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The art of being awkward: Brandis is wrong about the Biennale

As anyone who works in the arts business well knows, when art and politics meet (and certainly when art and politicians meet …) the result is more often than not awkward. Many of us will remember the fuss…

Politicians and artists often join together in an uncomfortable game. Alan Porritt/AAP Image

As anyone who works in the arts business well knows, when art and politics meet (and certainly when art and politicians meet …) the result is more often than not awkward.

Many of us will remember the fuss around former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s pre-emptive strike in 2008 on an exhibition of Bill Henson’s photographs. It didn’t seem then, and still doesn’t seem today, to be one of Rudd’s finest political moments. If he believed he was standing up against the public display of offensive material (albeit before he’d been to the exhibition in question) he was also invoking that surely more offensive of “c” words – censorship.

Once again, however, a politician has publicly challenged the appropriateness of the arts community’s capacity to be awkward. A report in today’s The Australian notes that Federal Arts Minister George Brandis has issued a thinly-veiled threat to arts organisations that “reject private sponsorship because of political pressure”.

The threat came in the form of a letter to Rupert Myer, chairman of the Australia Council, “demanding” – according to The Australian’s report – the body develops a policy to deal with (that is, one assumes threaten the funding of) any Australia Council-funded body that “refuses funding offered by corporate sponsors, or terminates a current funding agreement”.

Brandis is responding to the apparent success of a campaign by artists associated with this year’s Sydney Biennale of Sydney (which, ironically, is subtitled “you imagine what you desire”) to pressure the Board of the Biennale to relinquish its sponsorship agreement with Transfield Holdings.

This was on the basis that Transfield Services has contracts with the Australian Government to operate the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. The executive director of Transfield Holdings, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, was also the Chairman of the Biennale. He resigned last week.

Given Transfield Holdings remains a major sponsor of a number of other Australia Council-funded organisations (including the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the the Museum of Contemporary Art), the impact of the fuss around the Sydney Biennale decision could be far-reaching.

How far-reaching depends, of course, on politics. I would argue that we should not be afraid of this fact – unless we want the arts to be “relevant” and “meaningful” only when it makes us comfortable.

Arts sponsorship is, indeed, always political. Commercial companies do it not just out of a sense of altruism. It helps with brand management and can give senior managers social capital to leverage for business advantage, among other benefits.

None of this is inherently wrong, or bad. But neither is a debate about such sponsorship in and of itself ill-conceived or misplaced. To that extent, George Brandis is wrong to imply that it is.

Brandis is also wrong to suggest the political opinion of the individual artists boycotting the event was “a matter which has nothing to do with the Sydney Biennale”. Aesop was on the money (as it were) when he argued that once an artist or arts organisation was connected to the community-at-large he or she could could not claim to be separate from it when things got, well, awkward …

Furthermore, if Brandis is concerned about the “effective blackballing of a benefactor […] merely because of its commercial arrangements”, is he not asking the Australia Council to commit a similar sin by refusing to fund organisations that make decisions based on political views with which he may disagree?

It is curious that he would argue this in context of the debate around S18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, given his argument for the Government to revise the current clause is, in my view, a powerful one. On a recent edition of ABC TV’s Q&A Brandis said, no less:

how do we achieve a civilised society? […] [D]o we have a society in which every time somebody says something unpopular or offensive to a majority of opinion the Parliament passes a law to say, well, you are prohibited. You are censored from saying that? I don’t want a society like that.

Is he not suggesting, in effect, that the Australia Council should silence (or at least disadvantage) organisations that say or do things the Government doesn’t like?

By the same token, there is no inherent contradiction in arts organisations taking funding from companies and governments that do things they disagree with if we are prepared to argue for the arts a place in civil society that we accord, say, to universities.

We should want them to be embodiments of the value of free speech, as awkward as that can be at times to ruling elites of any political persuasion. If we don’t allow occasional acts of subversiveness, the alternative might end up being submissiveness.

I know which I would prefer.

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald declared that “the arts are the only loser in the Biennale of Sydney’s decision to sever ties with founding sponsor Transfield".

I could not disagree more. As cultural commentator Marcus Westbury wrote recently on social media:

The most important thing as far as I’m concerned for artistic freedom and democracy is to defend the principle that artists, audiences, and everyone can and should ask ethical questions of themselves.

