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The Hon Peter Garrett MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Farewell the blockbuster, but remember the rest of the arts

Opinion piece
The Punch (
30 April 2010

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The nation's capital was abuzz this summer as almost half a million people from across the country and from overseas flocked to Canberra for a once in a lifetime opportunity - to see some of the world's great artistic masterpieces on display.

With an extended season and even an overnight opening, names like Gauguin, Van Gogh and Monet helped inject almost $100 million into the ACT economy thanks to hotel stays, taxi rides and restaurant visits all associated with this blockbuster exhibition.

It was a stunning success, breaking all previous visitation records for the NGA and exceeding the expectations of just about everybody involved in getting the exhibition to Australia. At the same time it showed just how much Australian's are engaging in the arts and how much excitement an exhibition of this calibre will generate.

But the rub here is that it's not just about blockbusters.  A recent survey by the Australia Council for the Arts found that more than ever Australians see the arts as central to their lives. Many of us are increasingly enjoying the huge range of cultural experiences on offer from our vibrant arts and culture sector. 

The survey found that nine in 10 people attended an arts event of some kind within the last 12 months, with four in ten having participated in a creative capacity.

Importantly the survey also showed an increasing level of support for Indigenous arts, with 47 per cent of people saying their interest in Indigenous arts is growing with 17 per cent already have a strong interest in the sector.

I'm sure the day will come when an exhibition of the works of some of our Indigenous artists generates similar visitor numbers to the Master's exhibition. In fact the 2008 Emily Kngwarreye showing in Tokyo out drew a previous Andy Warhol retrospective with record crowds flocking to see her sublime paintings.

The arts clichés of the past no longer apply. The false dichotomy of being either an arts lover or a sports lover is dead. Our cultural life is not confined to occasional visits to the art gallery or the theatre. From street festivals to online digital happenings, from the print makers of the Tiwi Islands to the potters of Tasmania. The arts in some form or another are embraced by nearly all of us unashamedly as part of who we are and what we do.

We can't imagine Circular Quay without its buskers and street performers or  Melbourne's laneways devoid of the sound of up and coming bands fighting to be the next big thing, just was we can't imagine Albury without the amazing work of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus ('fruities'). Nor can we imagine the AFL or NRL grand final without the pre-match or half time entertainment. It simply can't be done, because it is part of who we are.

It is why the Government has boosted support for the arts substantially since coming to office, investing an extra $60 million not just in the traditional institutions and art forms, but also to help artists get their practice off the ground, a program to put artists into our schools to share their skill and expertise with students and ensuring that arts education is considered in the national curriculum.

It's also why we have ensured that for the first time ever our visual artists, in particular indigenous painters, will continue to benefit financially from the sale of their works through the establishment of a Resale Right.

And it's why we are getting on with the development of a national cultural policy.  It is an ambitious exercise but one that I hope will be a lasting legacy of this government.

As the masters leave our shores bound for Japan and then home to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, their legacy is an invigorated Australian audience hungry for the rich offerings that great art provides.

Now watch as that hunger is fed by the depth of artistic talent-established and emerging-we have in this country.


Commonwealth of Australia