MONA’s Dark Mofo festival is about to be unleashed on Hobart. (Supplied: Dark Mofo/Moorilla Gallery)
Hobart is a hotspot of software and digital jobs, ranking top of all regional centres for those creative industries in a recent study, with the Museum of Old and New Art’s (MONA) towering influence over the city seen as both a blessing and somewhat of a curse.
As the city readies itself for MONA’s Dark Mofo to be unleashed upon the city — with the accompanying influx of tourists from all over the world — many in Tasmania’s arts communities can only stand by and marvel at the spectacle and money involved.
Earlier this month, Hobart came in at number one for the regional centre for the software and digital content industry, second only to Byron Bay in the overall creative industry rankings for the study by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI).
Hobart’s creative professionals say the town has been slowly building its reputation, however, most agree 2011 was a turning point — the year MONA opened.
While the general consensus is MONA and its founder David Walsh deserve all the accolades for being instrumental in transforming Hobart and wider Tasmania from being the butt of the mainland’s joke to a legitimate destination for culture, some have said the ensuing “MONA effect” has resulted in others struggling for light — and, more importantly, funding.
Others have said it is as if the rest of Australia and the wider world were of the belief there was no art being made in Tasmania before MONA’s arrival on the scene in 2011.
Scott Rankin, a Tasmanian of the Year and creative director Big hART told ABC Hobart this week there was an “absolute truth in the MONA effect … but a furphy too”.
“It has opened our eyes to the culture that is already here.”
MONA’s annual Dark Mofo festival is a welcome winter treat. (Supplied: Dark Mofo/Lusy Productions)
Rise of the festival, at art’s expense
Tasmania’s Ten Days On The Island markets itself as “the festival that inspired them all — Australia’s only statewide international multi-arts festival”.
Futago’s Daniel Zika says “creative industries have a legitimate place in building the economy”. (Supplied: Pagan Cider)
Daniel Zika came to Tasmania to work on the inaugural Ten Days in 2001 as a young production manager, returning in 2005 to stay.
He went on to help establish Futago, a Hobart-based design studio which handles “the whole spectrum of things, from packaging to branding” for Tasmanian Government clients, as well as e-commerce for whisky and wine brands, tourism campaigns and food businesses.
“Here, if you’ve got a bit of spunk and chutzpah you can kind of get things happening,” he said.
Mr Zika said Hobart and surrounds had a history of a being a hideaway for creative people, where one could “lock yourself away in Fern Tree or Neika or nick off somewhere out in the bush that’s relatively close in and focus on that”.
Futago’s workforce of 10 has at times comprised of people from elsewhere who had found the studio after arriving in Hobart — “people from Scotland, the UK, Russia,” he said.
Mr Zika described MONA’s influence on Hobart’s creative industries as “undeniable”, with “eyes being drawn to Tasmania”.
“We [at Futago] have so many casual designers come through, that’s how they’re surviving, by working at MONA, that’s a fantastic thing,” he said.
However, he said the success of the gallery had resulted in the Tasmanian Liberal Government “pulling money out of the arts”, with the apparent mindset of “why should we do it, MONA’s doing it, why should we bother stumping up the cash?”
Bill Hart, the head of discipline and art and lecturer and head of studio at the University of Tasmania’s School of Creative Arts, credited the Ten Days festivals as the “start of a period the state started to see itself differently”.
He said the success of such festivals had resulted in governments around the country, taking the view arts money was better spent on large events.
“Art shouldn’t just be happening when you have a festival, there should be opportunities for local artists and communities as well,” he said.
He too had praise for MONA and what he said was the “extraordinary act of generosity by David Walsh” to finance MONA’s Festival Of Music and Art (FOMA) to “lift the cultural life of the community”.
“MONA is a business, it does what it does, its been fantastic, it is generous … but it doesn’t abrogate the responsibility of government to support art,” he said.
Futago’s design handiwork at Willie Smith’s Apple Museum, in the Huon Valley. (Supplied: Futago)
How did Hobart get so hot?
