Government funding flows to artists, like Musonga Mbogo, left in coronavirus limbo | The Canberra Times


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Painter Musonga Mbogo is not very precious about his work, which he hangs on the back fence with clothing pegs while he paints on a new canvas, stripped from its frame and spread out on the ground in front of him. “I like the idea of high art almost being treated like poorly, just as an expression of yourself in every possible way, almost. For me, I like fancy things, which is why I dress up kind of extra, but I try to acknowledge I came from a position where things weren’t exactly that perfect. It’s my way of holding close to where I came from and acknowledging where I want to go as well,” Mr Mbogo said. Mr Mbogo, 21, is one of 66 recipients of the ACT government’s Homefront arts funding package, designed to keep artists, writers and musicians working during the global coronavirus pandemic which has caused major disruptions to the art world. Arts Minister Gordon Ramsay said the ACT government had taken clear action to support artists with the $500,000 package. “Support of up to $10,000 per artist will be used for activities including research and development, making of new works or sharing of works via online platforms, and for artists fees and living expenses to undertake arts activities,” Mr Ramsay said. “The government is a great supporter of Canberra’s creative sector and I’m glad that this package will provide essential and immediate support to our artists during this difficult and challenging period.” Funding for visual artists, writers, film makers, musicians and sound artists has all been made available under the program, which received more than 370 applications. Mr Mbogo, who will finish a degree in economics next month, said he would put the $3000 he received towards new materials and online courses to further develop his practice. He has never studied art formally – only taking the classes at school when they were compulsory – and said it was a surreal experience to have people invest in what he was trying to say. “Art is a voice. For me, that’s always what it’s been about,” he said. Mr Mbogo is keen to stick at his work in Canberra, eager to be part of a creative expansion in the city as a new generation of artists, musicians and writers decide to stay longer and create work at home, rather than leaving for bigger cities. “The city is kind of what makes you who you are, I just want to show people who I am, as opposed to kind of almost dimming that side of my life,” he said. “The African diaspora is growing up and I guess the way I see it, now we’re coming into our own, being vocal, having our own voices in art, in music, in photography. In that way, you can see a shift in Australia as a whole. I kind of want to, in my own way, be a component – or at least inspire someone to take it further than we could.” Mr Mbogo, whose work was shown at the Melbourne Fashion Festival in 2018 and in an exhibition at the Nishi Gallery in 2019, cited American neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat as an important influence on his work. “Just because, for me, I’d never seen a person of colour who had actually pursued art or who was embraced in the art world. And so maybe I was 14 or 15 years old when I was introduced to him. I think I was just going through Instagram, probably saw a photo, probably a friend of mine would have posted,” he said. “That was pretty much enough to have me interested in the art world, just to know that people who look like me can succeed.” READ MORE The Belconnen Arts Centre has also provided support to five Canberra-based artists through its Going the Distance campaign, which directs all money raised to artists. Alex Asch, Jim Sharrock, Larry Brandy, Rebecca Taylor and Robbie Karmel will use the funding to present online projects. The centre’s artistic director, Monika McInerney, said there had been a high number of ambitious applications for the limited funding pool, but the projects which received support would seek to extend art practices onto the internet. “I always feel that when you’ve seen the bushfires, or when you’ve seen any kind of major trauma that happens across the world, often its the art and the artists that helps the community to heal, help people to reinvent themselves, provide new perspectives,” Ms McInerney said. She said targeted arts funding was key because artists would generally not be able receive JobSeeker or JobKeeper assistance, and many other income streams, including teaching, were also affected by coronavirus.

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