Monday, March 17, 2014

Don’t follow the money

The relationships between institutions, funding bodies, artists and money are now so seamless and so comfortable it’s not often that the surface is ever cracked. But that’s certainly what happened when it was revealed that the main sponsor of the Biennale of Sydney is connected to the construction and management of off shore refugee camps. Nine artists withdrew which in turn lead to The Chairman of the Sydney Biennale and Transfield Holdings, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigning to allow it to distance itself from Transfield’s funding. The response from the Australian Minister of the Arts Queensland’s senator Brandis was predictably brutal pulling out "disgraceful" and "shabby" and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull dredged up ''vicious ingratitude.''

More compelling was Brandis’ threat to withdraw Government funding to punish their ungrateful response and any other arts bodies that thought they could question commercial largess in the form of sponsorship.

In fact it looks like the Biennale has kept the Transfield money for this year anyway, so much for their public announcement to “end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately.” Given that the Transfield contribution only represents just over six percent of the Biennale budget (around $634,000 a year) it is pretty hard to see the Biennale falling over through a parting of company. 

But in the end there's no clean cash to be had (it is after all the main sponsors of the Biennale the Australian Government who are responsible for the camps). As one of those early Greek guys said, “There is nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.”

Images: Left Biennale sponsor Transfield's logo and right camp construction and services company Transfield Services logo