Artists call on Darwin festival to reject Santos sponsorship over fracking

Frack Free NT Alliance says oil and gas company sponsorship undermines the integrity of the festival and investment from the renewables sector should be sought instead

Artists and environmental activists have called on the Darwin festival to reject sponsorship from the energy company Santos because of its work to frack land in the Northern Territory for shale gas.

In an open letter to the organisers of next month’s festival, a coalition of activists, artists, musicians, and film-makers have urged organisers to break their sponsorship agreement with Santos, and look for investment from the renewables sector instead.

“We understand the pressures on arts and cultural events due to the recent federal arts funding changes, but we believe artists can be creative and principled in the funding relationships they choose and do not have to undermine their integrity by promoting the reckless actions of fossil fuel companies like Santos,” read the letter.

“We love the Darwin festival and we don’t want to see its integrity undermined or its good name used as a vehicle for ‘artwashing’ by fossil fuel companies which could do irreparable damage to the beautiful Northern Territory.”

The letter was published by the Frack Free NT Alliance, which campaigns against coal seam and shale gas in the Northern Territory.

Dayne Pratzsky, anti-fracking activist and subject of the movie Frackman, said Darwin festival’s principles did not align with the work of Santos.

“[Darwin festival] is all about art and culture and sustainability and nowhere is Santos acting in a sustainable or responsible manner,” he told Guardian Australia.

He said events need large companies to support them, but in his experience these large companies such as Santos did not have community support.

Pratsky is currently touring Frackman around the NT to raise awareness of the implications and risks of hydraulic fracturing.

“Currently with what [Santos] is doing and what they’re involved in, people don’t want anything to do with them,” he said.

“I think the Darwin festival have also a unique moment in time to make a statement that this is not acceptable anymore. That they are not willing to take money from companies who are doing irresponsible things. It’s a double-edged sword unfortunately but I think Darwin festival have to take the lead in wanting a sustainable sponsorship company.”

Mark Crees, general manager of Darwin festival, said the organisers were grateful to all festival partners including the NT government and corporate sponsors.

“While we do not comment on any sponsor in relation to their own operations or practices, we do publicly acknowledge our sponsors for their support,” Crees told Guardian Australia in a statement.

“This includes our Santos partnership and the support which enables us to stage the free opening night concert which celebrates the culture of the Top End with a particular focus on emerging Indigenous artists.

Darwin festival also welcomes comment and debate from all parts of the community, on a broad range of issues, including arts funding and the mix of funding available from government and corporate sector partners.”

Darwin festival is also facing potential funding cuts from the federal government following arts minister George Brandis’s announcement of a restructure of funding arrangements.

The open letter also appealed to the NT community to seek alternative sponsorship from clean energy companies, and pledged $10,000 towards it.

Fracking has increasingly become a controversial issue for residents of the Northern Territory. In February a government-commissioned inquiry returned a report recommending there be no moratorium against fracking.

The report found “the environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing can be managed effectively subject to the creation of a robust regulatory regime” including the formation of a sub-committee of ministers to determine best practise, and a restructure of the NT Environmental Assessment Act.

The report was handed down on the same day Tasmania introduced a five year moratorium to protect agriculture.

Santos’s sponsorship of arts and community events has attracted protest in the past.

In December Queensland police were criticised for accepting sponsorship which saw the name Santos printed on police cars. Police in Queensland are regularly called to protests in Queensland to deal with clashes between activists and CSG site security.

In March last year the Sydney Biennale festival severed ties with Transfield Holdings after artists began a boycott in protest against Transfield’s involvement with Australia’s immigration detention facilities.

Arts minister George Brandis said the move was “blackballing” Transfield, and threatened to withdraw government funding of the Biennale.

“You will readily understand that taxpayers will say to themselves: ‘If the Sydney Biennale doesn’t need Transfield’s money, why should they be asking for ours?’” Brandis wrote to the Australia Council.

Santos has been contacted for comment.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

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