Thursday, May 14, 2015

A gift economy

The Government (from the Minister for Culture and Heritage down) has been strangely silent on one big issue: Auckland’s bizarre late-in-the-day public consultation process on the Michael Parekowhai's Queens wharf sculpture. Strangely silent because if there's one thing this Government (which seems to import all its cultural policy ideas direct from the UK) has been pushing over the last few years, it's shifting arts funding from the public sector over to private patronage. And yes it's exactly the kind of patronage demonstrated by the real estate company Barfoot and Thompson with the Parekowhai project. By now they must be wondering why they even bothered to make their million-dollar offer to the city. 

A million is a fair whack in the visual arts world. It’s about a quarter of what Creative NZ distributes to the visual arts sector every year and over three times what the Auckland Art Gallery gets annually for ‘collection development’ from the Auckland Council ($292,000 last year). 

We’ve mentioned before the lack of support for the Parekowhai project by the Auckland Art Gallery and art professionals in general, but why nothing from the Government? Even given the usual easy out for Ministers ‘we can’t be seen to interfere in local affairs' (until they do that is), the Parekowhai gift is surely something of a test case or, at the very least, an indicator of how their philanthropy thing is going to work out. Potential philanthropists can hardly fail to notice that Barfoot and Thompson have been hung out to dry. So will the rich quietly line up to twist-in-the-wind while the public takes pot-shots at their pet projects? Yeah, that sounds like fun.