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urgent: national cultural policy discussion

Don't be left out of the loop! Arts Minister Peter Garrett has announced a National Cultural Policy public dialogue, but the closing date for discussion and submissions is February 1. The holiday period hardly seems ideal for serious debate about a critical issue, one akin to the proposed Human Rights Charter for Australia.

If you have the time, and I really hope you have the inclination, I urge you to read Garrett's October 27 speech to the National Press Club and the Discussion Framework—both can be found at http://nationalculturalpolicy.com.au. Look at the documents and the reponses and, if moved, do add your own.

If you're not sure what a national cultural policy might look like, go straight to David Throsby's Platform Paper 7, Jan 2006: Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy? (Currency House, Sydney). In a mere 50 pages Throsby describes the way arts policy has evolved in Australia—increasingly reactive rather than visionary, he says; looks at models in other countries; and makes important distinctions about how we think about culture—as art, heritage, nation, economy and social polity.

The essays by Helen O'Neill and Robyn Archer in the Griffith Review's Essentially Creative edition (Autumn 2009) have a lot to say about the continued, problematic public and government regard for artists and the arts and especially the way the 'creative industries' notion (fraudulent, says Archer) is changing attitudes to and rationales for the arts—requiring them to be socially just, good for the national economy and business-oriented. O'Neill argues for a broader notion of the arts (in line with technological change and creative industries developments) and new funding strategies while Archer defends artists against the predations of new formulae.

These complications are intensified in Marcus Westbury's Meanjin essay (Vol 2, 2009, Winter), "Evolution and Creation: Australia's Funding Bodies", which declares the Australia Council inequitable and, with its "archaic art-form definitions", out of touch. If short on concrete proposals, Westbury's essay nonetheless points clearly in the direction of a creative industries model and an expanded notion of the artist and "cultural production." Westbury is a member of Garrett's Creative Australia Advisory Group.

Please find the time to read and respond to Garrett's speech and Discussion Framework. Perhaps even demand time for a more sustained public discussion that can be genuinely bottom-up rather than tossing in ideas for top-down policy making. KG http://nationalculturalpolicy.com.au
Adriana de los Santos (Argentina) Adriana de los Santos (Argentina)
photo courtesy the artist
the now now festival

A regular for the Sydney summer season is the NOW now festival of spontaneous music. The event has been evolving since 2001, when it started as a humble artist-run initiative at the now defunct Space 3 gallery. The general enthusiasm of its core team, unrelenting dedication and a shift to a more mainstream venue, @Newtown, meant that the 2005-6 festivals reached quite bizarre levels of popularity, attracting a wider scene than your average experimental music crowd. Perhaps to avoid the inevitable rise and rise and potential for sell-out, the festival then upped-stumps and relocated to Wentworth Falls to, well, keep it real. And the program for 2010 looks like it will continue to do just that.

Now organised by a collective (since founders Clare Cooper and Clayton Thomas currently reside in Berlin) and still with minimal funds, the festival will present over 50 artists over three days at what is beginning to feeling like home for the festival, the quaint Wentworth Falls School of Arts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the NOW now is that even if you’ve heard many of the artists before, you’ve most likely never heard him play with her, or her with her, or her with him and her. Some interesting match ups for this year include Somaya Langley (electronics) with Jon Hunter (guitar, electronics); PEKING, comprising Clare Cooper (surprisingly on bass guitar) with Brendan Walls (guitar) and Stu Olsen (drums); and NHOMEAS—Josh Isaac (drums), David Sullivan (bass, fx loop), Jack Dibben (guitar), Nic de Jong (keys, clarinet) and Aemon Webb (vox, electro Gadgets).

NOW now always includes a healthy smattering of international artists, often collaborating with locals and this year offers, as expected, a European contingent, this year including Kym Myr and Espen Reinertsen from Norway, and Matthias Muche, Sven Hahne and Mani Neumeier from Germany, the latter apparently a legend, having been the drummer of Krautrock band Guru Guru. Perhaps less expected, this year Now now will play host to the Quintet Experimenta from Argentina, featuring Adriana de los Santos (prepared piano, objects), Gerardo Morel (sampler, laptop), Claudio Calmens (electric guitar, wind instruments), Zypce (electric percussion, tuntable, CD) and Claudio Koremblit (visuals, prepared electric guitar). Michel Doneda from France will also appear. In renowned musician Jim Denley's opinion Doneda is "one of the most important sax players in the world of improv."

With the addition of MONA FOMA to the Australian experimental music calendar, it seems like January might almost offer international guests a festival circuit.

Beginning the NOW now festival will be the mass improvisatory organism that is the Splinter Orchestra. Somewhere in the middle we'll also see another experiment in SMS music interaction with Fred Rodrigues S.I.M.S Project (see review). And the whole thing wraps up with Team Music, Jon Rose’s interactive music making netball game—a little something for just about everybody…

The NOW now—festival of spontaneous music, Wentworth Falls School of Arts, Jan 22-24, 2010

sydney fringe festival—be a black sheep

Arguably the main problem with the previous long running incarnation of the Sydney Fringe festival was that while Bondi (where the majority of activities took place) was on edge landwise, it was by no means on the edge culturally. Inner city Sydney, meanwhile, has continued to generate grit, grafitti and edgy experimental work, supported by relatively lower rents (and some progressive City of Sydney policies) and creating a thriving, alternative cultural scene.

For many years Newtown and surrounding suburbs have been the zone for a range of artist initiated activity with a recent surge in festival ventures, including the ambitious Underbelly festival at CarriageWorks, the Imperial Panda festival across multiple venues and PACT/Quarterbreds’s Tiny Stadiums event. And that's before taking into account aspects of the programs of established venues that also,from time to time, offer alternative work such as the Factory Theatre, New Theatre, The Newtown theatre, the Vanguard, Cleveland St Theatre, Seymour Centre and so on.

Drawing strength from these activities, the Newtown Entertainment Precinct Association has galvanized these venues in an attempt to make a new Sydney Fringe Festival planned for September 2010, by and for Sydney’s proudly fringey—well non-mainstream at the least—elements. The list of advisors (named the Black Sheep Brigade) offers hope that this is a genuine venture of alternativeness rather than merely being an ruse of branding-cool.

But as with all the best festivals it will be the artists who define it. Sydney Fringe is currently calling for proposals and expressions of interest, offers of skills and general support, so if you feel you are the proverbial black sheep go to the website for further details. http://sydneyfringefestival.org.au/home

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg.

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