Archives for category: Politics


The Red Rattler creative run space established in Marrickville in 2009 is Sydney’s first legally licensed not-for-profit creative organisation. Now a successful arts hub and performance venue, the collective went through a long journey fraught with conflict and politics to get this far. Penelope Benton, one of the founders and directors of Red Rattler, gives us an insight into this journey and the politics involved in dealing with local council.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

Could you explain Red Rattlers journey from a funding point of view?

There are five of us that have been friends and colleagues on various projects for over a decade working in different spaces, mostly warehouse venues that were illegal and constantly shut down. Over the years, many people have said we should open our own space to eliminate the threat of being taken over by developers or losing the venue to a landlord.

We knew we had to inject the kind of money and work into a space in order to avoid the risk of losing it after we had invested time and energy in setting it up. The only way for us to achieve this was to buy a building and own it. We set about working out if we could afford to do that by talking to mortgage brokers figuring out what kind of building we could afford to buy and how this would be done. Once an affordable building was found we went ahead and invested. We all had savings for personal projects, but for whatever reason, we convinced each other that this was a really good project that we could see value in. We felt good about setting our personal stuff aside and setting this up for the community.

During that time we started to research the legal requirements of setting up our building. We had a set budget that included everything we needed to start such as the bar, liquor license, fire regulations and etc. However, the fire regulations alone exceeded the budget for the entire space, which has made it really difficult to fund as it was on top of the mortgage. To deal with this we all had to scrape our piggy banks and ask our friends and family for extra money.

The Red Rattler has been running legally since May 2009. Although, we are still paying off our debt, we have done better than has been expected. We have started talking about what can be done with the money we generate and set up a fund for a grant scheme that will be established after our debt is paid off. Also, we have been discussing how this might work and bringing in more support so the Rattler can expand from more than just a space.

What hurdles have you overcome?

We had to explain to the council that we are a non-profit and community organisation, and that this is not a business that is going to generate money out of artists. We were also hit with many fees that other businesses get when they set up a building. For example, there is a parking contribution, unless you have a car park you have to pay approximately $1,000 per car and they allow people to park in the street as per your venue’s capacity. In addition to this, we were hit with a fee of $15,000 just to allow access to the street.

Eventually, before we could open (as this could not be done until the $15,000 was paid) the council allowed us to have a two-year delay to pay, which has just expired. We had several meetings to negotiate getting out of this payment, but the council were still closed to it. So last year we went to the papers, barrister Tim Robinson saw the article about our cause and has been working with us for several months now. Tim has found a clause that proved it was illegal to make us pay. His 26-page document went to the council last week and we won!

What was your experience navigating this big picture politics?

I have learned quite a lot, but far too late, about how to negotiate with the council. There are ways that you can get through the development and planning people faster if you play the game. Our first DA was rejected, well it was accepted but with a ridiculous amount of conditions that we rejected. Then we figured out we needed to go and talk to councillors and explain what we were trying to do.

There are so many people that can offer good advice, but you need to talk to them before you get into trouble. We did it all backwards. We would apply for things and then get stuck and then people would offer us support. There is the benefit of a huge amount of other people’s research. That is probably the biggest advice I have.

How do you stay motivated?

For me the biggest motivation is when I am in the space and I see something that I admire or respect. Even when people that have just come to watch something and you can see that they are really excited. Seeing that kind of thing being created makes me feel proud about what we have done.

Politics and art is a broad topic, and here are some interesting links:


Dr Justin O’Connor is a professor in the ARC Centre for Creativity and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology. In January, the Australia Council released his report entitled Arts and creative industries, which outlined the development of the creative industries in Australia and discussed the role of economics in arts and cultural policy debate. He spoke to arts interview about the report and his ideas of how the industry could move forward.

Interview by Kim Goodwin

What implication do the differences between cultural industries, arts and creative industries have for the creation of industry policy in Australia?

The first problem is that nobody quite knows what creative industries are. Sounds great at first, but does not mention the word arts (that is always a good thing for economic policy makers). As we drilled down into what it meant, no one really knew. What areas of the economy aren’t creative? Are we saying medicine isn’t creative? We are saying creativity is an input into this particular sector of the economy, but it is also an input into many other sectors of the economy. What then is included? Consequently it is a challenge to develop industry policy when the industry itself is not defined.

