Close this search box.
Gina Fairley speaks to SA Premier

SA Premier Steven Marshall, right, listening attentively at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Image supplied. 

Gina Fairley, The Steven Marshall Plan: We speak with SA’s Premier, ArtsHub, 11 March 2019

Adopting a measure of austerity in his first year to plan for a rich future, SA Premier and Minister for the Arts Steven Marshall outlines his vision for the state, which puts its faith in sector-driven recommendations.

In September last year, a newly elected Premier Steven Marshall handed down his government’s first budget. It was always going to be a signal for change, especially given that a Liberal Government had not been in power in South Australia for 16 years.

How that change was read by the SA arts sector was not wholeheartedly welcomed. The arts – like many other areas across the budget – faced substantial ‘efficiency adjustments’, more bluntly received as cuts, within months.

ArtsHub reported in September that the South Australian arts sector was facing a $4.9 million reduction in funds in 2018-2019, including the dismantling of Arts South Australia.

Richard Watts wrote: ‘Of the $4.9 million being cut from the arts budget, $3 million will come from “savings” across arts institutions and programs, with the remaining $1.9 million being deducted from Arts SA itself.’

Read: Shock as arts budget slashed in South Australia

Six months on, ArtsHub caught up with Premier Marshall as the city of Adelaide celebrated the opening of Adelaide Festival.

Marshall, who is also South Australia’s Minister for the Arts, explained of the September measures: ‘On coming to government, we were confronted with a situation where the forward estimates left by previous government just didn’t have the money in them to sustain the efforts that we had imagined for the sector.

‘We felt it was necessary to hit the reset button, both with the arts bureaucracy and the art organisations that are funded by the state government. We had to pull back for this first year, and we are now developing a plan to take the sector forward.’

The Marshall government is fast tracking a recalibration across the sector to put some positive directions on the table.

In January, the Marshall Government engaged Tony Grybowski, former Chief Executive of the Australia Council for the Arts, to lead the development of a new Arts Plan for South Australia.

Read: Tony Grybowski to head up team creating new Arts Plan for South Australia

In February, Marshall announced the launch of a scoping study – funded by a $200,000 election promise and steered by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) – that would ascertain the viability, veracity and vision for a National Gallery for Aboriginal Art and Cultures, on the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

With both the Arts Plan and the scoping study slated to be delivered mid-year – and a second budget to also be tabled in June – ArtsHub was keen to hear from Marshall how consultative that process will be, and what indeed the blue sky thinking might be in delivering real outcomes for South Australia.

Unpacking the vision for an arts plan

In January this year, the Premier’s office announced Grybowski’s appointment to the team creating the state’s Arts Plan. Grybowski will work in partnership with strategic consultant Graeme Gherashe, author Dr Claire Scobie, arts policy specialist Kathryn Deyell, and creative director and cultural geographer Dr Sarah Barns.

The state’s first Arts Plan since 2000 will be developed over a six month period.

Marshall told ArtsHub: ‘What we have lacked in South Australia is a defined framework which will take the sector forward over a long period of time. I don’t want to be critical of what the previous government did or didn’t do, as this has historically been a pretty bipartisan portfolio, but it’s difficult to see what the actual direction was.

‘Although our budget in South Australia is tight at the moment, we do want to have a framework so that when more money comes available, we will be investing against a logical plan rather than the whim of whoever is the arts minister at the time,’ he said.

Marshall continued: ‘We want to hear from as many voices as possible, audiences, institutions, and most importantly artists to develop a long range plan. I feel satisfied that Tony and Graeme will do that; they seem to be well clued into the range of conversations needed.’

The Premier said that part of the scoping exercise has been to look at other recently published plans.

‘There have been multiple studies done in SA already – the year before last on infrastructure, there has been some work done by the Economic Development Board, as well as the resolved longer term plans of our each of our cultural institutions – so this is in many ways a pulling together and synthesising of much work that’s already been done, and then putting it into a framework to speak to our state,’ said Marshall.

‘We are not wanting to replicating other jurisdictions; we are looking to build on the incredible art history that we have in SA.’

Such a broad and bold vision can quickly fall into pithy statements when rushed, and with a timeline of just six months to deliver on this over-arching Arts Plan, the Premier assured: ‘This is such an important document. While we envisage it to be ready mid-year, if it slips I would much rather have the right framework than a rushed plan so we will allow that.’

When probed as to what he felt it was that the arts sector in SA needed at this moment, Marshall said: ‘I think we need to see a focus on developing careers in the arts. Often we forget the artists except on opening night; often we forget they have to eat, they have to live. I don’t think we put enough effort into developing sustainable long-term careers for artists. It’s a tough life.’

In the September 2018 budget, Premier Marshall delivered on a pre-election promise and assigned a $1 million increase in grants for artists, assessed by peer review.

‘The major focus in terms of new spending in that budget was really around grassroots funding for artists in South Australia,’ he said. ‘The other financial commitment of note was to the Gallery.’

More money to come in realising a national indigenous gallery

Money is on the table to realise the Premier’s pre-election promise of delivering a National Aboriginal Art and Culture Gallery on the old RAH site, as an alternative to Adelaide Contemporary.

