What have they got against us volunteers’ way of life?

Campaigners seem to be having some success in raising the profile of writers and others giving away the product of their labour for free. The first time I ran into this issue in any big way was in launching the Government 2.0 Taskforce with a design competition. The prize? The love and adulation of the community. Now the case against being asked to do stuff for free has made it onto Books and Arts Daily on RN, where after a nervous start, I thought the editor of the new Daily Review did a good job.

I was surprised last night to follow a tweet by libertarian Russ Roberts to this takedown of TEDx. When this guy explained “Why I’m Not a TEDx Speaker” I thought he might be about to decry its relentless drive down market. But no – it was because he wasn’t going to get paid.

Now Julia Baird weighs in and my friend Tim Dunlop is seeking advice.

Ok, some advice please. I just got a request from a book publisher to reproduce a piece I wrote a while back. It will be in a book for use in secondary schools, a collection of essays on Australian politics with a print run of 2000. While they ask for copyright permission, they are very careful not to mention payment.

So my question is, do I ask for some sort of payment on the basis that writers should be paid? Or do I make an exception because it is being used for educational purposes?

You can read others’ comments on his thread. But I reproduce my own to begin the debate out in the open rather than inside the walled garden of Facebook, which, as I point out in my comment, has the temerity to have Tim writing for it, yet all the while not paying him a cent! Not only that but all those commenters arguing that publishers should pay their contributors, well there they are, giving away their own writing, the sweat of their brow.

I’m shocked: shocked! Continue reading

What’s on? A Troppo Initiative starting with the British Film Festival

This image came up on a Google search for “What’s On”. It’s from The Central Tavern at Springfield Lakes, wherever that is. Seems nice enough, the cocktails can be very red by the looks of things, though there does seem to be quite a breeze blowing there. But I digress.

I’ve complained before about the strange state of the world. On the one hand we can set up fabulously useful markets for stuff on eBay and Amazon where you can not only find just what you’re looking for (if it’s available) but are also made aware of things that, based on what you’ve previously bought or liked, you might like, but you can’t get the same service for events on around you. And here the market for events is divided into the heavily marketed standard fare – mainstream films, and Big Arts for instance – and the not so much. Of this there’s what you might call ‘mainstream arthouse’ which is also heavily marketed, and then there are lots of other events like festivals where there are once off events. And here you’re at the mercy of the marketers of the festivals. For instance the British Film Festival started last night and had a film on that it said was pretty swish.  The reviews say it’s pretty horrible, but you have to do a bit of work to find that out.  True, with Google, it’s much less work than it used to be, but then there are a lot of events on. And I would check out perhaps one per cent of those events.

Meanwhile the government which should be in the business of funding public goods is nevertheless in the business of subsidising private goods.  It subsidises the Art Gallery to further its own interests and feather it’s own nest, and the Recital Centre, and the ABC and the Opera and so on. They’re all taking to the internet with their cool new apps. But that isn’t solving the problem, but rather replicating it. Why? Because us users continue to receive a service that’s fragmented which wastes our time and misleads us with marketing bumph rather than addressing our needs (to mainly go to events we’re likely to like.)

But there you go. Complaints are only ever surfaced so as to spur action to solve them – that’s one of our corest of core values on “Our Values Charter” at Troppo. So I’ve asked Anoop, Lateral Economics’ designer-cum-research-assistant in India to do the basic legwork necessary to produce a schedule of a film festival with our interests as potential patrons in mind. So instead of the marketing bumph on the official website, I’ve asked Anoop to go find the two best reviews he can find, and to put up the synopsis, and links to the trailer denoted by this iconTrailer  and the best reviews together with their ratings either as expressed by them in stars out of five, or as they have rated them themselves. So below the fold you’ll find the schedule for Melbourne. It immediately demonstrates the difference between marketing bumph and reviews. The opening movie is described on the official website as “A superb, celebratory crowd-pleaser, with a gorgeous performance from the affable Corden as an inspirational nobody who dared to follow his dream against all odds.”. Maybe that’s right, but you should at least know that the Guardian reviewer reported it as being a “weirdly miscast. . . treacly, tepid heartwarmer”. The bad news is that with this kind of shoestring operation, you would probably have liked to know this before last night when it was on.  But the rest of the festival is similarly unlocked for you. Imagine if markets in information actually worked a little more directly to actually help consumers! It really shouldn’t take much.

Melbourne Schedule

@Palace Cinema Como

Wednesday 20 November

7:00pm One Chance (Opening Night)Trailer
Triumph follows adversity follows triumph follows adversity in dizzying fashion in David Frankel’s contrived but still affecting biopic of Paul Potts, the phone salesman from Port Talbot who became the first winner of Britain’s Got Talent.
☆☆☆☆☆   The Guardian
☆☆☆☆☆   The Independent

Thursday 21 November

Labors damaging legacy to the visual arts

The following quote is from an article published in London’s Financial Times on October 4. The article is further confirmation that the previous Labor government’s gratuitous interference in the art market has had a devastating effect on sales and its legacy is continuing to prevent recovery.