The second element is that creative industries are defined increasingly in economic terms. All those who will read this will make arguments about the economic impacts of arts and culture. But policy makers are turning around and saying ‘if you are economically successful then let’s invest in this because of the economic returns’. In attempt to sell the whole idea of a thriving and growing sector it has also done a bit of damage to it.

In terms of cultural policy, was the last true attempt Keating’s Creative Nation?

Very much so. Remember that Creative Nation was not just about the economic aspects of culture and markets, the private sector was important too. It was also about a new Australia, a multicultural, forward looking country with an identity that would engage with the modern world. Creative industries have dropped all that and become the economic residue of these sorts of discussions.

According to the interviewees in the report, what are the weaknesses in the current Australian system?

One issue was the way in which the different systems, whether federal or state, could not handle the complexity of what practitioners were doing. Could not handle the fact that people were doing cultural things AND economic things. Those who were operating commercially were saying ‘people think I am commercial, but I am also doing it for artistic and cultural reasons’, and those in the subsidised sectors were saying ‘I also work in a very commercial space, using resources in an economically rational way.’ They felt caught on either side of the divide, either as a starving subsidised artist, or a commercial, hard-nosed, profit driven operator. In reality most fell right in the middle.

How has the report been received?

It is a think piece; it is meant to get people to review where we have come to. It has, however, touched on a desire for a bigger debate, questioning ‘What is the meaning of art and culture? Why do we do this? How can it be improved?’

I am hoping that it feeds into a growing concern that we are a bit rudderless, a bit directionless in this area. I think we have lost that moment, that Creative Nation moment, where we could link the economic aspects of culture with its wider implications for the identity and future of Australia.

You have said the challenge now facing the mainstream arts institutions is how to enter the policy debate without feeling the arts are threatened by the changes. What can be done to support this?

We have to encourage arts bodies to think about the broader picture. What shape should the Australia Council be? How can it best engage with the sector? It is not about abolishing, or suggesting they have done a terrible job; it is what kind of vision do we want for arts and culture in Australia and what role can the Australia Council play? The arts institutions have to think about engaging with the non-publically funded sectors, thinking about infrastructure funding, about engaging with more complex fields, things like small bar policy or how best to regulate or encourage private capital investment into the sector, how best to engage with urban planners and community policy makers.

If I was to write the report again I would be more forthright in the idea of critiquing economics. What is the economic? Most of it is just a myth, do we mean the financial markets? Do we mean the everyday economics of how people live? I would say it is a paper tiger, but it is a real tiger, suggesting there is an economy out there which is the ultimate arbiter of everything, but when you look closely it is actually smoke and mirrors.

Further reading on the politics of creative industries below:


Design and Art Australia Online  (DAAO) is a e-research tool that has been built on the foundations of the Dictionary of Australian Artists. DAAO captures biographical material, when artists were born, when they died, whom they associated with, but also gathers information on artists’ practice such as their works and exhibitions. It is a dynamic and multifaceted research tool that services a range of researchers interested in Australian art and design. Dr Gillian Fuller, DAAO’s research director, took the time to talk to arts interview about this complex, evolving project that involves organisations from across Australia’s art and design sector.

 Interview by Kim Goodwin

DAAO is going through a change – a relaunch.  Who is involved in this new project?

Academic Researchers have always been at the core of the project, which is wonderful, it has enabled the DAAO to get a solid sense of scholarly authority. For the DAAO to be something you can trust, the academic input into this has been pivotal. Next is to open up the database to researchers who are non-academic, those working in museums, such as the Powerhouse, or amateur researchers who have knowledge about Australian art and design.

It works on two levels; we are opening up technically, so that the actual structures of the database can interoperate with other database, which means we can directly exchange data with organisations such as the Art Gallery of NSW or the Ian Potter Museum. We are also opening up the project at the interface level, so that a whole range of researchers can not only use the database, but they can contribute and update records, and participate on projects together through the database. In addition, we are enabling a whole range of researchers to not only use DAAO, but also to contribute and participate on projects together through it. For example, two researchers at different ends of the country can contact each other, share data, form teams, really start working together and finding new questions about Australian art and design.

