially contested concepts, see, e.g., Gallie (1956; 1968: 161-168 & 170-178), Kekes (1977: 74-86), and Naish (1984, 142-148) respectively. Although Bourdieu (1984) supplies a sociologically informed range of disputes–be it taste in film or furniture, cuisine or clothing–not untypical of those found in the art and culture of his times, it is done without reference to the sevenfold features of the essentially contested. Also, by contrast, where definitions of the arts are raised on the other side of the Pacific, Evard & Colbert (2000, 4-5), for example, attempt to align successive conceptions of the arts with the need for arts management to cope with those that extol the role of the artefact, the artist, and the audience respectively, suggesting that the latter enables ‘marketing [to] become part of the process of creation itself.’ Again, their acknowledgement of a ‘crisis in the definition of art’ makes no reference to the issue of it being essentially contested.
2. As intriguing as this connection between class and education may be, perhaps all that can be done within the scope of this paper is to point to the earlier debate over the ‘categorical’ and ‘generative’ views of class in Australia initiated by the writings of R. W. Connell (1977). These were subsequently expanded by Connell & Irving who highlighted growing governmental intervention in ‘the cultural…realm,’ ranging from its maintenance of large-scale ‘cultural institutions’ such as private schooling, research institutes, and the like to its regulation of such ‘cultural activities’ less by way of blatant censorship and more by means of ‘selective patronage’ (1992: 17).
3. These trends of the late ‘nineties coincide with two noticeable trends: a trend towards reifying ‘cultural events’ at the expense of content as succinctly sketched by Deborah Stevenson (2000: 123-149) and a trend towards systematic data collection of attendance, employment, revenue, and the like by the federally devised National Centre for Culture and Recreation Statistics with its focus upon ‘cultural venues and activities’ that include animal and marine parks, botanic gardens, and cinema at one end of the spectrum and popular and classical music, opera, and dance at the other. The growing unease that the arts should be directed at mass entertainment—‘bread and circuses’—by a bureaucracy given to counting beans may well have intensified by virtue of these trends.
4. Thanks are owed to both artistic and academic colleagues for their comments upon an earlier version of this paper read at ‘The New Wave: Entrepreneurship & the Arts’ Symposium, Melbourne Museum, April 2002.
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