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News and reviews for the arts in the ACT

5 Jul

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. (Image source: Life in Canberra Magazine)

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. (Image source: Life in Canberra Magazine)

Two brief though important news items for the arts in the ACT:

The 2014-2015 Australian budget: where to from here for the arts?

17 May

The 2014-2015 Australian Budget, which is yet to be passed through the Senate, aims to take $87M from the arts.

The 2014-2015 Australian Budget, which is yet to be passed through the Senate, aims to take $87M from the arts.

The Childers Group is very concerned about the 2014-2015 Australian Budget and how it might impact on the development, sustainability, and vitality of the arts. It has been reported that this budget, if passed through the Senate, would cut $87M from the arts sector, primarily from the Australia Council for the Arts and Screen Australia. In terms of the Australia Council, this would most likely mean reduced support for small to medium arts companies and fewer grants to individual artists. Combined with other budget cuts and measures, we are especially concerned about young artists and their ability to survive, let alone develop their careers. We are currently considering the best course of action. In the meantime, below is a variety of reactions so far. We’ll keep adding to this list, so if you read some excellent commentary please let us know.

Is it right here, right now, that we will reinvent the ACT’s culture of arts review and criticism?

26 Oct

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Viennese art critic Dr. Gertrude Langer inspecting a local art show, Brisbane, 1940 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you write a book, or choreograph a dance, or compose a song, or produce a play or film, and no one reviews it, could it be that you never created it in the first place?

In a way that’s what was discussed at this year’s Childers Group forum.  Focussing on the Role of the Arts critic, on 18 October 2013 at the Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra we gathered together a wide range of reviewers, critics, and arts leaders/thinkers as well as a lively and engaged audience to spark a conversation.  Who is an arts critic?  What exactly is it that they do?  How important is their work – does it matter at all?  What makes a good review?  Does a reviewer have responsibilities?  Are there more or less reviews going on these days?  And what of the online environment: does this open up opportunities for more review, but, if so, what sort of quality can we expect (or demand)?  What’s the nature of the ACT’s culture of review?  And, perhaps most importantly, where do we go from here?  What are the challenges ahead?  If you weren’t able to squeeze yourself inside the Bogong Theatre on the 18th, then you’ve now got a bit of a sense about what was discussed.

Going back to that opening sentence: if there’s one thing that artists struggle with, truly struggle with, it’s the silence, the silence that can meet a piece of work.  For months and years, sometimes even decades, an artist slowly but surely brings a work to the world.  Most likely there’ll be some kind of celebration – an opening night, a launch, perhaps even just a party on the deck at home.  There’ll be champagne and cheese; there’ll be slaps on the shoulder and the odd kiss on the cheek.  But the next morning?  Well, there’ll be that silence.  Sure, over time, people – good people, kind people – will offer up some kind of response.  ‘Congrats, it looks wonderful.’  ‘I loved it – you’re amazing.’  ‘Not sure.  I kinda wasn’t terribly moved.’  (This last one from the brave but honest and much-needed friend!)  Except this isn’t review or criticism; it is response.  Artists want response, but they also want more, the greedy devils.

A good piece of creation operates on many levels: there’s the conceptual, the meaningful, the emotionally engaging, and then there’s the sheer entertainment side of things.  A good piece of creation sends ripples out into the world.  A good piece of creation – sometimes, rarely – changes things.  A good piece of creation matters; it can matter more than we can ever possible know.  It’s this that a reviewer might explore: they might (should?) situate an artist’s work in a broader context, investigate what the artist (and also theatre, publisher, gallery etc) was trying to achieve, and why this might have any broader resonance, and then come to some kind of conclusion.

Whilst it might help a consumer make a decision, say in the way a restaurant review could, but it is much more.  It is not more opinion.  It is not simply a recommendation.

As it was said at the forum, a good review ‘illuminates’.

What else was said at the forum?  Towards the bottom of this post is the raw data, which is code for ‘the notes we scratched out on a napkin while standing at the back of the crowd’.  If you attended, and see weaknesses in these notes, send us an email and we’ll correct/expand them.  Also, please have a read of two thoughtful responses from two bloggers who were there: Whispering Gums and Only the Sangfroid (‘If art criticism is going to have a place in the world of tomorrow, it’s going to have to re-imagine itself’); there’s also this piece by Kim Anderson that we published on this site, courtesy of Art Monthly.

But there were two key issues/opportunities raised during the discussion on the 18th, and there’s the challenge – for the community could take them up.

