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Strange force, this power of popularity. Actors chase audience recognition for years, and the love is sometimes returned magnified and manifold. Fans are ready everywhere with a warm greeting, so there’s the tricky ground of negotiating emotional terrain away from the cameras. When a handsome, confident painter who has never seen a performance by Asher Keddie, Australia’s most popular television actor, asks to paint her for the Archibald Prize for portraiture, she falls for him, and he for her.

On a stormy Monday morning in August, the Australia Council released its strategic plan for 2015–19 at the Sydney Opera House. Heavy, angled rain battered the panorama of bridge and harbour visible through the wall of windows as everyone in the northern foyer of the Opera House stayed on message: Australia is “a culturally ambitious nation”.

The words “funding cuts” fell from no one’s lips. George Brandis, the attorney­general and minister for the arts, told the crowd he wants to support more “creative genius” out­ side the cities, in regional centres. The council reduced 154 grant­ application categories to five; ushered in an “enhanced peer­review process” requiring a “stronger evidence base”; and promised somehow to boost investment in a “significant works initiative” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, all the while broadening the arts’ appeal for children and younger adults in some unexplained way.




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