Thursday, May 16, 2019

Creative Partnerships Australia

                                                            Wildskin, a NORPA Production. 
                                                 Directed by Julian Louis. 
                                            Image by Darcy Grant

Creative Partnerships Australia – The Arts Funding Process.  Information seminar and discussion, Friday May 10, 2019 at CMAG – Canberra Museum and Gallery.

Commentary by Frank McKone
May 2019.

Are you a major, small-scale or individual maker of art?  How do you find the money to start up; keep going; increase (if you want to) your output, your impact, the quality of your work?

These questions form an important part of the context for a reviewer.  My being conscious of the situation in which an artist or a company finds themselves, perhaps with implications for their status, affects not so my judgement of artistic quality as the terms in which I present my judgement.

As a critic, I am also seeking to place the work I see in the context of cultural change.  Is this stage production more ‘modern’ in style, for example; or is it more culturally authentic; and are new developments more theatrically successful artistically?

In 2012 (January 21) I reviewed (here, and also available at ) Buried City by Raimondo Cortese, presented at Belvoir Street Theatre, one of the ‘majors’ alongside Sydney Theatre Company.  The performance by Urban Theatre Projects received a damning criticism, though I acknowledged “the intentions of Urban Theatre Projects are worthwhile in principle – to expose the terrible empty space of living without purpose”. 

I made negative comparisons with famous works such as Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.  This seemed appropriate at the time, in the context of the expectations I should have of Belvoir Street productions.  Similarly, I criticised the production by Sydney Theatre Company of Dinner by Moira Buffini (September 24, 2017).

But listening to Jill Colvin, director of philanthropy for the Australian Chamber Orchestra in a seminar conducted by Este Darin-Cooper, NSW/ACT manager for Creative Partnerships Australia, I realised the error of my ways.  Sydney Theatre Company deserved what it got, but I had misjudged in the manner of my writing about Urban Theatre Projects 7 years ago.

Jill Colvin is UTP board director, a position she undertakes in a volunteer capacity alongside her paid position at the ACO. ACO patrons may have their $500 per head fundraising gala at Carriageworks and be taken on trips to the Barossa Valley wineries; while donors to UTP have cups of tea with warm-hearted quietly committed artistic director Rosie Dennis as she continues to work on group devised projects in the less affluent suburbs of western Sydney. 

The point is that UTP has grown its funding and its impact in the community from its first crowd-funded one-off project to an established donor pool, without the need to rely only on ticket selling and government grants.  Looking back, embarrassingly, I now see that Belvoir was doing the right thing back in 2012 in supporting and promoting UTP, just as Belvoir continues to support Aboriginal writing and productions – with the Balnaves Foundation as a key long-term sponsor.  My reviews, especially from Richard Frankland’s Conversations with the Dead in 2003 (August 21), show the terrific results.

Creative Partnerships Australia, and its platform for fundraising, the Australian Cultural Fund, originating in the development of the Creative Australia policy by Arts Minister Simon Crean during the period of Labor governments from 2008 to 2013, has continued to provide assistance to people such as the 21 who attended last Friday, representing, for example, major organisations such as the National Portrait Gallery, the rather smaller M16 visual arts centre and some individual artists.

The concept of Creative Partnerships is to assist artists and arts organisations to diversify their sources of income beyond direct grants from government and sales (of tickets or art works) into the world of sponsorship and philanthropy, while it also aims to increase support and awareness for private giving to the arts.

Perhaps Carol Woodrow’s planned production of Chekhov’s The Seagull by her Canberra Theatre Company (for which I was researching translations) may have gone ahead in 1991 despite the failure of one sponsor company to come up with the money at the last minute.  An established donor ‘pool’ as described by Jill Colvin and with help from Creative Partnerships could have saved the day.  Or indeed may have enabled Woodrow’s Wildwood Theatre to continue after the introduction of the GST in 2000.  As volunteer chair and treasurer of the board, receiving the standard one-off project money from the Australia Council, I realised it was not possible to handle the seeming complexities of the GST administration without having reliable continuous funding to employ professional accounting staff.

The advantage of Creative Partnerships Australia is that it uses government money in an AusAid or Oxfam kind of way – assisting people to more easily do what they need to do.  The most important issue at last Friday’s session, concerned artistic integrity.  Would the emphasis on seeking private individual and corporate money mean compromising on the quality of the art?

Jill Colvin, after her experience across the range, was absolutely adamant that the key to creating a successful donor pool is to never waver from authenticity.  Cups of tea with Rose Dennis are just as powerful in forming and maintaining UTP’s support base as are ACO board members chairing committees in Melbourne and Sydney.  It’s about people’s commitment to the purpose of the art and their personal involvement in owning the results – not in the crass sense of getting returns on their money, but in the process of working together as a group of donors for the benefit of the artist’s work.  What struck me about the Creative Partnerships process is the positive cooperative approach at its core.

To conclude, Nicole Hasham reported last weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald “Labor’s arts spokesman, Tony Burke, on Saturday [May 11] is expected to announce that if elected next weekend, the party will revive its Creative Australia policy and ensure arts and culture reaches the lives of everyday Australians.”