The Childers Group's 'Role of the Arts Critic' forum, 18 October 2013, Gorman House Arts Centre

The Childers Group’s ‘Role of the Arts Critic’ forum, 18 October 2013, Gorman House Arts Centre

The first is that while the ACT does indeed have a fairly robust culture of criticism, through the traditional print media, other press outlets, and the blogosphere, there is an opportunity for an arts organisation to deliver – perhaps on an annual basis – a master-class in writing arts review and criticism.  As was raised at the forum, Realtime, which bills itself as ‘Australia’s critical guide to international contemporary arts’, would be more than happy to come to the ACT to deliver these workshops.  All it would take is someone to make a phone-call.  Not only would this initiative build skills in reviewing, but would also increase the number of reviewers, and this would be an excellent outcome indeed – for all.

The second issue/opportunity: doesn’t the ACT region, the core of which, Canberra, has been celebrating its centenary, deserve a high-quality ‘journal’ dedicated to review?  Wouldn’t that be a brilliant legacy of 2013?  Might that be the way that we as a cultural community continue to grow and expand and deepen?  Could that be that’s how we become even better artists?  Could that be how we become an even better region?  The technology is at our finger tips and much of it costs nothing; it is also obvious that we have a community that comprises good critical and creative thinkers, so we’ve got the writers.

We can make this happen.  And maybe, just maybe, it would help inform our audiences, help connect with our community, and also – now this would be the greatest outcome of all – help keep that silence at bay.

Here’s that ‘raw data’.

The nature of criticism:

  • criticism is a serious and public function
  • a critic must have a critical view point, an in-depth contention
  • a review should illuminate
  • a review should also understand a works creative, cultural, social and political context
  • a critic should be disinterested, as in ‘stepped back’ back a little from the work
  • the review should be as artful as the work reviewed
  • the reviewer should know their audience – is it an arts audience or the general populace
  • the criticism is valuable if it’s informed
  • it all comes down to the expertise of the reviewer
  • a reviewer needs ‘street cred’
  • but whose street cred?
  • criticism should engage
  • criticism should be about knowledge
  • criticism is about starting a public discussion
  • a review should further dialogue
  • a review is about advancing the art form
  • sometimes critics have to go straight to the jugular
  • but what’s the point in a critic being destructive?
  • critics should provide insight
  • a critic is a trader of ideas
  • a reviewer must be honest, which can be difficult
  • how can/should we define ‘qualified opinion’ or ‘quality comment’?
  • there’s no such thing as objective criticism
  • some critics are terrified/anxious about taking on the significant artists
  • a critic who themselves can’t take criticism doesn’t make a good critic!

Criticism and its readers:

  • people read reviews to find out what’s happening, to be informed; so a critic is someone who tells you what’s going on
  • the public is looking for criticism; they don’t want to the critic to hold back
  • in Australia, people don’t take online critics seriously (and artists still yearn for print review)

Criticism in the ACT:

  • Canberra is a culturally engaged community, there are many events across parts of society, so there’s limited press space for review
  • the city’s still feeling the loss of Muse Magazine
  • there are three pillars in the arts: artists, audiences, and interaction (i.e. review, criticism, discussion) – the interaction side of things needs to be strengthened in the ACT, though it’s no different to anywhere else
  • issue: Canberra is small, ‘incestuous’ – it’s hard to get artists writing about each other
  • the public discussion about public art in the ACT didn’t bring out a nuanced discussion
How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue? (Image source: Wiki Commons)

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue? (Image source: Wiki Commons)

Criticism and the artist:

  • unfavourable criticism that comes from ignorance is hurtful
  • what do artists get out of arts criticism?
  • the worse thing is to be not to be reviewed at all
  • artists, if they choose, can incorporate criticism into the development of their work/practice
  • artists need to be resilient
  • but if an artist has a deliberately thick skin they might not be a good artist
  • artists are often highly critical of each other
  • artists should exercise their own critical faculties

Challenges for the future:

  • building expertise in on-line reviewing i.e. making sure online criticism is informed
  • see how restaurant reviews work – they’re very popular – and use that model for the arts?
  • due to limited payment, not every media outlet can attract the best critic/writer – this is a challenge
  • while newspapers are places where debate happens, they don’t have a moral duty to review, including ACT artists or amateur/school productions – so who takes on that role?
  • what do we do with critical silence?
  • arts organisations have a role to place in building resilience

A significant opportunity:

  • for an organisation or a number of organisations to host workshops and forums to build skills in reviewing and being a reviewer
  • who’s up to take this on?

