Potshots and Hotshots
March 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
I wrote a column which appeared in today’s InDaily, about the ‘divisive’ rebranding campaign carried out by the South Australian government and how they’ve squandered some political capital with some misguided cultural policy. WARNING: the promotional video, embedded below, is long and strange.
AS I sat down to write this column, the new “brand” for South Australia had just been launched by Premier Jay Weatherill at Elder Park. The launch was accompanied by a video which can be politely described as “immediately notorious” and a logo which, depending on how you position your head and whether you squint, looks like origami, hotpants or a door (it also chops off poor Tasmania).
According to Premier Weatherill, the latter is precisely what the logo is supposed to represent: “It shows our place in Australia – it is a doorway, it welcomes and it liberates. It is a symbol of how we welcome people into our culture and into the spiritual heartland of South Australia – people of all races, ages and talents.”
Not satisfied by its command of basic metaphor, the video (which is worth watching, in a hostage crisis sort of way) expresses all that is unique and beautiful about our state, such as trees, the airport and cranes. Any sincere representation of the many independent artistic and social projects around Adelaide is, thankfully, omitted. In addition to being a generic montage of tired SA tropes with some cafes and token young people included, the video, at 2:43, is one of the longest stints in corporate marketing purgatory imaginable.
This caps off a less-than-stellar week for the State Government in its attempt to sell its vision of an innovative, entrepreneurial, trendy state. The other big news was the announcement of an “entrepreneurial hub” to open on Peel Street (the forgotten cousin of Leigh Street). An Adelaide Now article on the subject referred to it opening in a “disused building” – presumably on a disused street. Hub Adelaide is the latest in a “network” of “hubs” opening around the country designed to “encourage innovation and help small businesses grow”. Forgive the excessive use of quotation marks, it’s just meant to express bafflement at the infiltration of an unfortunate strain of tech-utopian discourse (see: TED) which promises solutions to everything and often delivers little.
A full million dollars is being committed to a social space where people can “walk in the door and instantly … get connected to wifi, power and printers”. Let’s consider the opportunity cost of pledging that amount of money to what sounds like a faddish flight of fancy.
Format, the DIY arts collective/gallery/performance space based in Peel Street is shutting its doors. Its fate at this time is unknown but it is currently looking for another venue. In addition to offering wifi, power AND printers, Format offered, to co-opt Hub discourse, a “network” which fostered innovation (and loads of amazing art across various media, to boot). It was already a space where innovative people met to collaborate. The major difference worth noting is that Format didn’t need $1 million to keep going – although a small percentage of that to cover for increased rent payments might have been nice.
Out of necessity, Format has become incredibly good at living within modest means, which is exactly the type of skill we venerate in our small business owners. Perhaps it was simply a venue that didn’t fit into the State Government’s haphazard conception of our urban future.
I am, by and large, receptive to public efforts to invigorate culture. Governments command a cache of resources often unavailable to private enterprise, and so their role in building physical and legislative infrastructure (such as the recent passage of the small bars amendment to the Liquor Licensing Act) is crucial – often, it does things we cannot do otherwise. However, these two examples illustrate that these top-down attempts to rehabilitate our cultural image can be, at once, too deliberative and too poorly thought out.
I worry for our immediate cultural health and dignity if we’re taking independently produced cultural forms which already exist – such as Format and the interesting videos which were produced for the Look Closer campaign, the precursor to the rebranding initiative – and employing them in the service of a government which means well but struggles to deliver anything other than a dull, lifeless, product focus-grouped within an inch of its life.
Cultural policy is a hard thing to get right, and years of getting it wrong has certainly instilled a hardy sense of cynicism in our young creative classes. There can’t, in this day and age, be another Don Dunstan, someone who is intent on leaving their mark through the building of legacy institutions. I remain hopeful that, for this Government, it is not the vision which is in need of amendment, merely its promotion.