The news of Hobart as a top dog for creative talent came as news to some.
Paris Buttfield-Addison agrees Hobart is thriving and a great place for creative people. (Supplied: Secret Lab)
“I’m surprised to hear it, I know many large regional cities on the big island pride themselves on their creative industries,” Casey Farrell, of software developer Takeflight, said.
“We’ve always been a creative place, but traditionally that has been almost anti-industry — a culture of art of art’s sake and a cost of living to allow that.”
A Hobart native, Mr Farrell said he had reluctantly considered a move to the mainland.
“I decided that the only way to progress my career without moving to Sydney or Melbourne was to start my own studio.
“I live 30 minutes from Hobart, but realise that the opportunities for such a business, in staffing and in finding projects, is in Hobart.”
Advances in technology over the last two decades had allowed Takeflight to serve the world market “without our distance from major populations blocking trade possibilities”, Mr Farrell said.
“It’s fantastic to be working in a place where the industry part of creative industry is growing in many directions.”
He described people in the creative digital industries in Hobart as “hungry and talented” and the quality of work produced “as good as you’ll get anywhere”.
“Anyone in the industry in Hobart wants to stay here. Anyone in the industry who visits Hobart wants to stay here.
“Plus we’re buoyed by international attention generated by MONA and the festivals and the impact that’s had on the Tasmania and Hobart brands.”
Paris Buttfield-Addison, of software developer SecretLab, said Hobart was the “perfect place to be, particularly in games”, due to a strong gaming fraternity.
Hobart was chosen as SecretLab’s base due to the “near-ubiquitous availability of high-speed NBN connections over fibre,” Mr Buttfield-Addison said.
As for the city being in the national spotlight, he said “Hobart is thriving and we’re happy to be part of it”.
Another creation by Tasmanian design studio Futago. (Tasmanian Arts Guide: Jonathan Wherrett )
‘Riding the coat tails of creative industry’
Bill Hart said today’s level of artistic activity was the fruit of the hard labours of previous governments.
“We are reaping the benefit of a long-term, visionary policy by governments, Labor and Liberal,” he said, stopping short at congratulating the Hodgman Liberals who came to power in 2014 with a stated priority of turbocharging the state as a tourism destination – resulting in what some have said is to the detriment of grass-roots arts.
Takeflight’s Casey Farrell realised Hobart was the best place for his studio. (Supplied: Takeflight)
“Festivals are all too often seen as generating economic activity, but the opportunity for Tasmanian artists have diminished in this time,” Mr Hart said.
“In terms of Tasmanian cultural life, there is nowhere near the level of support there used to be.
Richard Bladel, from the Kickstart Arts organisation, said the Tasmanian Government had given MONA “a couple of million a year over five years”.
“That’s the equivalent of the entire grants and loans budget for the entire arts industry,” he said.
He stressed MONA was not to blame for finding itself on the receiving end of money.
“The Liberals don’t have an arts policy and Labor cut funding as well,” he said. “To be serving tourism deprives Tasmanians the uniqueness of their culture.”
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), built from David Walsh’s gambling winnings. (Supplied: Mona/Jesse Hunniford)
Daniel Zika, who said he was wary of the “MONAfication of everything”, remembered the global financial crisis of 2007 and its devastating effects on the creative industries who he said received little or no help from government, unlike other industries.
Politicians getting around with “open chequebooks to build schools to stimulate the economy” overlooked those doing it tough in the art world, which was falsely seen as peripheral to the economy, he said.
“That’s just an insult to the creative industries in saying you don’t have a legitimate place in helping build the economy,” Mr Zika said.
“Sure, we’re not big business, but we pack a big punch when it comes to the people that get employed, the money generated.
“You’re riding on the coat tails of the creative industry in the form of MONA at the moment.”
Anyone visiting Hobart over the next two weeks could hardly doubt that.
David Walsh was approached for comment for this story.