If as a result of the debate around the Sydney Biennale we not only take the arts more seriously, but also artists (and arts boards) take their social responsibilities more seriously, that’s no bad thing for both art and society.

On that point, I suspect, Brandis and I would agree.


Further reading:
Luca Belgiorno-Nettis should just buy a yacht
We should value the Biennale protest, not threaten arts funding
Is there any clean money left to fund the arts?
Artists' victory over Transfield misses the bigger picture
The Biennale, Transfield, and the value of boycott
Should artists boycott the Sydney Biennale over Transfield links?

Join the conversation

87 Comments sorted by

  1. Simon Mantle

    Librarian

    Tucking your tie into your shirt is so badass.

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    1. Mark Pollock

      Analyst

      In reply to Simon Mantle

      He's playing ping pong. You don't want your tie interfering with a forehand smash.

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  2. Stephen Ralph

    carer at n/a

    So where is the "line"........

    we ark up when tobacco & alcohol fund sport.

    We protest McDonald's intrusion into schools, and even some locations.

    Transfield is a legitimate business associated with the government via refugee camps. Brandis could hardly voice an opinion that held negative connotations for the company.

    And after watching 4 Corners and other media reports recently, I firmly believe Henson's work was rightly condemned. Soft core porn.

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Oh, there can be a line! It should be contested, that's all--part of civil society etc. Saying an artist (or policy) falls foul of Government policy should not in itself be enough of an argument to shut something down. And certainly it is no argument to imply that art, artists, or arts organisations has/have no place in the political sphere. They always-already do.

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Peter Tregear

      I take your point, but surely the lines have been crossed before without any hoopla.

      This seems overtly political rather than artistic outrage.

      I'm sure "suspect" companies and organisations have funded arts projects/artists/festivals before.

      But now the money seems tainted.

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    3. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      And I take yours! The point I'm trying to make is, I fear, subtler than I was able successfully to convey. The responsibility here cuts both ways-- I don't think we should be afraid when artists overtly enter the political sphere, especially in areas (like sponsorship) which are clearly connected to their work. But it entails accepting responsibility for it (which was Aesop's point 2500 years ago). I just think that Government shouldn't try and pre-emptively shut it down either. It's a matter for civil society, and indeed civil debate, not government directive, I reckon.

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    4. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Peter Tregear

      I do agree that GB's stance seems overkill, and his latest "threats" seem more akin to dictatorial politics than is warranted.

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    5. Susan Costello

      Public Servant

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      What a relief Stephen. They have such high minded principles, I would hate to see them compromised.

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    6. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It's theirs by virtue of being public, not by virtue of what they personally have paid into it.

      But yes, they pay tax. We all do, every time we make a purchase with GST built in.

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  3. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    At the beginning of the short twentieth century the artists said da da. Now they are saying no no, so something has been learned.

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  4. Ben Marshall
    Ben Marshall is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Writer

    Brandis and Turnbull have reacted in character with this, and unwittingly revealed their aristocratic expectation that artists be beggars, do what they're told and make pretty things, and be eternally grateful for any crumbs they can scrape together to pay the rent.

    They and others have condemned a group of people for standing against perceived unfairness, at a cost to themselves, which is what I call gutsy. Taking a principled stand, an ethical stand on a source of funding, and being condemned…

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  5. David Stein

    Businessman

    Let's explore this argument in the context of government budgets where a fixed pool of public funding is available for arts spending.
    When an artist rejects offered private funding and continues to expect government funding partly or totally in replacement of the private funding, the definite outcome is exclusion of other artists from public funding available either completely or in quantum.
    I made the point in a previous post that if the government were to continue to provide funding to those…

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    1. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to David Stein

      Oh no! Not a shrinking pie! Like the obverse of 'Albert Cut and Come Again' the neo-liberal pie never gets bigger, no matter how much guvvmint money you pump into it. Damned artists and their sense of entitlement.

      I agree totally David. In fact I agree with you 200 per cent; I agree more than you can imagine. Artists, poets, dancers, musicians, who they think they is? Art exists to serve the interests of those who can afford to pay for it, fer sure.

