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Read all about it: Queenslanders love the arts, and it's about time we celebrated that

Arts

The arts in Queensland have always enjoyed public support, but not so much in the mainstream media. It’s time to fix that, writes Phil Brown

Print article

I’m not one of those people who believes there should be less sport reporting and more coverage of the arts. I do believe, of course, that there should be more arts across all our media – but not at the expense of sport.

I happen to like sport and I view it as an artistic pursuit in its own way. The three cultural pillars of Townsville, for example, are, I would argue … Dancenorth Australia, the Australian Festival of Chamber Music and the North Queensland Cowboys.

All three add to the rich social texture of the North Queensland capital.

Sport gets the lion’s share of coverage while arts coverage is often minimal, which is a problem and an oversight considering how engaged the Queensland community is in the arts.

The mainstream press has seldom recognised the economic value of the arts and coverage has been reduced accordingly. Consider the fact that this year’s Brisbane Festival is expected to yield around $18 million in economic benefit.

The arts sector in this state is booming, which is why there has never been a better time to launch InReviewQ, a new website dedicated to arts and culture supported by InQueensland and philanthropy.

InReviewQ will launch in July and will showcase features, commentary, reviews and other content reflecting the vibrant arts sector in Queensland.

Arts journalism and critical review are an important part of the arts ecosystem but traditional funding models, supported by advertising, are broken. InReviewQ is based on a new model, funded by philanthropy and donations, which also allows any criticism to be totally free of commercial interests.

We feel there has never been a better time for such a venture in a state with a lively and burgeoning arts scene.

The idea of Queensland as a cultural backwater is now well and truly dead. In fact, it was always a myth but we’ll let that pass. The reality is that the state has always had a vibrant arts sector in Brisbane and throughout the regions, and there has been bi-partisan support for the arts.

It’s interesting to note that that the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) was established under the Bjelke-Petersen Government during what many see as the darker days of our recent history. But there were rays of light even in the darkness.

That showed a certain amount of foresight and, with a new $150-million theatre due to open next year, QPAC will become one of the country’s most vibrant performing arts precincts.

The late Barry Humphries, who trod the boards there on many occasions, was a big fan of our Cultural Precinct – and let’s not forget that Sir Les Patterson was Minister for the Yartz.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Humphries on many occasions and he always expressed a fondness for the state and for Brisbane, despite once referring to Australia as “the Brisbane of the world”.

Well, he was a comedian.

On his last tour here when we caught up, he expressed the view that Brisbane’s cultural precinct was the country’s most impressive and one wouldn’t want to argue with that.

But it’s not just Brisbane. The addition of HOTA to the Gold Coast scene has been a boon and Queensland has a thriving network of centres for the performing and visual arts.

QAGOMA is a focal point but throughout the state there is a network of regional arts centres that are community hubs. The arts is a vital aspirational field for communities near and far.

The popularity of Queensland Music Trails and the Festival of Outback Opera show that there is a hunger for the arts in smaller and remote communities, and events like the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville and the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair are part of a rich cultural fabric.

It’s a shame that rich cultural fabric is not better represented in mainstream media. But it has been always thus.

In my four decades of reporting on the arts in Queensland (with stints in Sydney and Melbourne), it has always been a struggle to get coverage. I started my arts writing in Rockhampton in 1980 as a young reporter for The Morning Bulletin. The Pilbeam Theatre had recently opened and, having long hair and John Lennon glasses, I was obviously the one who would cover the arts.

A young Phil Brown bashing out a review for the Rockhampton Bulletin.

That I did with elan, meeting Spike Milligan, Graeme Murphy, Leonard Teale, Googie Withers and many others. In those days they would hold a space for a review in the next day’s paper and I would run from the theatre to the office (a short dash), file my review to the grumpy night editor then race back to the theatre bar for the after party.

I instituted an arts page. It was called The Arts on Friday, which makes me wonder now … why just Friday? Why not every day?

Over four decades it has often been an uphill battle to convince editors of the value of the arts – which seems ridiculous considering how engaged the populace is.

In daily newspapers it’s generally the arts story that gets cut first. In recent years, serving as Arts Editor of The Courier-Mail, I fought the good fight and eventually managed to claw back a weekly dedicated arts page. But alas it didn’t last and when the paper’s pages were reduced the arts page was first to get the chop.

This seemed counterintuitive considering how vibrant the arts scene is in Queensland right now. I mean, this is the Olympic city after all and the arts are going off, and all eyes will be on Brisbane in the lead up to the big event in 2032.

Meanwhile, we have a busy year ahead with a plethora of amazing arts events – Brisbane Festival in September, a visit by The Academy of St Martin in The Fields, Wagner’s The Ring Cycle in December, which will be a global arts event, and so much more.

Right now, Moulin Rouge! The Musical is packing them in in the Lyric Theatre and Brisbane has a reputation for having the most responsive audiences in Australia. The arts are thriving here and we want to honour that. And we will in InReviewQ.

Phil Brown is Editor of InReviewQ, a new arts publication being supported by InQueensland and philanthropic supporters. He will be a guest on Steve Austin’s Drive program on ABC Brisbane on Wednesday evening.

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