Call to rein in $7.6m COVID scheme funding ‘ludicrous’ art
A new scheme doling out millions of dollars of pandemic funding to artists to make "nonsensical" and "bizarre" projects - including a woman who livestreams self-insemination sessions - has been slammed as a waste of taxpayer money.
More than $7.6 million has been handed out to contemporary artists since April under the special "2020 Resilience Fund" emergency money, including $72,000 to artists who don't even reside in Australia.
But an analysis by the Institute of Public Affairs think tank questions the use of the emergency money, saying the "ludicrous" projects being created by the artists will do nothing for mainstream Australians.
One of the grants is $20,000 to the art group Vitalstatistix Incorporated, which is supporting Melbourne artist Casey Jenkins' current project "Immaculate", where she is filming and performing "monthly live self-inseminations to elevate the experience of queer reproduction and disrupt heteronormative parenting narratives".
In her previous art she knitted for 28 days using yarn placed in and drawn daily from her vagina to mark one full menstrual cycle.
The Australia Council for the Arts said it wanted to provide "immediate relief" to artists during COVID and has handed out amounts ranging from $54,000 to $2000 to more than 1100 individuals and arts organisations, with the money helping them either "survive", "adapt" or "create artistic work … in this time of disruption".
"The 2020 Resilience Fund is designed to provide emergency relief to support the livelihoods, practice and operations of Australian artists, groups and organisations during the COVID-19 pandemic," the organisation stated.
Grants include $10,000 for an artist whose previous work includes being surgically cut in
front of an audience 147 times, as well as funds for an artist whose practice includes sending messages to outer space, and a NSW woman who leaves knitting outside coal mines as a protest.
Yet another COVID grant has gone to an artist who is a "non-binary transmasculine person and a diasporic Koori" who seeks to engage the audience as a co-agent in "magickal acts".
A grant of $10,000 was awarded to NSW artist Julie Vulcan, whose projects include an installation featuring her own blood splatters on cotton, and another artwork DarkBody, which asks the audience to lie down next to three giant mounds of mushrooms and dirt, and cover their eyes with bags of soil.
Broken Hill weaver Kelly Leonard, who "weaves props for the environment which are placed in site-specific locations" near coal mines and photographed, has received $10,000.
She says a "deep empathy for landscapes at risk from the impact of coalmining and global warming informs" her work.
IPA Foundations of Western Civilisation director Dr Bella d'Abrera said the Morrison government should bring in a "national interest test" to ensure taxpayer money is not wasted.
"Not by any stretch of the imagination can these projects be deemed necessary for emergency funding in the middle of a pandemic," Ms d'Abrera said.
"The Morrison government must now rein in the Australia Council for the Arts. Artists should be able to make all the political statements they wish, in whatever mediums they choose. But taxpayers should not be picking up the tab."
In 2015, the Abbott government cut funding from the Australia Council for the Arts and diverted about $105 million to a new fund which saw grants decided by the Federal Arts Minister.
"Unfortunately, the Turnbull government returned the funding to the council, which is now run at arm's length by the arts community elite, which because of the 'peer' review process, means that public money is being dished out by the few to fund political and identity politics obsession," Ms d'Abrera said.
The artists who are being given the $10,000 grants under a "Create" or "Adapt" program for new work because of COVID are required to provide an "acquittal", or report, to "fulfil obligations of accountability to the Australian Government".
But the public is not allowed to know the details.
"We cannot share individual acquittals for privacy and commercial in confidence reasons," a spokeswoman for the Australia Council said.
She said Australian artists living overseas were not excluded from the grants.
Artist S.J. Norman said the grant would help him build a digital archive of his work Knowledge of Wounds, a performance which involved cutting his body, because touring was not possible.
"The money that was awarded to me, as the co-founder and curator of that program, goes towards building adaptive presenting infrastructure that will support the work of other artists, specifically Indigenous artists," he said.
Arts Minister Paul Fletcher did not directly respond to the IPA's call for a national interest test, but his spokeswoman said under longstanding arrangements individual funding decisions were made by the Australia Council and not the minister of the day.
Originally published as Call to rein in $7.6m COVID scheme funding 'ludicrous' art