      You have stimulated me so much that I'm going to put on the First Ring Cycle and bite the carpet for a while. Thinking of you :)

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    2. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Thank you Anthony - let me know how it tastes... Gold from the Rhine sounds rather delicious.
      If artists who reject corporate funding want replacement government funding, it's at the cost of other artists. That's the point.
      In its own way, the Biennale protest will lead to a stifling of artistic expression - it may not be their own, but they may have unwittingly imposed their statement of protest on others by consequence of reshuffled funding. And I agree with you, those losing out will certainly not be entertaining the bejeweled and their bored husbands impatiently waiting for the performance to end at the Opera House, those who will lose are exactly the kinds of artists whose work is likely to be the most innovative and captivating out there.

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    3. Marek Bage

      luthier

      In reply to David Stein

      Your argument, David, is sound, but it's predicated on a faulty understanding of the situation.

      The artists who chose not to be involved in the Biennale did so at their own cost. They withdrew their work, refunded their fees and removed themselves from a high profile event. None of these actions cost the taxpayers a single cent.

      As more artists decided that the Transfield connection meant that they couldn't, in good conscience, take part in the Biennale, the directors decided that they should…

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    4. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to David Stein

      I'm so gratified that you are concerned about arts funding. I'm sure it has been your priority like forevah. The trickle down effect is quite right. Prime artists, Biennale invitees, cocking a snook at the bourgeoisie with out the least understanding of how they are robbing their juniors, clsoing the market for blood money. How dare they? The cads! Let them produce homages to wealth and power, to the realpolitik at the heart of human society. Let them kiss the arses of their benefactors like they had to do during the rule of the Medicici. Modernity, to hell.

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    5. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Thanks again Anthony - I do like opening nights, the clinking of champagne glasses, the clattering of diamonds, the clutching of pearls. And certainly an easier way to chat to the neighbors than the box at the Opera.
      And of course the age old 'you mean there's art here?!' jokes coming thick and fast over crab canapes. Sound like a familiar scene?
      But humor of the humorous rather than snarky nature aside, you are mistaken, there can be no trickle down when the tap is firmly turned off.
      And as…

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    6. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Marek Bage

      Hi Marek - thanks. That's helpful, although I imagine the $600k has already been committed for the current biennale. I recall when the biennale appointed a voluntary administrator and I certainly hope the funds will come from somewhere to cover the Transfield funds.
      As for a good corporate citizen, that's exactly my point. This entire affair will certainly cause many corporations and private donors to think about the potential for the protest blowtorch to be redirected their way.
      A chilling impact on sponsorships in anyone's book.
      I wish I could share your optimism, but there's significant downside risk that the good corporate citizens you are hoping to be the white knights have just ridden right out the door based on the what they just saw Transfield go through.

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    7. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to David Stein

      Mon dieu citoyen. D'accord. Je t'adore! Of course we don't want people of wealth and distinction purchasing the arts. Let them buy racehorses and an America's Cup entry, like Bondie did. Who is this upstart Italo-Australian? Doesn't he have enough to buy an island or summfink. Artists are cheap. Property is the real test of welff. Surely, he has a stable of pollies in his pocket why would he need a stable of unmanly people like artists? Wimps. I'll trade you one Scott Morisson for two Dobells. That's about the market value of the arts according to your lights.

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    8. Marek Bage

      luthier

      In reply to David Stein

      Since the festival kicks off in a week, I would imagine that all the money, bar the catering, has been spent.
      I don’t think that the 600K will be clawed back. Transfield is still listed as the founding partner and sponsorship contracts are not that easy to wriggle out of.

      I think it’s important to remember that the Biennale is not some local arts collective which represents struggling artists.
      It is more akin to a cultural tourist attraction, an ‘Arts Olympics’, if you will.
      Its patrons and…

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  6. Brad Farrant

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Great article, thanks Peter.

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  7. Pat Moore

    gardener

    Kudos PT for so immediately lending your professional weight to this debate, so intrinsic to a free society and free artistic expression. Artists cannot work wearing gags or blinkers only providing approved words or images for their sponsors. Plato would have had the poets banished from his republic for their inconvenient memories and recall of history to spoil the party line/the history rewrite.

