When cultural policy = boosterism: Vivid Sydney

In The Sunday Age, Steve Dow has taken a long hard look at the dubious policy logic behind Events NSW’s Vivid Sydney program, suggesting that he boosterism only too common in this kind of policy initiative is alive and well in NSW:

In a sure sign NSW wants to unsettle Victoria’s claim to the high ground of ideas, on May 27 Events NSW will also launch an annual Creative Sydney festival to become “an annual hub for the creative industries throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific”, with three weeks of conferences and talks on music, design, architecture, writing, performance and film.

Says Events NSW boss Geoff Parmenter, the former head of marketing at Football Federation Australia: “I’d like to think that people throughout the region would come to Sydney every June to get their ideas.”

He’s also done me the favour of quoting my views on the topic:

Ben Eltham, a Melbourne-based writer, musician and theatre producer, agrees. Eltham, originally from Brisbane, moved south in 2007 to take up an internship with the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which receives funding from Arts Victoria. He says that while he has noticed that some artists are being forced by high rents to move from traditional creative suburbs such as St Kilda and Fitzroy out to the likes of Brunswick and Preston, he has been able to find reasonably cheap digs in Collingwood.
Eltham, who is researching a PhD in cultural policy at the University of Western Sydney, and is a fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Policy Development, says Melbourne’s virtue is its “ecosystem of cultural enterprise”, which Sydney fails to emulate because of a lack of proper funding at the lower end.
“In Melbourne, there are big companies and there are big performing arts venues, but there are also small companies and small venues. So, if you’re an artist trying to work your way through the system, or a director or a person who’s a stage manager or works in a crew, or simply a cultural entrepreneur, there’s a ladder there, a stepping stone.”
Eltham is highly critical of Luminous. He sees it as a form of “cultural cringe”, importing the likes of Eno and ignoring local artists, although Events NSW insists local artists are important players in all its festivals being launched this month. Eltham says the NSW Ministry of Arts largely ignores much of the “really awesome underground stuff” going on in Sydney. “The classic example is a fringe festival … Melbourne’s had a fringe festival for 26 years, Adelaide’s had one for 49 years. Sydney doesn’t have one at all.”

Ben Eltham, a Melbourne-based writer, musician and theatre producer, agrees. Eltham, originally from Brisbane, moved south in 2007 to take up an internship with the Melbourne Fringe Festival, which receives funding from Arts Victoria. He says that while he has noticed that some artists are being forced by high rents to move from traditional creative suburbs such as St Kilda and Fitzroy out to the likes of Brunswick and Preston, he has been able to find reasonably cheap digs in Collingwood.

Eltham, who is researching a PhD in cultural policy at the University of Western Sydney, and is a fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Policy Development, says Melbourne’s virtue is its “ecosystem of cultural enterprise”, which Sydney fails to emulate because of a lack of proper funding at the lower end.

“In Melbourne, there are big companies and there are big performing arts venues, but there are also small companies and small venues. So, if you’re an artist trying to work your way through the system, or a director or a person who’s a stage manager or works in a crew, or simply a cultural entrepreneur, there’s a ladder there, a stepping stone.”

Eltham is highly critical of Luminous. He sees it as a form of “cultural cringe”, importing the likes of Eno and ignoring local artists, although Events NSW insists local artists are important players in all its festivals being launched this month. Eltham says the NSW Ministry of Arts largely ignores much of the “really awesome underground stuff” going on in Sydney. “The classic example is a fringe festival … Melbourne’s had a fringe festival for 26 years, Adelaide’s had one for 49 years. Sydney doesn’t have one at all.”

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