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Australian Arts funding: we need to spread it around more widely

By Leon Fish - posted Monday, 10 March 2003

"Scene ten, the turd in the Tupperware dish - it's a little low-brow for the ABC."

And so ended the pitch that was to sell our script; that was to be our television debut. The ABC comedy development officer we offended was the protectorate of a money pool - part of the mountainous public purse that makes up what the dreamers dream is the arts funding bonanza.

And the dreamers? Struggling artists like me.


It's not uncommon to stumble across people full of house-red at a dinner party arguing endlessly about government money for the arts. There's either too much or not enough. It's totally wasted or chronically short for what's needed. Poured into elitist crap or blamed for creating the cultural cringe. Well, there is enough money - it just doesn't go to the right people.

Recently I was told I was an outsider: "You don't fit in, don't know the right people, didn't get the right education. You have to be an insider to make it". When I sobered up I took it as a complement. But do I really qualify? People are crying at real estate auctions - no-one feels my pain.

"It's just not fair," I tell my stationer.

The replacement for my printer cartridge costs double the value of the printer it serves.

"You want fair? Get yourself a Ferris wheel," he yells back.

But that's all I really want. Fair. I want someone at the Australia Council to read my support material - everyone has a novel inside them, it would be nice to have one funded. I want someone at SBS to put down their latte and bring back public access - I could read the weather for Anton. I want someone at the Australian Film Commission to return my phone messages - I co-wrote a full-length feature that screened in North America, Ireland and Germany to rave reviews but when I needed help, desperate calls to the AFC got me voicemail. I know Bill Hunter wasn't in it. I know the beautiful people didn't endorse it - but it won an award in Texas. That must mean something.


Nicole Kidman has a rubber nose in her latest film. She'll get an Oscar.

I've always believed art needs to be self-funded. Government subsidies should be focused on industries that, while they're never going to be self sufficient, should at least employ workers who support families. Like mung-bean farming or shale-oil manufacturing. Film makers who churn out million dollar public-funded movies making a fraction back and calling themselves independent need to step into the real world. Not since the joke has spending other people's money been something to be proud of.

Arts funding needs to be channelled. It's sad seeing hard-earned tax dollars paying for catering trucks dishing out tofu on wishy-washy films only one per cent of the population will ever see. I say: make grants smaller and more frequent. Not more money but more people getting a slice of it. I want the Government to give me a $1000 Officeworks voucher so I can buy printer cartridges.

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About the Author

Leon Fish is a Sydney-based writer, poet and film-maker. His latest film, Bloodspit, which he co-wrote and co-produced, is due for UK DVD release in September 2003.

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