The Art Market: Australian art gets thumbs-down   by Georgina Adam

The market for Australian art is small, worth about A$100m (about US$93m) a year at auction, and has “levelled off” at that value, says Mark Fraser, chairman of Bonhams Australia. …..

He says that three factors are dogging the market: the introduction of a resale royalty scheme (which levies 5 per cent on the resale of works of art over A$1,000, with no upper cap) and changes to pension fund rules, which have led some collectors to sell off their holdings. Finally, he says: “The market for Aboriginal art has really taken a huge hammering since export bars were introduced, because the biggest buyers were in the US and Europe.” He concludes: “Psychologically, people here are more reticent to get involved with art, because of this government tinkering. It’s unsettling – they wonder if there will be further regulation.”

It is important to remember that Australia’s art resale royalty scheme is running at a significant net loss to government and that the changes to the rules on art in SMSFs have  trashed the value of a significant number of pre-existing personal super investments for no good reason. All art has been devalued by this process, and a sector of the market has vanished. These policies have created increased costs to government, not just subsidies to the costs of the collection society, but also in the need for increased subsidies to the indigenous art centres to cover the loss of sales income caused by these same policies. And, at the same time they have greatly reduced the size and viability of the independent tax-paying visual arts sector.

It should come as no surprise that when governments enact damaging and pointless regulation of art, a discretionary commodity that is not a health, safety or national security issue, it creates broad anxiety and distrust in the market about what further interferences a government might simply do on a whim.

The net result of these policies is that they have driven many legitimate, committed art businesses to the wall. In the words of long term artist and gallerist Christopher Hodges of Utopia Art Sydney:

“Since the introduction of the resale royalty, there have been more commercial galleries, representing living artists, close their doors, downsize or amalgamate than in my memory… diminishing all our opportunities.”

The real covert purpose of the lobbyists for the artist resale royalty was always compulsory, monopolist, collective representation of artists as well as the creation of subsidies to self-appointed representatives of “art”. In the face of clear evidence that the advocates for the scheme were mired in conflict of interest, that the scheme was intrinsically unviable and that numerous studies, including the Access Economics report, stated that the scheme would not be of net benefit to living artists, Labor’s willingness to even contemplate legislating for such a purpose was and still is deeply troubling.

For background info : With friends like this’: Labor policies and the commercial, independent visual arts sector

The Review of the Resale Royalty Scheme: or A classic case of what Niskanen spoke about.

The Review of Artists resale royalty scheme Part II

The Review of Artists resale royalty scheme Part III

Design as a counter-narrative: Presentation to a workshop on arts participation

Here’s a presentation I gave to a conference called – unhelpfully – Art for Art’s Sake.  It was actually about new approaches to participation in the arts, about finding ways of connecting people to the arts – and the arts to people – which go beyond the traditional arrangement of government subsidised Grand Purveyors of Culture getting bums on seats to consume High Art. The day was spent with presentations from five arts practitioners in the morning and then three people from outside the arts in the arvo.  Those three people were me, an economist, a scientist and a non-partisan political campaigner from OurSay.

When the organiser rang me I was rather taken aback that she’d want me to speak, but she mentioned her topic and I said that I’d always thought about what I did as involving careful listening to people and trying to interact with it in terms of one’s preconceptions of what made good policy – always trying to update that as one went along. She liked the sound of this and I said I could describe the construction of the Button Car Plan as an exercise in that method. She liked that idea but I wondered whether it would be quite what the arties were looking for. When I saw some of the earlier presentations from the artists I got pretty excited about what some of them were doing and decided to talk about our work at the Australian Centre for Social Innovation as you will see from the presentation above.

Other materials to help you understand the talk are the slides I spoke to (ppt) (hastily cobbled together from other slide packs I’d constructed previously) and here is the video I showed during the presentation.

A review of the government’s new model Indigenous Art Academy

On Friday 9th August Nicolas Rothwell published this article in The Australian on the state of indigenous art in Australia.  Nicolas’s  article details how, over the past 6 years, the old free market indigenous art sector has largely been replaced by a state backed official Indigenous cultural academy:

…..the private-sector market collapsed. What replaced it was a new kind of state culture network,  funded by new or expanded programs: programs for remote community arts infrastructure, for research into indigenous societies and for their cultural support.

This new system is now entrenched. It has four pillars: central co-ordination; frontline art-making; downstream gallery display; and a dependent knowledge industry. These pillars interact, and support each other. They are well-funded and thus largely shielded from the pressures of the marketplace……….Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.

Nicolas then goes on to conclude the article by talking about the visible effects that this official academy model for indigenous culture is having on the quality of indigenous art:

Tact is necessary in this well-presented, stage-managed new Aboriginal art scene. Revival, progress and reconciliation are the stock themes. There is no space to dwell on pervasive features of remote community life: welfare dependency, marijuana abuse, youth suicide and domestic violence.