Coming into government, one of the first things Marshall did was to throw $200,000 at a scoping study for the new concept gallery. He also locked $60 million into his first budget (2018/2019) to break ground on the project. Construction is forecast to commence in 2020-2022.

That is hardly sufficient to build a nationally celebrated new gallery intended to be a major driver of cultural tourism.

‘Absolutely, it’s not enough,’ said Marshall. ‘This is a project that is not going to be delivered in the next two to three years. The demolition program for the site alone is at least two years. We put $60 million for the gallery in the fourth year of our forward estimates. And so, in the upcoming budget in June, you will see another chunk of money for the gallery’s development.’

The Premier’s office appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in early February to undertake a scoping study to access the new gallery’s viability and vision.

‘I think it is important to put the effort into really planning this – it will be a national institution, something that will have global significance. We have to make sure what is envisaged fulfils the potential of that site,’ Marshall said.

‘We also need to be able to partly fund the ongoing operations and maintenance of the new gallery – experiences in terms of gift shops and restaurants and hire spaces – I want to see how that is incorporated to increase the overall sustainability of the new gallery,’ he added.

When asked why Adelaide, and why now for a National Indigenous Art and Culture Gallery when the NT Government’s plans for a National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs are already well advanced, Marshall said: ‘It is logical because we have incredible collections in SA across multiple institutions. I think the Museum’s Aboriginal collection is one of the largest in the county and only a tiny proportion is on display, and the success of Tarnanthi demonstrates the interest in contemporary Aboriginal artists as well.’

He continued: ‘If you look at the Art Gallery of SA it has the highest visitation per capita of any gallery in Australia. It has nearly 1 million visits each year for a city of just 1.3 million people – it’s quite extraordinary. We are committed to the idea of additional gallery space in Adelaide.

‘We see other states who have invested in gallery spaces that are driving much greater overseas and interstate visitation, and we would like part of that action as well. When I look at the statistics for international arts-led tourism, I see a massive growth sector. Indigenous experience tourism is also a massive growth area – and the two come together here in SA.’

Throwing the design out with the dishwater?

In June 2018, a partnership between New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (The High Line, New York) and Adelaide firm Woods Bagot (SAHMRI) was announced as the winner of the international Adelaide Contemporary Design Competition.

Marshall has been clear that while his government celebrates the design, they are under no obligation to use it.

When probed whether that was financially responsible, Marshall said: ‘The problem with Adelaide Contemporary, despite the previous government putting money into an international design competition, they never put any money into the budget to deliver that gallery.

‘There were extraordinarily strong themes around Aboriginal culture incorporated into that design, but whether the Diller Scofidio + Renfro design would be suitable or not, that is what this scoping study is all about,’ he added.

‘I don’t want to direct this; the last thing people want is a politician being an architect,’ he added.

The winning gallery design is said to be in the vicinity of 15,000 sqm, which is around the size of the existing AGSA plus the Museum of SA put together, and then doubled.

There has been noise that the shift of emphasis proposed by the Marshall Government has created a local “turf war” between organisations, and yet if we are to look at the ongoing relationship between the gallery and museum through shared loans and exhibition it would suggest otherwise. AGSA’s new Australian art rehang in the Elder Wing brings in many objects from the Museum to extend the narrative of their collection.

Marshall hopes that the new gallery will offer a bridge across many SA institutions. ‘The sheer size of what we have in terms of Aboriginal artefacts and contemporary art is incredible and literally less than 5% is on display, so we have a responsibility to share those collections with the world.

‘We need to have an exploration of what is in these collections and what could be the part of the permanent display. I don’t just envisage rooms of artefacts – we have to be able to tell the stories.’

The scoping study will engage in discussions with the South Australian Aboriginal community, the South Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the State Library and other key stakeholders, to develop a clear vision and key recommendations to allow the project to progress to the next phase.

Reflecting on his first year in the job

When elected as Premier, Marshall was adamant about holding on to the Arts Portfolio.

‘It is really important to bring arts back into the central agency and demonstrate that the arts is central to who we are as South Australians. We have always had a leadership role in the arts sector, and the arts are a massive economic driver, so thinking about those two things coming together is critical for this government’s future,’ he told ArtsHub.

Marshall admitted that while he may not be a good communicator and that his experience is that of the arts audience, not as an artist, he has always loved the arts and recognises how much SA has to offer.

‘Every time I get a visiting dignitary or a major investor coming into SA, I immediately look at my very full arts calendar and take them along. What we have to offer in SA beyond the economy is a very attractive lifestyle augmented by arts and culture.’

He continued: ‘From our perspective, our election isn’t until 2022. The problem is we have no money at the moment. We have just had a massive downgrade in GST distribution to the state. The gallery will be funded – that is a major commitment for us.’

Marshall implied however that it would be a slower roll out on other funding to the sector, one one that would be responsive the new Arts Plan.

‘Where the arts sector is good, is if you say to them there is no new money in this budget but I want a framework so that when it becomes available I know where to invest it – they get it! Our economy will equivocally turn the corner, so let’s do the work now so we are ready. It is the best use of our time at the moment.

‘Let’s get that Arts Plan resolved, so the year after, when we have significantly more money in our budget, we know where to step,’ Marshall concluded.