Barracks moat drained as arts project funding dries up


Alex Seton’s commission for a centuries-old landmark was called Almost Always Picturesque, yet its fate has been anything but.

The $530,000 project was cancelled in May after 18 months of work by the artist, leaving a popular Sydney public art installation’s future in question.

The commission would have installed a moat around Hyde Park Barracks, making one of Australia’s first colonial buildings into a symbolic island.

“Artists don’t often share the losses, but I thought this one had bigger implications and I’m sad for all of us,” Seton said in sharing his sketches online.

The Hyde Park Barracks Annual Art Commission program began in 2020 featuring work by Jonathan Jones, while the 2023 commission showed work by Tony Albert and Angela Tiatia.

The program had funding locked-in to 2025, and previous installations had boosted attendance at the barracks.

It was one of Sydney’s most significant opportunities for visual artists to present ambitious works of scale, according to Penelope Benton of the the National Association for the Visual Arts.

“For the sector, the news raises serious concern about the professional and fair treatment of artists, and a lot of questions about process and what the funding has been reallocated to,” she said.

The NSW government on Friday axed a Christmas lights festival and ELEVATE Sydney, held on the freeway above Circular Quay, as it works to develop the state’s first arts, culture and creative industry policy.

The new strategy will provide more support to a sector ravaged by pandemic-related closures and economic headwinds, NSW Arts Minister John Graham said.

The minister also released a discussion paper titled A New Look At Culture and announced a public consultation process, to “understand what’s working, what’s not working and what fresh ideas will propel the sector forward”.

Seton’s online statement came in late June and included a message to Mr Graham, who was appointed in April.

“I’m not sure if you’re even aware of this decision … but it doesn’t sound like ‘bringing cultural vibrancy back to NSW’,” Seton said on Instagram.

“This as one of the first acts of the state’s newest cultural institution (Museums of History NSW) and within the first two months of the new NSW Labor Government.”

Seton says the entire barracks commission program has been axed, but AAP enquiries to the NSW government have yet to confirm this.

Management of the state’s museums and historical collections was in 2022 transferred to a new institution, Museums of History NSW.

It brought together the NSW State Archives Collection with the historic houses, museums and collections managed by Sydney Living Museums.

The NSW government has been contacted for comment.

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