Big Fag Press responds to the Australia Council funding cuts

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Big Fag Press is an artist run organisation founded in Sydney in 2004. Our mission is to foster socially-progressive and aesthetically challenging collaborations within our local communities.

We are artists and designers and we all have our own individual practices, but through the Big Fag we are able to make something that we couldn’t make on our own.

We have never relied on funding to survive. However, we are supported by subsidised accommodation from City of Sydney council which allows us to operate within an otherwise punitive rental economy. We can thus pursue not-for-profit community engagement projects, rather than occupy all our time with the pursuit of commercial income.

Since our annual budget is propped up by massive amounts of “in-kind” volunteer labour rather than government grants, the Big Fag Press is not threatened with extinction by George Brandis’ recent changes to art and culture funding.

However, it is worth pointing out that individual artists and tiny organisations like ours which survive on almost nothing can do amazing things with very modest investments of funding from the Australia Council.

This is why we are firmly opposed to the re-allocation of money from the Australia Council’s peer-reviewed system, to George Brandis’ proposed National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, which it seems will largely be allocated to major performing arts organisations at the discretion of the minister.

In early 2013, we received a small grant from OzCo through a programme designed to support emerging artists and artist-run-initiatives. This enabled us to bring two artists – Pat Grant from Wollongong, and Laura Hindmarsh from Hobart – to be resident at the Big Fag Press for a month. Pat (a comic book artist and writer) and Laura (an experimental video artist) collaborated closely with Big Fag mentors Diego Bonetto, Lucas Ihlein, Louise Anderson, Mickie Quick, and Pat Armstrong, learning how to use our 4 tonne offset proofing machine.

Pat spent his time with us excavating the layers of activity which go into the creative process of generating, publishing and distributing a comic book:

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… and Laura conducted extensive research into some of the specific technologies of offset printing – in particular the halftone dot which makes up the “tonality” of the printed image:

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This was peer-to-peer learning in action. The residency not only gave Laura and Pat the chance to focus strongly on their own practices, but also helped the Big Fag team begin to fathom some of the technological depth of offset printing. This is something that is not normally available to any of us. The Australia Council funding opened up the time that we needed to explore these processes without being purely driven by “an outcome”.

Since working at Big Fag Press, Pat went on to establish the Comic Art Workshop, an incubator of graphic storytelling designed to help young comic artists from all over the world tell bigger stories and reach bigger audiences.

After her residency, Laura extended her examination of visualisation systems, offering her services as artist-in-residence for a month at Guildford Young College in Hobart. This “artists in schools” programme is an amazing opportunity for secondary students to learn from the working processes of “real artists”. Incidentally, this programme was also sponsored by the Australia Council (although it looks like it might be about to be axed under the Brandis intervention).

In the last couple of years, Big Fag Press has been learning how to collaborate across the boundaries of ability. Our main work in this area has been with artist John Demos – who we hosted as artist-in-residence for nearly six months before he launched a solo exhibition at The Cross Arts Projects.

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That project was supported by a tiny amount of money from the NSW Government, Accessible Arts, Project InsideOut, The Cross Arts Projects and NAVA, but was mainly “funded” by countless hours of volunteer labour by Louise Anderson from Big Fag Press, and Kris Tito from Project InsideOut.

Although the project involved the production of a large body of John’s lithographic prints, the real outcome was the establishment of a set of working relationships for artists with-and-without disability, beyond their usual institutional context. This has become one of the major ongoing interests for the Big Fag Press, and it’s a challenge that will keep us going for many years.

To reiterate: the injection, every so often, of a small amount of government funding, direct to an artist or artist-run organisation, can provide a boost which pays itself back many times over, and over many years.

These may not be the most visible cultural spectacles occupying the world stage, but they represent an excellent investment for the wider community. At this point, the arms-length process of the Australia Council for the Arts is the fairest method we have of making this investment.