Thursday, February 28, 2008

Section 9(2)(a)

Last week we asked Creative New Zealand for the list of artists and curators who had applied for the Venice Biennale project. These projects have now gone into CNZ’s evaluation and selection processes.

The response from CNZ was a two-page 12 point letter in legalese refusing to make the list public. Their reasoning? “It is necessary to protect the privacy of natural persons… and this interest is not outweighed by other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available”.

We have become very interested in ‘the public interest’ and CNZ’s interpretation of the idea. We’re no lawyers but it seems to us that they are arguing that the ‘privacy of natural persons’ overrides any rights the wider public might have to information. And that they are using this argument repeatedly. We recall that they declined to give us any information about the experience of their expert arts advisors last year. They said it was to protect their privacy while we figured there was ’public interest’ in understanding what their expertise was to do the job. It was the same story with the Tripofalifetime reports.

We believe that there is a clear public interest in the Venice artist/curator list. It is a perfect opportunity to have some conversations about what they may be proposing, how they might be regarded in the Venice context, who has not submitted a proposal, and why etc. All the usual exchanges that make for an engaged and committed art community. Set this against CNZ’s insistence that it will protect the privacy of these ‘natural persons’ and the argument turns bizarre (to anyone but a lawyer). Anyone who is in the running for Venice will inevitably have experienced unsuccessful applications, projects that have fallen over and other disappointments. It seems hardly credible that they will recoil in shame over non-selection.

As we have already noted, the selection panel for the upcoming Biennale is considerably older than in previous years. While the previous panel could have been described as largely people actively involved with contemporary art, this one - not so much.

We will continue to pursue the list through formal channels, but in the meantime we have confirmed 5 of the 16 artists along with their curators through less formal means. In the public interest then, if you are part of an application or you know who is, email us. When we have close to the full list we will publish it.