What challenges have you faced bringing together so many academic and non-academic organisations to participate in such a complex project?

One challenge and I think this is the area I find most encouraging – once you get the business plan right you have to also make it worthwhile for everybody involved. It is a challenge, but it is an exciting challenge to find out what people want and incorporate the feedback into a design that works. We had to listen to the issues that partner institutions are facing. For example, a lot of museums and galleries have incredible digitised assets but they have nowhere to put them beyond their own websites. By putting things into the DAAO, all of a sudden their collections data is sitting next to exhibitions data, which is sitting next to biographical data. This incredible and beautiful juxtaposition of data enables a really rich picture to emerge. Our partners really understand this; they are driven by a love of wanting to know what influences Australian art and design.

You have made the switch from academia to leading this project, what have you learnt?

I would not say I have made a switch as such – I am still an academic; I still research and publish. When I was working academically I would talk of data ‘coming together’ without understanding the actual footwork that goes into working with institutions with regard to getting the data to be open about obtaining permissions etc.

I have learnt too that when you have a big project with a big budget and a short timeline, you learn to be very solutions focused very quickly. The thing I find very satisfying about working on a technical project is knowing if something works or not immediately.

Also the more detailed and open you are about what you are doing, the better quality feedback from stakeholders you get. I am not particularly concerned if stakeholders disagree with me, just so long as we get a chance to talk. For me these kinds of discussions are part of best practice in design.

After July the project moves into a new phase. When the new site launches, what does ongoing success look like for DAAO?

Success looks like a truly useful e-research tool.  If you can create something that is useful you have solved most of the problems.

Ongoing success means a database that is self-sustainable and active. One that a high amount of people use every day, and saving and exporting our data for other purposes.

However, success is not just people using the database, but using it in surprising ways that I have never thought about. We are putting out a website with new functionality and many different sorts of system capabilities. I cannot wait to see how people hack it, mash it, how they use it, what they do with it.

More information the DAAO journey can be found here:


The arts and creative industries play a vital role in developing our culture, communities and economy. Despite this, the arts are still fraught with challenges that can cause decision-making to be difficult. This week’s arts interview, former Arts Minister of NSW, Virginia Judge, gives us an insight into her passion for the arts, the value of the arts sector in NSW and how she handles decision-making in a government environment.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

How important do you think the arts are to NSW?

I think a vibrant Arts sector is really the surest sign of a healthy democracy. It is very much the mural that we can hold up to our society and its legacy by which we will be judged. It is absolutely vital that the arts are open to everyone to enable individual creativity and joy. Our culture is very much strengthened by our diverse voices. Filmmakers, musicians, artists, dancers and storytellers all have the power to inspire empathy and command understanding. They challenge the status quo to hint very much at what lies beyond the edges of the unknown and help to illuminate visions of our better selves.

I very much believe that culture in essence belongs to all of us. It does not matter where you come from; we have all got our own particular stories. Sometimes we use these as metaphors to weave a beautiful fabric, with each fiber representing a particular story and the relationship we have with each other and the environments that have inspired that creativity. The arts are a great unifier, which can strengthen our diversity and emphasises that culture belongs to all of us. We have a wonderfully innovative, imaginative, talented and sharing group of people in our creative industries and this is one of our greatest assets.

Tell us about some key projects you initiated when you were NSW Arts Minister?

I wanted to develop an arts policy and cultural strategy, and decided to run a series of forums. Sadly, a program was never launched, but the initial forums held were a success and provided great information and insight into the arts and creative industries. The series of forums I ran ended up involving over 600 practitioners, peak organisations and a number of government departments, cultural institutions and a number of businesses from the corporate industry. The aim of these forums was to find out how we could really benefit from the needs of creative works. They were very much a valuable way, a tool for me to find out about their ideas, issues, problems, strengths, hopes and aspirations.

The forums were very innovative and had never been attempted before.
I brought all the different industries, government and businesses into parliament. People were very shocked and were amazed that bureaucrats and practitioners from creative industries were all in one room and talking. I based the arts policy and strategy and my funding guidelines on the key outcomes from the forums. It was amazing that in every sector the same things kept coming through. One key outcome was that everyone needed the affordable space to create. Affordable space can be hard to find in NSW, in particular the metro areas of Sydney. This outcome highlighted the huge area for all governments to look at and consider how we can improve this.

