2015 has been a mixed year in the world of South Australian Arts. Big names in big Festivals have attracted big audiences. The State has seen Federal Arts funding de-funded and syphoned off by the Abbott/Brandis team only then to be partially re-funded by Prime Minister Turnbull’s team. Our own State Government has cut funding to artists and development Programmes while increasing funding to arts related building projects. Although even some of those are controversial.
With all the nuanced language of Yes, Minister this State government has become known for, it was announced Hajek Plaza (after decades of being wilfully run-down – a strategy often employed pre-privatisation) would be “decommissioned” (demolished) in favour of a retail outlet and an increased capacity car-park. It’s a decision that has all the cultural sensitivities of Islamic State – Philistines who when they aren’t selling items of cultural and artistic significance, simply destroy them (Mosel museum, Buddhas of Bamiyan). To compare that barbarism with this State government isn’t mere hyperbole – when they aren’t bent on the concept of privatisation they simply destroy those buildings of South Australia’s artistic significance and cultural heritage (remember Union Hall?). When Lonely Planet first publicised Adelaide in its top 10 cities to visit, the organisation chose a picture with Hajek Plaza as a prominent feature to represent the city. It seems nothing of social and/or artistic importance can get in the way of either blind ideology or that particular enthusiasm peculiar to the political mountebank. Ironically, it was a previous Labour Government (Don Dunstan’s) that enacted a culture of life in a State where the death cult prevails. In fact, approaching 15 years of a State labour government the only vibrancy left in South Australia is the churning from inside Dunstan’s grave.
The South Australian economy is (once again) a basket case and any dissent from the Arts is treated with more disdain than a Mohel wandering around Oktoberfest. Despite the apparent growth of the macro-economy many people in Adelaide are feeling socially and economically worse off now then they were 20 or 30 years ago or more. The state of the local economy has resulted in severely de-funding the arts, ongoing plans for privatisation and bizarre money-making schemes ranging from nuclear waste dumps to relinquishing South Australia’s public roads to foreign vehicle manufacturers’ experiments with driverless cars – it’s reminiscent of Erich Honecker selling East German citizens as laboratory rats to international pharmaceutical corporations without their knowledge or consent. Where once we stood, with genuine pride, on the shoulders of giants, mental midgets dismember us now – The Keynesian economic model (which saw the greatest period of economic and social growth in the shortest possible time since the Renaissance) continues to be dismantled and replaced with a right-wing system that has always failed in the past and isn’t working now (that basket of goods to calculate the CPI, for instance, is considered propaganda by some as we live in an absurd epoch where a DVD player is more affordable than a leg of lamb – never mind home rental/ownership, education or a simple trip to the theatre). We are being condemned to endure an American style economy with all of its liabilities minus those inherent benefits and rights enjoyed by American citizens.
The State Theatre Company of South Australia
The State Theatre Company of South Australia continues to produce works of uneven quality. To take a single example, Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll meets that intersection of things going right and things going wrong. Jacqy Phillips was sublime, delightfully (whether knowingly or not) channelling ‘Lizzy’ (Sheila Florence) from the old T.V. Show Prisoner. Chris Pitman was perfectly cast while Tim Overton was perfectly miscast. Pitman’s on stage demeanour and physique was that of the quintessential Aussie labourer while Overton resembled a spiv of those times rather than a young cane cutter on lay-off. Pip Runciman persists with a minimalist approach to sets, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t and in this case only partly worked as a ‘new’ interpretation and/or experiment. Victoria Lamb – where did you go? The fight scene was laughable and seemed to be choreographed and performed by delicate modern dance instructors rather than anyone with a working knowledge of violence. Geordie Brookman directed ‘The Doll’ like a tourist – touching on all the basics but entirely missing basic nuances. There was no sense that an intelligent mind had captured the script, worked on it and released that strength of creativity onto the stage. To be fair to any one from a background of wealth and privilege, it must be hard to match the working class roots of the play with the tyranny of distance and time. With little fanfare it was announced that the daughter-in-law of the STCSA’s CEO Rob Brookman and wife of current Artistic Director Geordie, Nicki Bloom would be enjoined with Director Yasmin Gurreeboo for a lucrative residency to “develop a contemporary retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone”. The STCSA’s Tangent series also enjoys mixed success to little acknowledgment and is generally high quality.
OzAsia, Cabaret and the other things
The OzAsia Festival continues to improve and grow both with attendances and in artistic quality. The ‘Night Noodle Markets’ on Hajek Plaza and beyond made perfect sense and brought people together in an outstanding cultural melting pot (it would make even more sense if Hajek Plaza was in its original state). The OzAsia organisers botched the Moon Lantern Festival for the third time in a row. After being hyped twice and failing to even occur, event organisers were blessed with perfect spring weather and planned for an estimated crowd of 20,000 and (after spruiking its merits this year and promising it would go ahead no matter what) 50,000 people turned up. It occurred at the same time and at the same place as the SANFL Grand Final. Needless to say transportation et al was a mess.
A stinginess is creeping into the South Australian Arts sector. The Festival of Arts, for instance, produced an online Programme for shows rather than the customary hard copies provided to punters at the show – it was deeply unpopular. We have seen this before when Peter Sellers was (wrongly and unfairly) pilloried because of penny-pinching politicians and their miserly minions. You get the society you pay for and that goes quadruple for the Arts.
The Cabaret Festival, with its seminal roots (at least in the minds of South Australians) in the Weimar Republic – that period immediately preceding Nazi Germany, is perfectly suited to Adelaide and continues to go from strength to strength. Despite not having a major international star (apart from its curator) “The Barry Humphries Festival” was just that – and a booming success it was too with a 12% rise in ticket sales on last year’s record. Like a homemade sponge cake baked with love in a country kitchen the CabFest just keeps on rising.
Anyone who has attended shows on opening night and during the season will notice just how much more humane the in-season audiences are. On opening night you will see those ugly Adelaide faces of the upper and middle classes (and their minions) looking for their emotional fix because they have so little (or none) of their own. These people are born ignorant and that’s exactly how they die and not even Art is enough to open their eyes – or their minds. Invariably, they (including ‘arts practitioners’) are non-achievers on the receiving end of every privilege the caste system they’re born into provides them with. The few exceptions being those favoured pets of the rich. A clear parallel might be AFL football where the money that’s evolved has attracted the private school class who deny working class people access (some Aboriginal players are the few exceptions but even they’re gifted scholarships to private schools to help prepare them for a career in the AFL). While the most sensitive among us simply commit suicide leaving this world (and its culture) to the bullies, frauds, mountebanks and right-wing psychotics.
A Warning . . .
All in all, South Australia has passed the point of entropy – intellectually, spiritually, culturally and economically. With one exception we have always been governed by the mediocre and now is no different but if you choose to speak out then be careful – there are very real professional and personal consequences. Effectively, dissent is submission in South Australia and the most significant feature of the rich and the influential is that they manage to be self-indulgent and inadequate. In the wild, monkeys are known to hunt down and murder any member of the tribe who attempts to leave. In Adelaide they simply economically exclude and socially vilify (with a farrago of fact and fiction) those who don’t kowtow to or join in with the dominant paradigm, whether that’s in the Arts, business or politics the modus operandi remains the same.
South Australia itself has all the personality of a wet rag with none of the integrity. While the current status quo is indeed “one party with two right wings” – bring on Steven Marshall; at least he has some innate charisma. In the meantime, how many more jobs are going to be lost? How many more men, women, children and artists are going to be subjugated? In the shallow, shonky world of Australian Art, money and politics; 2016 isn’t looking good.