    When politicians (steeped in/fostering corporate interests) and artists get together, it's more…

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  8. Mark Pollock

    Analyst

    Arts sponsorship is not always political, nor is it always about using cultural activities to gain a commercial benefit. Sometime rich people just like art. They've got the cash and they like giving it away.

    I'm thinking specifically of people like John Caldor, but there are many more like him.

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    1. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mark Pollock

      " Sometime rich people just like art. They've got the cash and they like giving it away."

      That's why the rich are notoriously lax about their tax arrangements. They're cool giving their money way.Maybe Apple would like to fund the Biennale and feature Chinese artists emoting over the labour conditions in Apple sweat shop concentration camps, sorry, company compounds, in China?

      Rich people like art? But why?

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    2. George Takacs

      Physicist

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      It can be a form of conspicuous consumption for some, for others it is a genuine desire to foster artistic endeavour.

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    3. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Mark Pollock

      John Kaldor is a great example, Mark. Gave his entire private collection to the AGNSW a few years ago. Advocacy going back to the 1960's, invited Christo and Jean Claude in 1969 for their groundbreaking Little Bay project.
      I believe he's out of the fabric trade in Australia thesedays. Perhaps he can breathe a sigh of relief - being out of the business in Australia means his arts advocacy won't be questioned on his business conduct.
      And that's the point - how pure does one have to be to make a contribution to the arts with their own private or corporate wealth?

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    4. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Mark Pollock

      How "clean" must a philanthropist be? I wonder how many artists have gained exposure and benefit resulting from the Pratt Foundation? I wonder if artists supporting the BDS movement could get donations from the Pratt Foundation rejected? Equally I can't remember any rush to reject their money even when it was the results of price fixing, a crime for which Pratt was found guilty.

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    5. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to George Takacs

      Yes of course, George. Some wealthy are indeed enriched by their understanding of art. Others buy it and display it in order to purchase sorely needed cultural capital. Still others, who don't give a stuff, buy racehorses. Many get involved in art in order to give their wives some social cachet and something to do.

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    6. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      "That's why the rich are notoriously lax about their tax arrangements. "

      Actually one of the reasons the rich are rich is because they are not lax with their tax arrangements but go to great lengths to minimise their tax. We should be thankful that successive govts encourage rich and non-rich people to donate to the arts and charities by offering tax incentives. Or would you like those removed?

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    7. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Roger Jones

      Oh, sorry Roger, that was another failed attempt at tongue-in-cheek. I know the mega-rich fiddle their taxes. I regard philanthropy as the least they could do if they don't pay any tax.

      I've been up close, having worked as a personal attendant to the quite driven mad wife of one of Australia's wealthiest men. They lived, well, she lived on the harbour in a building with all of the personal charm of a Swiss Hotel. She came from dirty old money in South Australia. He came from a suitcase. They had zero cultural capital. Nada. No knowledge, no charm, no grace or taste. Their kids were all full time boarders no more than fifteen k's away which I think says everything.

      How to deal with such a ruling class. TAX REFORM. They'll understand that in their arses for sure.

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    8. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Anyone who "fiddles" their taxes is breaking the law. All Australians are legally encouraged to minimise their taxes within the various Tax Acts. Your one experience of a rich person should not taint all rich people. And what is your definition of rich?

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    9. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Roger Jones

      Roger, what do you mean 'legally encouraged'? That's not a notion I've come across before. Are there police out there issuing 'tax minimization' orders like move on orders?

      As to my up close and ugly experience with the extremely wealthy - it's not my only experience but certainly the most appalling quite simply due to the inhumanity with which they treated each other and the total absence of anything like redeeming features.

      Definition of rich: BRW listed.

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    10. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      So, you are happy for the Arts to accept money from wealthy donors who have not reached the level of the BRW list but not those who have. Seems dull really as I'm sure there are some unethical people that just haven't made the list yet.

      I'm involved in a number of arts groups and it is so skin-of-the-teeth that we are glad for any donations and support we can get. It is a highly competitive market as there are more artists and arts groups than there are sponsor dollars, including govt sponsorship. My fear is that if private sponsors feel they could be held up to ridicule then they will either pull-out altogether or shift their sponsorship to sports groups.

