So, yes, that’s another year, folks. Here’s a rough overview of what we did in our Arts + Culture coverage. If you liked it, let us know. If you didn’t, well, let us know anyway – it’s (almost) always nice to hear from you.
The year was dominated, in Australia at least, by changes to arts funding, primarily through the unexpected creation, in the May budget, of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), which saw a proposed A$104.7 million of funds redirected to that new body, a move that threatened – it was argued – the cherished arms-length funding principle of the Australia Council.
To say the proposed changes, ushered in by then Minister for the Arts George Brandis, were unpopular, would be an understatement.
A bit of number crunching suggested ideology rather than hard evidence was behind the move – and a Senate Inquiry into Arts Funding received more than 2,200 submissions, mostly protesting the changes.
Amid claims that the big national arts organisations were failing to stand up for those in the small to medium arts sector, we looked at some effective strategies to “free the arts” and other ways to productively frame the debate.
In November, under the new arts minister Mitch Fifield, the NPEA was replaced with a new body, Catalyst — Australian Arts and Cultural Fund, which – according to our expert panel – went some way to making amends for the NPEA. But only some way, with only marginal gains – if at all – for the artists and organisations deemed to be most at risk.
Needless to say, the issue remains contentious and the message coming through time and again was that artists – despite signs to the contrary – are not playthings for the government.
In a state of happy, growling rage we offered an appreciation of a traditionally maligned musical genre, extreme metal, considered the links between ISIS propaganda and gangsta rap videos, and asked – in all seriousness – what Pluto (the would-be planet, not the dog) might sound like, given our long-standing musical love affair with the cosmos.
Still in space, but in a galaxy further, much further away, we offered a sound fetishist’s guide to the Star Wars universe, discovering in the process that:
Chewbacca’s expressive groans are a carefully composed mix, courtesy of a walrus, bears and a number of other animals, some sick at the time of recording.
After getting back to basics with a few of our music pieces – such as: what is a song? – we were pleased to report on new research showing that jamming with toddlers is even better for their development than reading.
Kit Messham-Muir gave us an overview, in December, of what visual art in 2015 looked like from his perspective.
Two visiting shows of note were Masterpieces from Scotland, and Masterpieces from the Hermitage. And among the big prizes, we offered some perspective on the 2015 Archibald Prize and the – deeply flawed? – Wynne Prize.
In books, we ran reviews, of course, but we were mightily concerned by questions surrounding the book industry and writing, such as how to read the Australian book industry in a time of change, and the long-awaited, “better than nothing”, Book Council of Australia, which – in a twist of fate worthy of a particularly nonsensical airport thriller – was canned before it even began.
The heated debate around parallel import restrictions on books has only just begun, and will continue well into 2016, if not beyond.
We did our best to get under the skin of speculative fiction, science fiction and scientific romance, pondered Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen, and the definition of literature, explained magical realism, and posited the idea that failure is the new literary success.
We delved into science of writer’s block, walked the line between middlebrow and high-brow, and marvelled at how writing about sex can be done – like the act itself – decently, atrociously, or somewhere in between.
Did a new staging of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal stand up to its celebrated reputation? Playwright Julian Meyrick thought so. And Seventeen at Belvoir was a brilliant theatrical event – albeit with a happy, hetero ending.
There was little chance of a happy ending in a new reimagining of Sophocles’ classic tragedy Antogone, and yet still, in 2015, Greek tragedy was a debate we still needed to have.
We covered films, from Tanna, described as Romeo and Juliet in the south Pacific to Spectre – which would be a fitting end to the James Bond franchise – to the big-screen adaptation of Holding the Man
You haven’t seen Better Call Saul? Want to know what happens? Of course you don’t, because spoiler-alert culture is taking all of the fun out of television.
Closer to home, we asked whether, after 30 years, Neighbours and Australians can become good friends, whether The Beautiful Lie was a a radical recalibration of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, whether ABC’s The Divorce was opera, or not opera, or something in between.
We asked whether “genius” was still a country for white, middle class, heterosexual men, what was really going on with critiques of “vocal fry”, and why Damned Whores and God’s Police is still – alas – relevant to Australia 40 years on.
We held a magnifying glass to the divisive gender politics of Eurovision, David Bowie and his gender transgression, and decided that, unrelated to either of those, we are right to make a scene about gender equity in the Australian screen industry.
And, in case you’re wondering, we crunched some numbers on our Arts + Culture contributors in 2015: we ran articles by 434 authors, with a gender split of 50% female, 48% male and 2% unknown.
We ran commentary in 2015 on the passing of Betty Churcher, a loss for the arts and Australia, on whether Colleen McCullough, who died in January, was under-regarded as a writer, and on whether Jules Wright, the “courageous Australian theatre director” was overlooked in her native country.
In film, we revisited the late Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs.
Many of the pieces linked to already in this round-up come under the banner of “arts reviews”. But three that haven’t been mentioned, which immediately spring to mind, are reviews of the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, of Radiohead collaborator Stanley Donwood, and of Björk at MoMA.
You can see all of the arts reviews published on the Australian site, and those by our colleagues in the US, UK, Africa and France, at the Arts Reviews topic page.
In lieu of being able to offer comprehensive coverage of every festival that happens throughout the year, we continued to box clever, or as cleverly as we could, with targeted coverage of shows within the festival circuit whenever we felt we could add value. With that in mind, we dipped into – among others – the Adelaide Festival, Brisbane Festival, Sydney Festival, Melbourne Festival, and the writers festivals in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Four series stood out this year in Arts + Culture and – if you haven’t already – I’d heartily recommend luxuriating with at least one of them over the holiday period and beyond, whether it’s our Creativity series, our excellent series On Playwriting, on Writing History, or our ongoing series on Religion and Mythology.
Naturally, we hope to see you in 2016. Until then: happy holidays.
Top ten most read
Jamming with your toddler: how music trumps reading for childhood development by Liam Viney, University of Queensland
Weighing up the evidence for the ‘Historical Jesus’ by Raphael Lataster, University of Sydney
What might Pluto sound like? Our musical love affair with the cosmos by Liam Viney, University of Queensland
The day I don’t feel Australian? That would be Australia Day by Chelsea Bond, Queensland University of Technology
Not all graffiti is vandalism – let’s rethink the public space debate by Liam Miller, The University of Queensland
Lego Pompeii creates less pomp and more yay in the museum by Craig Barker, University of Sydney
‘Whitesplaining’: what it is and how it works by Catriona Elder, University of Sydney
Why conspiracy theories aren’t harmless fun by Patrick Stokes, Deakin University
The rape scene in Brad Pitt’s Fury no-one is talking about by Melanie O'Brien, University of Technology Sydney
No, feminism is not about choice by Meagan Tyler, RMIT University