How did your personal passion and arts practice inform your decision-making?

I only have limited experience in life and the sector. Whenever attempting any sort of decision-making, I would go to the people in the respective fields and talk to them. It is important to hear what they have to say and then act accordingly. I believe an organic process is hugely important to decision-making. You do not have many other opportunities to do this, so you do not want to waste time.

It is important to ask yourself ‘What decisions am I going to make’? These decisions should then be informed by other practitioners – it is important to use people’s real life experiences, talent and wisdom. Once I had gone through this process, I had to put it in a way that I could present to the Government. Obviously, there is always a huge demand on the budget – our education, health and transport etc. are important and sometimes the arts and creative industries are not always up there. You need to position your debate as a member of parliament and convince them of the wonderful things these industries have to offer and how it contributes to the economy.

What advice would you give to any future practitioners with regard to decision-making?

When I talk about decision-making, I always try to emphasise the positive impact of culture and broaden their thinking about the sector. You must be hugely persistent and not give up. You have to make people feel as if they are doing a disservice to society if they do not support this vibrant sector. Effective decision-making is networking through people, using the resources that are there, and working as a collective – it is much easier to get results if you work together. I think it is very important to be active, push hard and be extremely vocal.

Further reading on decision-making and politics in the arts:


Art Monthly Australia (AMA) is a dynamic visual arts magazine containing lively commentary, news and reviews on the visual arts, which is distributed throughout Australia and internationally. It is committed to representing all Australian states and territories to a local, national and international audience.

Art Monthly is the only monthly visual arts magazine in Australia, and publishes ten issues each year between March and December, including the popular Artnotes section that features events, news and exhibitions from all states and territories across Australia, New Zealand and the Asia/Pacific region. Arts interview talks with Editor Maurice O’Riordan about how politics impacts the publication.

Interview by Grace Hughes

What are the political issues you have to navigate when publishing in the arts?

In any small publication within an industry such as the arts, there will be some conflicts of interest and small rivalries. Due to the magazines not for profit and government subsidised nature, however, we face less challenges in this area than some. Particularly given we rely only to a small extent on no blue chip advertising.

In your view, what role does your magazine play in the arts?

AMA’s major role in the arts is maintaining an independent critical voice. Despite being a commercial magazine, this is achievable because it is not for profit, therefore does not need to solicit blue chip organisations. The most recent blue chip advertiser resulted from a controversial AMA cover, but when the cover became less controversial; ironically, the blue chip advertiser actually withdrew their advertising.

Another important responsibility is to provide diverse national coverage with the assistance of solicited and unsolicited writers. AMA currently commands a central place in art journal publishing in this country, where it has a strong reputation as an intelligent, well informed and accessible visual art magazine with truly national coverage. Thankfully, its monthly currency is unique in Australia.

What sort of challenges do you face pulling together such publication?

One of the major challenges Art Monthly Australia faces is that the magazine is meagerly resourced. It is an incorporated public company, and exists as a non-profit organisation. Government funding allows for coverage of twenty-five percent of costs, over the twenty-two year life of AMA it has been vigorously supported by the Australia Council, initially with annual funding, now with triennial funding and another twenty-five from the Australian National University covering costs such as office and telecommunications. Sales and subscriptions, advertising and philanthropy account for the remainder of funding. Such modest funding permits one full time staff member, and two part-time employees, Managing Editor/Designer, and Publication Coordinator.

Another pertinent challenge is time management due to AMA’s monthly schedule. The writers must be treated extremely well as they write to a deadline and to keep the content as current as possible it may need to be juggled — their articles may be held for months before publication. And, there is always a concern of keeping the finger on the pulse.

How do you balance your editorial direction with the needs of advertisers?

We keep it quite distinct – editorial is not associated with sales/advertising. Gallery might find out that a story on one of their artists is running and request an advertisement placed on the same page, but usually that is as difficult as it gets. Most of the advertising comes from publically funded outlets as AMA is more affordable, and publically funded outlets tend to be less demanding. Finally, AMA has a cap of $15,000… once met call it quits. AMA does not cold call, chase advertising.