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    11. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Roger Jones

      Don't word me up with "So, you are happy for the Arts to accept money from wealthy donors who have not reached the level of the BRW list but not those who have" because I didn't say that.

      The time has come when we all need to take a close look at the money trail. This is the point of a now global campaign for disinvestment especially from coal and oil but I see no reason why the demand for disinvestment ought not to include ethically unacceptable profits in any domain. It's about the social license to operate. So, the message reads 'before you hold yourselves up as humanists and benefactors, tell us where the money comes from and then we'll tell you whether we want it or not'.

      I wouldn't be so sure that sports groups would always be happy to take the cash. Remember how tobacco was squeezed out?

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    12. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      The vast majority of arts groups in Australia are small, community groups. Biennale is not typical, in fact they are fat and spoilt with govt funding from all three levels of govt. Most small arts groups may, once in a blue moon, if they are lucky get something from the Arts Council. Mainly they rely on local support. If I happen to get a $100 donation from the local butcher none of us Vegans think this is the right time to reject his generous offer. One of my groups operates on an annual turnover of less than $5,000. Watching groups like Biennale turn away a major, long term sponsor could make you cry.

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    13. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Roger Jones

      Roger, the politics of arts funding in Australia is notoriously out of skew:

      "My favourite little factoid is that Opera Australia last year received more funding from the Australia Council than all the applicants for all 6 of the Australia Council's major artform boards combined. Opera Australia's $18.3 million was more than the entire competitive funds for literature ($4.2m), music ($3.6m), theatre ($2.5m), dance ($1.8m) visual arts ($4.8m) and inter-arts or cross artform projects ($0.8m) that…

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    14. Barry White

      Retired

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Oh I see, so I presume you have a bike generator and you and the wife take turns pedaling. You do not have a car so you don't take the electric train, you walk instead ?
      So you give those companies money but you won't take money from them,
      Hmmmm

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    15. Stephen Ralph

      carer at n/a

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Such a waste of money - $18 million on a minor branch of the arts.'

      It's just to appease the piss-elegant types who air kiss hello.

      Spend it on something for the hoi polloi.

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    16. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Barry White

      Barry, you'll need to unpack this idea before it makes sense to me.

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    17. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      It does seem rather a lot, doesn't it? Not that I'm opposed to opera per se, not at all, I've quite enjoyed the whole night out in the past but can no longer afford even b-reserve seats.

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    18. Barry White

      Retired

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      err yes you said;This is the point of a now global campaign for disinvestment especially from coal and oil

      If you advocate that then perhaps you should not use their products ?

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    19. Anthony Nolan

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Barry White

      That, right there, is the snare of the individualized ethical response to the crisis of humanity. You tell me, mate, how would you avoid the corporate tentacles of Unilever if you decided, in disgust, to avoid the Products Of Unilever subsequent to Bhopa.. You'll probably have to look that up. Unilever, Bhopal, Unilever, Toothpaste, Unilever, Bhopal, Unilever, Batteries, Unilever, Death, Death, Death. The cult of death. Unilever ... probably lubricant too.

      da da

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  9. Gary Luke
    Gary Luke is a Friend of The Conversation.

    thoroughly disgusted

    From where comes the idea that artists are against detention of undocumented refugees until their status is verified? That group think is at the heart of all of this. 95 artists are listed on the Biennale website. Exactly how many are in the boycott that has risked funding for the future?

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  10. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    So, the high minded artists reject Transfield's cash because a small part of it is drawn from the contract to run Manus Island detention centre.

    Will these same high minded artists now reject our cash because the Labor and Coalition governments setup the detention centre in the first place and contracted Transfield to run it.

    If they don't, they are hypocrites.

    Gerard Dean

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    1. Ray Hughes

      IT Worker

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "Will these same high minded artists now reject our cash because the Labor and Coalition governments setup the detention centre in the first place and contracted Transfield to run it."

      There's a bit of a difference. That "government money" is actually taxpayer funding being disbursed by the Australia Council. If it was government money Brandis wouldn't have needed to make his gladwrap-veiled threat.

      As a taxpayer, I'm happy funding the sort of artist who is willing to sacrifice income and exposure for their principles.