*

The panelists at our forum were: Robyn Archer AO (Creative Director, Centenary of Canberra), Kerry-Anne Cousins (visual arts critic), Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak (contemporary arts critic), Roslyn Dundas (CEO, Ausdance National), Marion Halligan AM (author, critic), Cris Kennedy (film critic), Helen Musa (Canberra Critics Circle), Jack Waterford AM (Editor-at-large, Canberra Times), Caroline Stacey (CEO/Artistic Director, The Street Theatre), and Ashley Thomson (Editor, BMA Magazine).  The forum was facilitated by Yolande Norris.  Thanks and gratitude to you all for your time and being involved so enthusiastically.

*

Thanks also to: Allan Sko at BMA Magazine, Barbie Robinson at ArtSound FM, Helen Musa at City News, Genevieve Jacobs at 666 ABC Canberra, Joseph Falsone and team at the Gorman House Arts Centre, and Karmin Cooper at New Best Friend for graphic design support.

*

 Many others helped to make this forum happen. You know who you are.

YOUR INVITE TO OUR NEXT FORUM – THE ROLE OF THE CRITIC!

12 Sep

TheChildersGroup_Forum OCT2013_V2

Claiming the date: our next forum is just around the corner!

29 Jun

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue?

How important is it that we have a culture of robust and thoughtful arts criticism and dialogue?

The Childers Group has been busy beavering away behind the scenes, contributing a submission to the development of the ACT Government’s budget for 2013/2014, providing feedback on the resultant budget, and also attending the associated ACT Legislative Assembly hearing process (we hope to be able to link to the Hansard report shortly).  However, we’re also working on our next forum, which will focus on arts review and criticism and is to occur on Friday 18 October, noon to 2pm, at the Gorman House Arts Centre in Braddon, ACT. We’ll be providing more details shortly, but ink it in – to say the least, it’s going to be an interesting discussion!

We expand our expertise

25 Mar

We are delighted to announced that we’ve expanded our areas of expertise, adding writer/educator Rosanna Stevens, singer-songwriter/musician James Fahy, and long-term arts worker Meredith Hinchliffe.

All of us who are involved in the arts are currently enjoying this extraordinary air of celebration in the ACT region.  It’s so important as a network of creative communities that we build on this groundswell of activity and starting thinking about what happens next.  To this end, the Childers Group has added three new members.  There is no doubt that Rosanna, James and Meredith will make terrific contributions to our advocacy work.

As a collective of arts advocates, the Childers Group is committed to maximising our diversity of expertise and strategic thinking.  Getting out of touch with the work of our artists and creative practitioners is simply not an option for us.  That’s why we’ve expanded our expertise – we want to make sure that our advocacy work is informed by the best brains possible.

JAMES FAHY

James Fahy

James Fahy

James Fahy is a MAMA-nominated multidisciplinary artist based in Melbourne and Canberra. He has written for entertainment magazine BMA and ANU newspaper Woroni, and had fiction published in ACT literary journal Burley. Alongside Rosanna Stevens, Duncan Felton and Adelaide Rief he is a co-director of the ACT young literary organisation Scissors Paper Pen. In March 2013 James completed a research internship with independent think-tank Grattan Institute.  As a musician, James has performed as a featured artist at the FUSE Music Conference in Adelaide, received national airplay for his EP The Sun Will Burn Through This Cloud, and played with high-profile acts including The Beards, the Wildes, A French Butler Called Smith, Beth and Ben, Peter Combe, and Novocastrian touring veterans Benjalu. In 2012, James was nominated for an award at the MusicACT Annual Music Awards in the category of Best Folk Artist. In 2010, James co-founded Canberra-based label Nash Cap Productions with Bec Taylor and Julia Winterflood. As an events organiser, host, musician and interviewer he has taken part in a string of festivals such You Are Here, the Canberra Multicultural Festival, the Illawarra Folk Festival, and the Woodford Folk Festival. With Joe Oppenheimer, James founded and co-produced the Pedestrian Orchestra, a year-long series of fifty concerts and arts performances aimed at encouraging Canberra’s emerging talent.

MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE

Meredith Hinchliffe

Meredith Hinchliffe

Meredith Hinchliffe has been involved with the arts since 1977 when she began work with the Crafts Council of the ACT. As part of the CCACT exhibition program she curated many exhibitions including several of individual artists and group exhibitions.  These included all craft media – ceramics, wood, textiles, leather, metalwork and, to a lesser degree, glass.  Craft ACT was included in some touring exhibitions and during her time at the organisation, Meredith showed an exhibition of Molas from the San Blas Islands of Panama. Meredith was a contributor to The Canberra Times from 1978 to 2009 and writes review articles of crafts and visual arts exhibitions and books.  She also writes about issues of importance to the arts.  She has written articles about for a number of journals, including the National Library News, Smarts, Pottery in Australia, Craft Arts  International, Textile Fibre Forum, Object and Ceramic Art and Perception. Meredith worked at The Australian Bicentennial Authority, artsACT and Business Development in the ACT Government.  She was responsible for grant programs in each area.

Meredith Hinchliffe was appointed the full-time Executive Director of the National Campaign for the Arts Australia Ltd in July 1996, until the organisation was wound up due to lack of funding in August 1997.  During this period she built up a strong network of media contacts and assisted with the successful campaign for Artbank to be retained as a government operation. From August 1997 to December 1999 she worked as a freelance consultant. In 2000 Meredith began an appointment for two years as Project Manager, Australian Science Teachers Association. She was appointed Executive Officer of Museums Australia, the national professional association for museum workers and museums in July 2002. She worked as Public Arts Project Officer for artsACT and has managed several public art installation projects. From July 2008 to April 2009 she was the inaugural Executive Officer of the Donald Horne Institute for Cultural Heritage at the University of Canberra.

Meredith has served on the boards of a number of local arts organisations and was President of Ausdance ACT until May 2011. She is approved to value Australian ceramics, glass, textiles, jewellery, leatherwork, wooden objects and furniture from 1950 for the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program and has undertaken numerous valuations of works in most media, including the valuation of the Tamworth Regional Gallery’s textile collection. Meredith has been involved in a number of projects, including curating the Survey exhibition of the Tamworth Fibre Textile Collection in 2010. In 2000 she was awarded an ACT Women’s Award in recognition of her significant contribution to the ACT community in the arts.  In 2011 she was awarded an Australia Day medal by the National Gallery of Australia.

ROSANNA STEVENS

Rosanne StevensRosanna Stevens is currently the Communications Officer at the ACT Writers Centre, Senior Ambassador for the Australian National University Student Equity division, and co-producer and founder of Canberra’s young literary organisation, Scissors Paper Pen. In 2012 she was the recipient an artsACT grant to visit a variety of literary communities, initiatives and organisations in the United States of America. She also received CAL Creative Industries Career Funding while completing a three-month internship with San Francisco publishing house, McSweeney’s.

Rosanna has been a guest of the National Young Writers Festival, Adelaide Writers Week, You Are Here festival and the Emerging Writers Festival. She has also acted in a range of minor positions at literary festivals including Chairperson for the Melbourne Writers Festival, Volunteers Coordinator for the National Young Writers Festival, and Communications Officer for You Are Here festival. In 2011 she was National Young Writers Month co-Ambassador for New South Wales, and Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre Young Writer in Residence in Perth. Her short fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published nationally, and her work has received favourable mention in The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Australian.

Within her role at ANU Student Equity, Rosanna provides creative writing workshops to high-school students based in regional areas. Her passion for providing creative opportunities to young people and challenging popular educational paradigms has seen her work with students in Young, Bega, Goulburn, Yanderra, Canberra, Collector, the Blue Mountains, Chicago and San Francisco. Rosanna is currently completing a Master of Philosophy at the Australian National University.

CHILDERS GROUP CLIMBS TO THE HEIGHTS OF ARTS PEAK

24 Feb

Rock climbingThe Childers Group, the only arts advocacy body for the ACT region, has joined ArtsPeak, the confederation of Australian peak arts organisations.  This is an exciting opportunity for us.  Since our establishment in 2011 we have found our feet and started to have a real impact on the development of the arts and cultural life of our region.  However, joining ArtsPeak enables us to situate our advocacy in a broader national context.

The membership of ArtsPeak includes 30 key advocacy organisations, including the National Association for the Visual Arts, Regional Arts Australia, Ausdance, Young People and the Arts Australia – and now the Childers Group.

