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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19923

Mr KING (9:43 AM) —A few years ago the Australia Council for the Arts commissioned the firm Saatchi and Saatchi to research the attitudes of Australians towards the arts. Their report Australians and the arts became a critical document for the council in their future planning and understanding of what Australians expect from the arts and funding agencies. The then chair of the Australia Council stated at the time, in explaining why they commissioned that report:

A key factor needed to underpin a buoyant, artistic environment was a high level of public support for and engagement with the arts in all their manifestations.

The Saatchi and Saatchi report drew similar conclusions in its key findings, one of which was:

The future of the arts will depend significantly on finding new supporters and markets outside the areas of current traditional support.

What the Australia Council was recognising was that it is intrinsically important that the arts be accessible and of interest to as many Australians as possible. It may not sound like rocket science, but it is important that arts funding agencies do not forget this principle in the discharge of their duties. It is therefore disappointing to me that it would appear that the Australia Council itself does not always match its rhetoric with funding decisions that could achieve those goals.

I particularly want to draw the House's attention to the inexplicable reluctance of the council to fund what has become one of Australia's most popular visual artistic events—Sculpture by the Sea. It will stage its eighth exhibition later this year in my electorate in the broad stretch of headland and coastland between Bondi Beach and Tamarama. When the exhibition was first staged in 1997, it included 64 exhibits and attracted 25,000 viewers. By 2002 it was exhibiting nearly 100 sculptures and attracting over 200,000 people.

Having been a strong supporter of Sculpture by the Seaover many years, I have been both thrilled and amazed to see the transformation of this exhibition into an event that brings people to Bondi from across Sydney, and indeed the world, in those numbers. Just as importantly, the quality of the works is the foundation of its success. The level of interest from sculptors here and abroad has grown commensurately. Sculpture by the Seais now the most popular sculpture exhibition in the world and attracts considerable international media attention. But, unfortunately, this seems to have escaped the Australia Council.

Over the last years, Sculpture by the Seahas sought the support of the Council. The visual/arts craft board is the most logical supporting arm of the Council for an exhibition of this type. However, the organisers have been told they are ineligible. Other avenues within the Council have been explored, and the net result has been a grant of $20,000 in all that time. The organisers have been given various reasons; they have been described to me as issues surrounding the fact that they award prizes and that, until recently, they have been structured as a private company. If true, both reasons ring hollow and sound ideological in their genesis.

It does not really matter whether it is the structure of the Council funding programs or the views of Council boards during the assessment of applications; either way, the Council needs to take a close look at how successful it has been in fulfilling its own goal of increasing public participation and appreciation of the arts, when events of this scale and quality are forced to struggle on without financial assistance. The Australia Council has been prepared to spend large sums of money working out how to make the arts more successful. It is bizarre that Australia's most popular art exhibition does not receive support.

I know that in so many areas the arts have benefited from the support of the Australia Council and its program. Many of the direct beneficiaries live in my electorate. But flaws exist in the processes of the Council when an event like this is shunned; when the development of an Internet site that promotes rock throwing at Israeli settlements as a cultural activity has been granted more funding than Sculpture by the Sea has received. Sculpture by the Seahas grown to the success that it is, thanks to the initiative and hard work of its organisers and the support of sponsors, the New South Wales government and Waverley Council. But its success has meant greater pressure on its resources and, if it is to continue to grow and attract the audiences it has to date, the support of the Australia Council in future years will be essential. (Time expired)