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    2. Ray Hughes

      IT Worker

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Well, it's hard to argue with that comment. Yes, they have received exposure because of their stand. Probably in the group of people likely to be their audience. On the other hand, the group of people likely to be their audience would/will BE in their audience anyway so no great gain there. And then there's the point that this is hardly making any of them household names. I would imagine that being invited to perform at the Bienniale is an indication that they have achieved a certain fame (within the artistic community) already. Nobody else is likely to remember their names for long.

      What is their alternative? Shut up and take the money? Condone locking kids up in prisons? As it was, their initial letters to the Bienniale committee were quite low key. They stated that they couldn't, in good conscience, perform and were returning the money. Somehow I doubt that any of them had the pull to demand a huge press conference during which to make the announcement.

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  11. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "How far-reaching depends, of course, on politics. I would argue that we should not be afraid of this fact – unless we want the arts to be “relevant” and “meaningful” only when it makes us comfortable...Arts sponsorship is, indeed, always political."
    BINGO! Look, I share of a lot of the misgivings about Australia's boat people policy. Unlike the Biennale artists, I have not made any stands that might compromise me financially. The artists have taken such a stand, and good on them. However, in no way should they now get a dime from the taxpayer! If I quit my job as a Transfield executive in protest, can I just pop down to Centrelink, and expect the dole to replace my salary? Hardly. The Biennale artists must sing for their supper. If they become off-key, losing the support of their patrons, then they need to rethink their repertoire.

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Yep--and so be it. No inherent disagreement from me. (And for the record my piece was not an argument--implied or otherwise--for or against current asylum policy) That was Aesop's point too, 2500 years ago. I am just not sure government should give it a kick along via policy directives to government agencies...

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  12. Julio Jeldres

    Doctoral Candidate

    One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

    Plato

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  13. Jon Cassar

    ex-teacher

    'George Brandis is wrong to suggest the political opinion of the artists boycotting the event is “a matter which has nothing to do with the Sydney Biennale”.'

    He didn't quite say that. I just heard him this morning being interviewed by Fran Kelly (ABC RN)
    He doesn't reject artists having political opinions as such, but if they allow those opinions to impede on their corporate funding, rejecting it, and expecting government to pick up the shortfall, then they have another think coming.
    Quite right too. A handful of leftist activists have allowed their high dudgeon over Transfield's handling of the detention centres to get in the way of sound financial commonsense.
    There's too much of this kind of moral blackmail in the political field. The last attempt was the boycotting of Jewish shops by a coven of leftists on a Sydney council because of their antipathy towards Israel.
    Nip it in the bud once and for all.

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    1. Jon Cassar

      ex-teacher

      In reply to Peter Tregear

      I'm not particularly impressed with some commentators' abilities to separate truth from their preferred points of view. I know what Brandis said this morning, quite clearly, and in triplicate as Fran tried to pose the same question in different ways to draw out something she could get her teeth into.

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    2. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Jon Cassar

      Sorry, mate-it's not me, I fear who is 'separating truth from their preferred points of view'. Read the letter Brandis wrote to the Arts Council. I quote from it, I do not editorialise its content. And it's hardly unknown for a politician to want to soften a point after the event when they realise they might have over-reached.

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  14. Terry Cutler

    Consultant

    This discussion of the Biennale of Sydney saga is in danger of conflating quite discrete areas for debate. One area involves the “corporatisation” of the arts, and their funding (indirectly supported by the taxpayer through tax incentives). Another, suggested by Jason Potts in an accompanying piece, goes into a strange territory around the morality of arts workers “withdrawing their labour” or, in other words, going on strike. The most important area of debate that is emerging, in my view, involves…

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  15. Patrick Stokes

    Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

    Two telling quotes we've heard this week: Brandis' "do we have a society in which every time somebody says something unpopular or offensive to a majority of opinion..." and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis' "'I don't mind activism but when it descends into defamation and people then still talk about us being "morally corrupt", I regard their actions as morally indefensible" (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/5312000?section=nsw)

    Brandis seems to be reducing the evil of racial…

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick, s.18C is not about "racial vilification".

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    2. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      To be honest Andy, despite the fact people seem to insist on this distinction in the context of repealing s.18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, I really struggle to see the practical difference between "offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin" and "racial vilification." If it's just a matter of degree (e.g. what Bolt wrote vs. screaming racial epithets at someone on a train) then ok, but it'd be very hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. If it's meant to be a difference of kind, then I'm really not seeing it.

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  16. Peta Bowman

    Manager

    Transfield, please take your funding and give it to organisations who put culture before politics.
    Those who protest against Transfield funding demonstrate that their political bias outweighs their commitment to the arts.

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    1. Marek Bage

      luthier

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      What an ignorant comment!
      Where is the political bias?
      Since when is concern for human rights abuses an act of political bias?

      And BTW, you're questioning their commitment to the arts?
      They're f@*king artists! Of course they're committed.
      You're just upset that they choose not to whore themselves to the highest bidder.

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    2. Peta Bowman

      Manager

      In reply to Marek Bage

      Marek,, you ask where the political bias? Perhaps you should suggest that the artists who rejected the involvement of Transfield for its temerity to enter into a commercial arrangement should also reject any Government funding given it is the current Government and previous Labor Governments policy that sees people locked up on Manus Island.
      Or is acceptable to you for the artists to close their eyes to the activities of other funding sources.
      If you and the artists cannot distinguish that the "ethics" in sharing in the Transfield funding is just as reprehensible as sharing in Government funding then their actions are clearly targeted for political purposes.
      You seem to condone whoring to the other funding sources notwithstanding their asylum seeker policies when it is economically and no doubt politically convenient.

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    3. Marek Bage

      luthier

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      What a confused argument you put forward!

      You are making the simple, yet common, mistake of viewing Commonwealth grants in the same light as corporate sponsorship.
      They are very different.

      Commonwealth Art grants are taxpayer funds which are distributed, at arm’s length from government, for the purposes of encouraging and improving the cultural output of a nation. They are a part of government spending just like any other.
      They are not examples of Liberal Party largesse; they are examples…

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    4. Peta Bowman

      Manager

      In reply to Marek Bage

      The arguments you put are shallow and demonstrate your inability to accept that Transfield entered into a commercial arrangement to manage a facility set up by Rudd- Gillard and served on a silver platter to Abbott who continues the travesty.
      You fail to recognise that the attack on Transfield was designed to highlight a political issue that the recipients do not support. You conveniently hide behind a so called grants system as if the funds from this source have been washed clean, notwithstanding they are sourced from a Government that maintains the Rudd-Gillard policies that were supported by the Labor caucus notwithstanding the views of long term Labor supporters.
      You cannot close your eyes to the political facts because the recipients find it convenient to remain on the Government payroll.

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    5. Robert Davidson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      Nonsense - nothing to do with politics, everything to do with doing what's right. It's not right to torture people on Manus island, so to accept money from those doing it is an act of conscience.

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    6. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Marek Bage

      Spot on Marek. There absolutely is a difference between Government sponsorship through arms-length agencies and corporate sponsorship. In confusing the two Brandis has created a furore of his own making.

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    7. Jane Middlemist

      citizen

      In reply to Robert Davidson

      So refreshing, in these ethics-free times that some people can still distinguish between right and wrong.
      Long may these "simple, old-fashioned" ideas be remembered, at least by some of us.

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  17. Peta Bowman

    Manager

    Patrick is it ethical to question Transfield funding and not look behind the curtain of the activities of other funding sources.
    Patrick how convenient of you to feign indignation and pretend the protesters are not playing the politics of the moment.
    Perhaps you should set up a Committee to publicly screen all funding for the arts and let us know which organisations or Governments pass your self imposed test.

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    1. Peter Tregear

      Professor and Head, School of Music at Australian National University

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      Peta--it is about making choices. We all paid our taxes to Gov when it supported a now almost universally accepted illegal (and certainly ill-advised) war in Iraq. We are all complicit, always in acts made 'in our name' with which we may disagree. That's a fact of civil society. They question is not that this happens, but rather when we choose to take a stand. What you and I might choose as the 'tipping point' will be different to others. The artists should (and I presume will) accept the consequences of their actions. But I am not sure any of the above means it is either good policy, or politics, of Government to involve otherwise 'at-arms-length' funding of arts bodies to leverage support for their argument.

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    2. Robert Davidson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Peter Tregear

      The consequences of their actions can't be that our servants tell artists how to act. I never voted for these immoral incompetents, and I'll protest Brandis' immoral confusion till the cows come home.

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    3. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      "is it ethical to question Transfield funding and not look behind the curtain of the activities of other funding sources." - Who's suggesting we do that? But that other sources of funding might be problematic doesn't mean that taking Transfield's money is somehow ok.

      "Patrick how convenient of you to feign indignation" - What's feigned about it? We're locking people who have fled their homes in fear of their life, and who have done nothing illegal, in camps that seem to be designed simply to break…

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    4. Barry White

      Retired

      In reply to Robert Davidson

      Don't be silly, they don't want Transfield funds but will accept my money via the government because of what Transfield is doing for the government !

      Anyone who can justify that should examine their own confusion.

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    5. Peta Bowman

      Manager

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Highlighting that Transfield derive a profit from some of their activities that you find objectionable but refusing to apply the same test to other funding sources under scores your selective treatment of the issue. You have fallen into error by allowing the pursuit of political point scoring to override the ethical issue of looking behind the activities of all funding sources.
      If you say it is ethically correct to reject the Transfield funding why will you not support the same standard being applied to other funding sources.

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    6. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Peta Bowman

      But again, Peta, who is "refusing to apply the same test to other funding sources"? The only other funding source I've seen discussed here is public funding, which, as I've argued above, is in a completely different category because of the unique relation of citizen to government. If we're talking about other private companies (or other governments) then of course the same test would apply. I don't suggest artists should be rejecting Transfield's dosh while accepting grants from United Orphan Poison Ltd. or Panda Pelts R Us. But then, I'm not aware that anyone is suggesting they do.

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    7. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick
      "I don't suggest artists should be rejecting Transfield's dosh while accepting grants from United Orphan Poison Ltd. or Panda Pelts R Us. " But that is exactly what they have done. There are other private companies amongst Biennale's current sponsors who could be considered to have ethical lapses, so why just Transfield. Should artists accept money from companies who have been found guilty of breaking the law? It seems to me that the artists in this case have been very selective.

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    8. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Roger Jones

      Ok, so which companies are we talking about, and how significant are their lapses? Are they ongoing or historical? What proportion of their business did the lapses relate to? (Should a health research organisation reject funding from a foundation that was established with tobacco money for instance, even if it was a hundred years ago? That's not a hypothetical situation incidentally: a friend of mine was forced by her employer to turn down a grant on that basis). All of these will be relevant to making a decision on which are involved in something so odious that artists should refuse to accept their money.

      Remember, it's not simply that Transfield have done "something wrong" - I doubt any company would pass if that was the test. It's that it's involved in, and profits by, something utterly repugnant that is still ongoing.

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    9. Roger Jones

      Australian Citizen

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      It depends on your definition of "repugnant" and who judges it as repugnant, and who gives them the right to be the judge. And what is your definition of time ago. Transfield has broken no law yet there involvement in the Manus camp is judged by some as repugnant. There is another sponsor of Biennale who is considered (I am assuming) by those same judges to pass their ethical test yet they and their senior executives have been found guilty of tax evasion and interest rate manipulation. I would argue…

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    10. Peta Bowman

      Manager

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      I will await with great interest and anticipation to see evidence of you critically analysing the source of profits of other contributors to the Arts.
      I will particularly be interested to see consistency in your actions and the treatment of other donors in keeping with your utterances.
      Let all readers know the results as they will impact on future Arts funding.
      I am sure the Government funding mandarins will also be watching out for your conclusions.

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  18. Roger Jones

    Australian Citizen

    My question is not with the artists but with the Biennale Board. If they are going to make judgements on the purity of sponsors then they should look to the rest of their current sponsorship list. Amongst them are companies that have questions for them or their executives for tax evasion, manipulation of interest rates, concealing tax evasion of clients and policies of racial discrimination. Is the Biennale Board's ethical stance selective or consistent? Who decides which ethics are acceptable and which are not. If a company shows clear discrimination, say against Jews is this considered OK in the contemporary arts world where Israel is generally accepted to be evil? What about bank and investing companies who gained and grew from greed and malpractice?

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