Joining ArtsPeak gives our advocacy a certain gravitas.  This is particularly important as the ACT and region is currently celebrating significant milestones, including the Centenary of Canberra. The Childers Group is already starting to think about what happens next in our region and we’re thrilled to now be in a position to bounce ideas off our ArtsPeak colleagues and be a part of a connected, informed and energised national arts advocacy movement.

ArtsPeak’s priorities for the immediate future are:

  • a long-term cultural framework and the necessity for adventurous arts policies that emphasise cross-departmental support for arts and culture – this will need a much greater funding commitment to sustain and grow arts infrastructure and to support the intrinsic and economic contribution of artists.
  • the viability of creative practitioners’ careers with appropriate professional development and lifelong skills that contribute to the economic and cultural life of the community, with fair payment and ethical conditions supported by appropriate legislation and regulation.
  • the importance of a good arts education from early childhood through school and into higher education, anticipated by the introduction of the Australian Curriculum for the Arts in 2014 – TAFE cuts to arts training and the gradual contraction of arts education options in universities are of major concern.
  • greater need for better recognition of and support for the diversity of the arts, including Australia’s unique Indigenous culture, multicultural communities and people with disability across urban, regional and remote Australia – the importance of international engagement and exchange is strongly advocated.
  • maintenance of the arm’s length and peer-assessment principles in the restructure of the Australia Council, and greater flexibility and responsiveness to developments in the arts sector – ArtsPeak strongly argues that art form expertise should be maintained.

 

Congratulations to Caroline Stacey, ACT Artist of the Year

28 Nov

The Childers Group congratulates Caroline Stacey being named as the ACT ‘City News’  Artist of the Year for 2012, which is awarded by the Canberra Critics Circle.

Caroline  is a very fine example of someone who is making a significant contribution to the creative life of the ACT Region.  She is known for her artistic daring and her tenacity, and she’s been an influential advocate for the arts, particularly in terms of theatre.

It is most fitting for Caroline to be recognised in this way, and it is encouraging for all of us who are working to see the arts being placed at the very centre of Australian life.

Caroline Stacey is the Artistic Director/CEO of the Street Theatre, and is a foundation member of the Childers Group.

The Childers Group congratulates all the artists who received awards and the Canberra Critics Circle for its work in honouring creative excellence in the ACT region over the last twenty-two years. This, too, is an extraordinary achievement.

THANK YOU!

22 Sep

Poet Andrew Galan

Here’s a huge THANK YOU to everyone who made our second forum for the year – held on Wednesday 19 September at the Canberra Museum and Gallery – such a success.  Thank you to Andrew Galan and Miranda Lello who kicked off proceedings by giving us a taste of poetry slam.  Thanks to the three Members of the ACT Legislative Assembly: Joy Burch (Labor), Vicki Dunne (Liberals) and Caroline Le Couteur (Greens) – we appreciate you giving so much of your time in preparing for the forum, presenting your arts policies, and answering questions.  Thanks to those who represented their sectors: Peter Bayliss (contemporary music), Alexander Boynes (visual arts), Raoul Cramer (theatre), Monica Penders (film), Philip Piggin (community cultural development), Neil Roach (dance), Michael Sollis (fine music), and Rosy Stevens (literature).  Thanks to those who asked questions and participated in the democratic process.

A forum of this sort needs expert facilitation, and that’s what we had in Andrea Close – we appreciated how you kept everything rolling along like clockwork.  Thank you to the Cultural Facilities Corporation, especially the members of the front-of-house staff who were instrumental in making the forum happen.  Thanks to New Best Friend who always make us look fabulous.  And lastly, but most importantly, thanks to the 70 or so who came along and packed out the venue to show that people are willing and wanting to have a robust discussion about the importance of the arts and community creativity in the ACT region.

What happens now?  We’ll get a summary of the discussion up here shortly.   And then, of course, there’s the ACT election on Saturday 20 October.

Our next forum – you’ve booked us out!

12 Sep

Just a quick update to say that we’re completely thrilled with the response to our second forum – we’re booked out!  It’s great to know so many people are interested in having a discussion about arts policy in the lead-up to the ACT election next month.

A couple of things.  Firstly, if you haven’t RSVPed but would like to attend, the Canberra Museum and Gallery is formulating a waiting list – you’re welcome to put your name down on that.  Secondly, if you have RSVPed but can’t attend at the last minute, please contact the Canberra Museum and Gallery so someone on the waiting list can take your place.  Here’s looking forward to a wonderful discussion about what it means to be a creative region!  Any questions or comments, just drop us a line.