With the NSW election looming, arts organisations are releasing their report cards comparing each party’s commitment to the arts in the state. The arts has received more attention than is perhaps usual this election with Gladys Berejiklian’s government and the Labor opposition offering very different visions moving forward.

One of the key areas of contention is the government’s plans to relocate the Powerhouse Museum to western Sydney – plans which include building a 1,500-seat lyric theatre at the Powerhouse’s current site – and Labor’s alternative to keep the Powerhouse at Ultimo and instead build a $500 million ‘cultural institution’ at Parramatta.

The National Trust has called for the government’s planned move to be abandoned, while the founder of The Balnaves Foundation, Neil Balnaves, recently took out a full-page advertisement in The Australian condemning it. “The NSW Liberal government doesn’t get the arts,” Balnaves said in the advertisement. “By the government’s own reckoning, the arts annually contributes $16.4 billion to the NSW economy and 120,000 jobs, yet government annual funding to the arts is a miserable $542 million.”

“The argument (not to move it) is not terribly complex,” he says, saying that the Powerhouse Museum “certainly needs updating but it has a wider market, and is more easily accessible in the city,” and calling instead for Parramatta to have its own multi-purpose arts centre.

“Why can’t Parramatta have a more multifaceted centre that is flexible to growth?” he said. “The economic benefit case has not been made, and I don’t believe my taxes are being well spent on moving the museum. The government’s robbing our pockets, takes the money, and then makes decisions that don’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, the government’s Sydney lock-out laws remain controversial, particularly with respect to their dampening effect on the city’s live music scene, while the Berejiklian government has also drawn fire for regulations introduced around music festivals, which Live Performance Australia’s Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson described as “arbitrary” and a threat “to the future of all live music in NSW.”

“These new regulations imposed by government without any consultation reflect a government that has no strategy for supporting live music in NSW, sending a signal to every live music promoter and festival organiser that doing business in NSW is fraught with danger and subject to the whims of the Premier’s office. Clearly, this will be a major issue at the upcoming election,” she said.

Both major parties have expressed support for reopening Sydney’s Theatre Royal, but it remains to be seen when that might happen.

The National Association for the Visual Arts hit out at the NSW Government recently over reports that Arts Minister Don Harwin and Regional Development Minister John Barilaro, the NSW leader of the Nationals, co-approved 13 regional arts projects – all in seats held by the Liberal or National parties – that had been deemed unworthy of funding. “Artists and arts audiences welcome elected members’ ambition for the cultural life of their electorates. This ambition, however, cannot be realised at the expense of public integrity,” said NAVA Executive Director, Esther Anatolitis.

The controversy follows last year’s revelations of Arts Minister Don Harwin’s intervention in a Create NSW funding round, in which money was diverted to a one-off grant of $1 million to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for an acoustic enhancement at the International Convention Centre, funds which the SSO has since returned, having abandoned that project.

NAVA has released a report card comparing the arts policy commitments of the NSW Liberals, NSW Labor and the NSW Greens.

Nava, election report cardThe National Association for the Visual Arts Election Report Card: NSW 2019

“For NSW Election 2019, arts and culture have already become hot issues – but for all the wrong reasons,” said Anatolitis. “Continued political interference in arts funding decisions, the unexplained billion-dollar relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, the destabilising approach to festivals and live music, and the stalled Arts 2025 policy development process, all combine to impact significantly on the public conversation as Saturday’s election draws nearer.”

Music NSW has also released a report card, which tracks – among other things – each party’s four-year music funding commitments.

Music NSW 2019 State Election Report Card

While the Arts Party isn’t fielding any candidates itself this election – though it has promised to do so at future NSW elections – it has released its own report card, comparing how each party stacks up in categories including Arts Funding, Regional Arts Investment and number of Female Candidates Standing.

The Arts Party NSW State Election 2019 Report Card

While not releasing a ‘report card’ as such, the Association of NSW Regional Conservatoriums has weighed in on the election, with President Anita Bellman condemning the NSW government’s unwillingness to commit to enhanced funding for NSW’s 17 Regional Music Conservatoriums this election campaign. “I received a call from the Minister’s office explaining that, despite all the hard work we had done in cooperation with the Department and Minister’s office, the Berejiklian-led Coalition will not be making an announcement on Conservatorium funding,” Bellman said. “Instead I was informed that consideration of enhanced funding would be left to the 2019/2020 budget process, if they win the election. Alarmingly, this can only mean that the NSW Liberal/National Party has not seriously considered increasing support for Regional Conservatoriums.”

Regional Conservatoriums teach students in primary schools, high schools and at Conservatoriums across the state, working in close partnership with schools to supply specialist music teaching that would otherwise be unavailable in regional communities. “Regional Conservatoriums have been working tirelessly for more than 40 years to provide equitable access to quality music education across regional NSW that was previously only available in metropolitan areas,” Bellman said. “It is not our role to play partisan politics and we have no desire to do so, but are grateful we have already been given a commitment of $40 million in additional funding, for core and infrastructure needs, from the NSW Labor Party.”

With so many high-profile arts issues receiving attention – not to mention the government’s handling of the furore surrounding the projection of results from the Everest horse race on the sails of the Sydney Opera House last year – the arts will no doubt be in many people’s minds when they vote on Saturday. “The arts are loved and valued in NSW, with 98% of us participating, and massive cultural, community, health and economic benefits for our regions, suburbs and cities,” Anatolitis said. “Artists work with rigour, focus and integrity. A state’s arts policy is its clearest expression of confidence in its own potential – as well as its confidence in the expertise of artists to define what’s possible.”

Featured image: jannoon028, freepik.com