Are the arts on the move?

Written by: Tom Lowenstein
After years of battling government and the Australian Tax Office on behalf of the arts sector – a frustrating process to say the least – I believe there is a positive undercurrent beginning to emerge within the visual arts community. It has been difficult not to be pessimistic under the regimes of both Liberal and Labor governments in recent years. John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull have all seemed, at best, indifferent to the arts sector. Each politician claimed to understand the effect of the GFC and the difficulties the arts sector faced. Each one of them and their arts ministers gave undertakings to review the New Regulations affecting superannuation funds that had been proven to be detrimental to the industry across the board. In reality, each took no action whatsoever. The arts has been stripped, sidelined and smothered by political indifference. The arts, for these supposed culturally-aware individuals, remain irrelevant. It is hard not to long for the more visionary days of Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating, who introduced Creative Nation in 1994. However, my pessimism was lifted on the evening of 18 November 2016 on the opening night of the Monash University Art and Design Graduate Exhibition, when a wonderful horde of visual arts graduates were awarded prizes for their achievements. At least a thousand students and their families exuded a buzz of enthusiasm and optimism that was electrifying, galvanizing and inspirational. While congratulating Professor Callum Morton and Senior Lecturer, Emily Floyd – successful artists in their own right – I felt the dark clouds lift. There is clearly a future for the visual arts in this country, which our political leaders seem to downgrade to mere lifestyle choices. At Monash that evening it was clear that there is a very bright future for the arts in this nation after all. We now need to transfuse this enthusiasm into the whole arts community, commencing with the artists themselves. To quote John Olsen, “When things are grim, don’t complain and moan, get into your studio and work!”