Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Red Flag Minister's Red Rag

On an acre of ground at the corner of Victoria and Lygon Streets the Melbourne Trades Hall and Literary Institute was established, to public acclaim, in temporary premises that opened with a street party on May 24 1859.

Building trades workers had won an historic eight-hour day workplace agreement three years earlier, and the Eureka rebellion of 1854 reverberated still. The first Trades Hall was a four-roomed timber building with an iron roof which made way for a grander building commenced in 1874 and completed over the next fifty years.

In the 1850s Trades Hall delivered on a long held dream of having a central location for promoting social, cultural and political activities amongst Melbourne's working people.

It still delivers on the aspirations of Melbourne's working people in the Twenty-First Century, but according to the Victorian Liberal Government the people's palace has no place in celebrations of the State's cultural diversity.

At issue is a street sculpture by Melbourne artist Tom Nicholson, who is renowned for iconography celebrating the achievements of Victorian working people.

The sculpture, entitled Monument for Future Acts, was commissioned by the former Victorian Government through the Cultural Precincts Enhancement Fund, administered by the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

The Commission says "The Cultural Precincts Enhancement was established in 2007 by the Victorian Government and is administered by the VMC which works closely with the City of Melbourne, community representatives and traders to deliver projects under the fund".

Last week the new Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Nicholas Kotsiras, said in a Media Release

"...many of the costs of the projects that were approved by the previous Labor Government appear excessive and do not represent value for money."

One project that stands out as an example of Labor’s disregard for public money is a $120,000 sculpture to be positioned at the southern end of Lygon Street.
The sculpture was named Monument for Future Acts but has been referred to as Stairway to Nowhere. According to the proposal when people reach the top they can ‘watch the very beautiful (and cinematic) motion of the red flag flying from the rooftops of Trades Hall behind them’.

This project is an example of Labor waste, and funding will be distributed to other worthwhile projects."
The Coalition Government will ensure that any future funding supports projects that enhance Victoria’s cultural diversity and represent true value for money for the Victorian taxpayer,” the Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship said.

In a few days Victoria's Cultural Diversity Week begins. The Victorian Multicultural Commission says

The program for Cultural Diversity Week 2011 promises to be nothing less than spectacular. Throughout the Week a host of vibrant public events will showcase Victoria’s rich diversity through film, cuisine, sports, forums, cultural performances, arts and crafts, and many other cultural delights. The Week will come to a climax with a multicultural extravaganza at Federation Square on 27 March when over 50 ethnic communities come together as part of Viva Victoria Festival.

Viva Victoria is described as a free festival for the whole family packed with an array of multicultural cuisines, crafts, activities and performances showcasing Victoria's rich diversity.

The Victorian Government is looking for volunteer workers to "help out on the day". If you are a Victorian worker, don't look to Minister Kotsiras for appreciation.


  1. I wouldn't lament Tom Nicholson loss of funding, it's not as though he is a poor artist. He's on a good salary as lecturer at Monash University and has received Creative Fellow funding from the State Library of Victoria (2007. He was finalist for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture (2005), he received a cultural activity grant from the City of Melbourne (2003), an International Export and Touring Fund from Arts Victoria (2002) and a grant from the Foundation for Young Australians (2000). His artwork is represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery,one of the more upmarket galleries in Melbourne, which suggests to me that his artwork sells for a pretty penny.
    Not usually one for agreeing with Liberal Party ideas, in this case I tend toward thinking that $120,000 to one artist is a tad high when the money could be better distributed to a number of 'real' working class artists & what I mean by that, is those who have to live off their art, not those who have cushy teaching positions in Universities and who use their connections in order to secure funding for their limited artistic production, fitted in between teaching and other duties.

  2. The work was commissioned by a stakeholder group representative of the neighbourhood under guidelines from the Cultural Precincts Enhancement Fund, whose trustees should have stood up to the Minister. We should all get interested when the history of dissent becomes oldthink.

  3. Who were members of the stakeholder group and can you speculate on why they didn't stand up to the Minister?

  4. Trades Hall Council and RMIT are the largest stakeholders on that corner, they spent two years planning and consulting on the project, and they did publicly criticise the decision. But the $$ came from the Multicultural Affairs Commission, who didn't, even though the project complied with their own guidelines. To contextualise: all government departments (and it turns out independent commissions) have been required to slash their budgets to back the Libs claim that Labor was wasting taxpayer money.

  5. The Labor government has always given more money to the arts and I applaud that, but I do still think that they need more community consultation about which arts project should get funding, because often it IS those artists in good favor or in the right company that get the grants.