He speaks of a particular kind of change: “a slackening, a dilution” and of “new, conformist work being made, in its vastness of scale and its odd mimicry of contemporary trends in mainstream art”. For an artist such as myself, well versed in the origins of modernism and its painful struggle to break free of the 19th century Beaux Arts Academy, none of the effects that this burgeoning official  Academy is having on the quality of indigenous art is that surprising; it has happened in other places and times. In about 1850, Eugene Delacroix in his journal, described a particularly typical academic artist contemporary  as “a conscientious servant of the art of boredom”.  Tasteful laborious boredom (and often a added measure of gangsterism) is exactly what all Academies are all about.

What does surprise me, a bit, is the idea that any elected 21C Australian federal government would consciously even contemplate systematically funding the imposition of a central planning model of Art/cultural management at all – I can only assume that the government really had no idea what ‘they’ were doing.

The Review of the Resale Royalty Scheme: or a classic case of what Niskanen spoke about. Conclusion

On Thursday 8th august the Australian ran this article by Nicolas Rothwell about the toxic debacle that is the reality of the governments Artists Resale Royalty scheme. The article concluded with an examination of the circular nature of the government funded lobbyists for ARR:

Another enthusiastic assessment comes from the National Association for the Visual Arts, a “peak body”. [John] Walker’s investigations reveal NAVA’s annual income is about $1.1m, $812,000 of which is cash from governments; it reports $165,757 as fees from members, but of this total $104,313 is currently reported as deferred, as has been the case for years. It is in truth a tiny cabal that claims to represent a multitude.

The vista here is plain enough. The state arts establishment has set up and funded outposts of like-minded souls to give itself a facade of support. Walker is scathingly precise: “The government arts sector has developed such a widespread degree of circularity as to be like Narcissus and Echo, motionless and invisible; a hall of mirrors signifying nothing.”

NAVA has posted a response of sorts on its website, however nowhere in NAVAs response does it deny that the authoritative National Association for the Visual Arts has a paid up membership equivalent to a small country village.

Troppo Competition: choose the Flinders Street Station ReDev

Well there I was, minding my own business – which as you know all too well is my wont, nay my metier, when what should I happen upon on the wires but the Flinders St Railway Station Redevelopment Competition site? (I said “ReDev” in the title above to try to sound cool. I thought it sounded – and looked cool – so I thought I’d just go with it and ‘play in this space’ as all the coolest people say these days.

Anyway, it is just wonderful what we can do now to show people what’s going on.  The videos are all great to watch, though that’s not to say all the designs are much chop. But I liked one of them a lot when I went through it – it actually gave me a bit of a thrill. Just one thrilled me I’m afraid, and I am quite thrillable I assure you, especially by architecture. Still it was the first one I watched. So perhaps that was mostly what was going on. After all, they’re all very much from the same school of groovy, oped concept driven modernism.

Which is a whole other story, about which I will, if I get the time, write a post about. In the meantime, your task is to vote in this special Troppo competition and explain your reasoning. We are unable to offer any time in the Troppo Mercedes Sports as it has been repossessed under a little known by-law on the repossession of imaginary objects and rooter is still in the garage. What’s new, I hear you ask (but I digress). No. The winner of the competition will win a ride on Troppo’s unique Time Machine to attend both the original Flinders St Station opening in 1910, returning to contemporary times via the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Your task, should you decide to accept it, will be to focus Troppo’s Giant Magnet ® on Captain De Groot’s sword foiling his darstardly plan to cut the ribbon before Sydney’s redoutable demagogue and all round nice guy, Jack Lang got to cut it.

Continue reading

The review of the Artist Resale Royalty Scheme : Part IV

Jon Altman is a Professor at the ANU Center for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research.

His submission to the review is long and deeply grounded in long-term, first-hand knowledge of the indigenous art sector and remote area indigenous affairs more generally.  It is a must read. But before I start my ‘precis’, Jon raises something that is very disturbing; “the extra $700,000 allocated in 2012 to ensure the continuity of the scheme for two more years is deemed an Indigenous-specific expenditure even though the scheme applies to all Australian visual artists” Policy: Creative Australia or Creative Accounting’ in The Conversation.

Given that 90% of the total value of all art resales in Australia are not resales of indigenous art, it is outrageous that money earmarked for indigenous Australians has been wasted on this scheme.

The Submission begins with:

I am keen to provide some brief input to the review of the Resale Royalty Scheme. I do so from a number of perspectives: as someone who has had a long-standing research and policy interest in the Indigenous visual sector extending back over 30 years and the visual arts sector more generally; and as someone who has worked closely with a number of Aboriginal art centres mainly in remote Australia. I have also collaborated with a number of renowned Aboriginal artists over the years, especially John Mawurndjul with whom I have worked since 1979; I have tried to understand the workings of the Resale Royalty Scheme by focusing on the secondary sales of his art works this year.

Whilst sympathetic to aspiration behind the ARR, Jon’s evaluation of the on-ground reality of ARR is quite damning.

He addresses 3 issues: Is the conceptual basis of ARR sound? If so, has the administration been effective? And, has there been unintended harm caused by the ARR scheme? Continue reading