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Arts funders finally discover photography

The Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) fund, a $200 million program for struggling arts organisations, has allocated over $1.1 million to Australian photo festivals.

The RISE fund provides between $75K and $2 million to ‘support artists and organisations affected by Covid-19 through the delivery and presentation of activities across all art forms to audiences across Australia’.

Inside Imaging has previously reported how photography is the ‘Cinderella of arts funding‘. If a photographic organisation doesn’t hold strong connections with the arts establishment, it’s often swept aside or handed a paltry sum by government arts funding bodies.

It may boil down to being well connected, as the likes of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (BIFB) and Melbourne’s Photo Australia are rolling in cash thanks to government funding and private philanthropic donations.

These two photo festivals along with Sydney’s Head On Foundation – a non-profit annual festival that missed out on crucial City of Sydney grant program last year – have received significant RISE funding.

Each photo festival will spend their six-figure sums in different ways, with Head On receiving $433K, BIFB pulling in $384K, and Photo Australia gaining $290K.

Exhibitions scheduled to appear at Head On in November.

Head On is, according to the RISE recipient document, using the funds to support ‘Head On(line), develop year-round online workshops, create a digital archive of Australian photography, facilitate sales of artworks and books, promote allied businesses, and create an interactive online magazine’.

Head On founder and director, Moshe Rosenzveig, explains this fund is crucial to help them grow beyond an annual festival, set to show across Sydney from November 19-28.

‘We’re expanding the digital platform and increasing our activity,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘It’s not just a stop-start festival anymore, as we’re going to be running things throughout the year to keep engaging the community.’

By creating a sales platform for photographic artworks and books, and offering paid members access to online seminars and other resources, Head On’s goal is to become more financially sustainable to lessen its reliance on public and industry funding.

‘It’s great the arts funding bodies are doing more in this area,’ Moshe said. ‘Maybe they’ve recognised this is an area that’s underfunded by the traditional arts funding bodies. If that’s the case, it’s a good change.’

BIFB, which has been extended until January 2022, will allocate the funds ‘to deliver a range Covid-safe measures’.

‘Other measures include a reduction in indoor venues, increased outdoor exhibitions, new contact tracing ticketing technology and the expansion of exhibitions across smaller venues in more spaces across the city’.

With Melburnians locked out of BIFB, and parts of regional Victoria – including Ballarat – entering ‘snap’ seven-day lockdowns, the festival moved a small portion of its program online.

The BIFB Digital Program includes three interactive virtual gallery tours that serve as a ‘social space’, where users create ‘3D avatars’ and can move around the gallery and connect their computer microphone to speak.

A fellow gallery attendee at Steven Arnold’s Notes from a Queer Mystic.

Inside Imaging tested it out when it first went live, and scribbled down the following notes:
‘It’s a bit weird, like a strange video game where you walk around a gallery looking at photos. Sometimes getting up close means parts fall off the screen. However it’s a pretty impressive 3D rendering of the real buildings. An odd element is the live interaction. Could hear a mother and her daughter (?), who were sharing a computer, quietly talking in private. It seemed they were unaware the microphone was connected to the room, and I was able to listen into their seemingly private conversation. The daughter took control, and started making the avatar spin around in circles at the Mining Exchange while humming and singing.

Inside Imaging plans to visit BIFB in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for that coverage.

And Photo Australia plans to spend $290K on ‘Commissioning ten Australian artists to create site specific works to be presented at iconic locations in central Melbourne and regional Victoria.’ At $29K per site, that’s nice work if you can get it!

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