Like many of the arts organisations and practitioners we have spoken to over the past four months, Art Monthly Australia has to negotiate the tricky waters of keeping stakeholders happy, while producing a quality result with limited resources. What is clear, however, is the importance of reputation and maintaining a high standard of output. When this occurs the organisation can be a sustainable one.


There are many tales of internal politics in the arts. Most of us at arts interview have experienced, or have at least heard, of a person, project or organisation that has been derailed by internal, ongoing, unresolved political conflict. So, we have asked someone with a long-term commitment to the arts to share a little of their personal experience, the personal and professional impact of internal politics. To allow our interviewee to be really honest we are keeping their identity a secret.

Anonymous interviewed by Eliza Muldoon

What examples of overtly political workplace behaviour have you witnessed in the arts organisations?

One is management being funny or awkward about talented, hard-working colleagues. In some people they identify it and totally support it, in others they denigrate it, make that person’s life difficult and do not support or nurture that person’s career, they may even go so far as to virtually block their career. This may just be their subjective (‘objective’) opinion of that person’s talent in that workplace, but it may also be a reflection of the boss’ own personal and professional anxieties and fears.

In your experience what kinds of politics are Australian arts organisations particularly susceptible to?

If you consider money a political issue (it is hard not to), then I think Australian arts organisations in particular are susceptible to the idea of ‘not-for-profit’ salary mentalities, whether they are not-for-profit or not. Having come from a not-for-profit background I certainly seem to maintain the mentality that I should work hard, long hours for ‘free’. I now realise that senior management are probably not being paid that ‘arts salary’ – though I can never be sure, I do not really know. I actually do not know what a decent ‘art salary’ is in the not-for-profit sector, but I am aware that an arts administration salary is nonetheless greater than what many artists receive.

I am now challenging myself to ask for more money when previously I never would have, and figure that they can just say no if they cannot afford it. I hate finding out that other people – sometimes more junior than me, were being paid more simply because they demanded it. I find that very demoralising, but at the same time I get annoyed with them for being so demanding.

What is an example of an extreme issue that you have seen in an arts organisation?

In small arts organisations an all-too-common example is yelling and bullying. In some of the examples I have seen, it is because the organisation exists to fulfill the director’s vision and that same director calls all the shots, sometimes aggressively. There is no human resources coordinator or department to keep them in check. There are some people in such organisations that can stand up to these people, and I admire them for that. I wish I could do it, but it is not in my nature. Sometimes I challenge myself to speak up to defend myself or state that I feel wronged, in the same way I try to challenge myself to ask for a greater salary. But I think standing up for myself in the workplace is not something I will ever be able to do. It makes me really uncomfortable and I absolutely abhor confrontation. I guess that is a lot of the personality crossing over into the professional, I guess you do ‘take yourself’ with you to work!

What have been your own responses to workplace politics? How has it impacted you personally and professionally? 

Unfortunately my personal response to workplace politics is to get upset, feel oppressed, anxious and powerless. I put in a lot of effort and I am committed to my jobs/career and when I feel that I am being unfairly targeted and even bullied I take it very personally. Despite people saying ‘do not take it personally’, it is hard not to. I have also felt physical effects such as stomach in knots, fast heart rate, no appetite etc. Generally such experiences have left me feeling a bit ‘clouded’ unable to see or think clearly.

During the really difficult times I have found that it impacted my personal life to the point of shaping my character and the kind of person I am to be around. At those times my conversations were always on a ‘downer’, always recounting work scenarios where I felt bullied or powerless.

The professional impact is that it makes me doubt my ability and myself. I find that I become nervous or apprehensive about doing things that I have previously felt confident about, particularly when I know other people can see or hear me. One simple example is that during those times when I do most of my correspondence by email and if I do make a phone call, I will wait until the bosses and others are out as this way I am much more confident.

Now – with some hindsight and perspective – I basically see the management and interpersonal relationships of any workplace as an issue of personal preferences. People will, as much as possible, choose who they wish to work with, who they will be nice to and who they will tolerate.

Interested in managing personal politics, more information here: