Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why Left artists should just give up

As I wrote re its opening ceremony, the Commonwealth Games has been a widespread economic bonanza, just as long as you’re *not* an artist/writer/performer.

Confirming this, the other evening I was down at “The Beach”, a Games cultural hotspot that I’d been to several times during the week already. A prominent prime-time act was a mock beach patrol, cum other nautical themes, titled “Sink or Swimburne”. As Melbournians may well guess, this pageant’s performers were arts students from Swinburne University of Technology.

A friend-turned-roving-reporter, who was with me at “The Beach”, asked one of the 30-odd Swinburne students/performers (then on a break) about whether they got paid for their Games work. No – and not only that, participation was compulsory.

Looking up the “Festival Melbourne 2006” Games cultural program-guide, “Sink or Swimburne” was clearly a high-rotation act, on for ten days (out of the 11-day games; they got March 20 “off”). While the printed program doesn’t give daily times, it appears that “Sink or Swimburne” were “roving perfomers” (PDF) on for up to two-times-two-hours slots on each of these ten days. In addition, performers' median travelling time, to get to and from the CBD by public transport, would have been two hours per day.

That is, the Swinburne students/performers were conscripted to work, unpaid, up to total of 40 hours (not including 20 hours of commuting, on average) over eleven days. Fuck. That.

No doubt the Swinburne crew was told that this sort of stuff: '“Official Festival Melbourne 2006 performer” will look good on one’s CV'. I doubt that it’s gonna work like that down the track, but let’s move on, to what happens when young performers have the misfortune of getting Australia Council funding for their public-art event. (Swinburne didn't.)

OzCo funding was obtained by theatre company Red Cabbage for its “Hedge-mony”, a one-day (today) performance art event involving a 400-odd cast, that a few weeks ago caught the eye of boomer-Right columnist Andrew Bolt. As Bolt launched his attack well ahead of the actual event, it seems he simply trolled through the Games cultural program-guide looking for twinned red-flags: “Australia Council funding” and events which could be construed as Left. Tick, and tick: the program describes the hedge-event as, inter alia: “a visual spectacle that questions the notion of hierarchies and systems of power”.

Looking up OzCo funding records (PDF), the Red Cabbage principals behind “Hedge-mony” indeed received $15,000 for their event (the program-guide also lists the Melbourne Museum and “Auspicious Arts” as financial supporters).

Waste of money? Quite possibly, including judging from what I have seen of it so far today (it has three discrete segments being performed this afternoon/evening, and the first ten minutes of the first segment was an utter yawnfest). Although a street press report highlighted that the funding received went to paying for materials*, rather than the *volunteer* performers, the sum of money involved, and the verbatim claims of Tania Smith (scroll down) both suggest that a fair whack of the OzCo 15-grand went as salary to the four Red Cabbage principals: Tania Smith, Louise Morris, Anna Hamilton and Anna Grassham. My guesstimate is that the principals may have pocketed about $2,000 each for their work. Otherwise, no one has got/gets paid a cent, blue-collar and boomer-supervisory labour aside, of course.

The funny thing is that I’m sure that privately, Andrew Bolt would not at all grudge the Red Cabbage principals such a wage. They after, after all, organised 400 volunteer young performers (including recuiting through the Scouts (PDF)) is surely an admirable thing in today’s boom era of global labour/body trafficking, aka “onshoring”.

In the end, the Red Cabbages of this world can’t even fire a sound shot in, much less win this particular nasty culture war. As Bolt replied to Tania Smith (URL above), who "hedged" her bets thus ("Yes, the project does raise questions about power, society, hierarchies ... if you choose to read into it. On the whole, most of our audiences purely find it a great way to get caught up in the festival atmosphere") :

I resent that you got even a cent for your frolic. If it's so much fun, why not do it for the sheer love of it? And if you really want to "do something" for the community, come down to our junior cricket club next month and help out our working bee. You don't get to dress like a hedge but you can help some lovely boys and girls by doing a bit of concreting.

Nice one, Andrew – you’re on $200-$500k a year, and you expect impoverished culture-workers to subsidise *you* (and your family). But since Bolt does mention concrete, it strikes me that the art “installations” currently going on in the streets of Paris might be more to his taste. After all, the Paris riots are *entirely* volunteer “art” – not a taxpayer arts-cent goes to the performers or organisers. So would you prefer that – a bit of unleashed GenX and Y rage – Andrew? If so, I sure hope that Bolt’s 4WD (I’m guessing) is first car to be torched.

* “But when one of Hedge-mony’s organisers pointed out that the free event was made up of unpaid volunteers, and that funding went towards paying for materials rather than pumping up bank balances, Bolt was adamant that he’s still in the right.”
- John Bailey, “Business as usual for Bolta” Beat 22 March 2006

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