For many observers, Hobart City Council’s fiscal decisions are an episodic farce.

But recent news of HCC’s $65,000 allocation for a cultural presentation in the Italian city of L’Aquilla has surprised professional arts insiders and rate payers.

Instead of using the money for a responsible study of 21st century urban transport needs, or searching the world for an innovative solution to the inner city’s perennial parking problems, our non-arts professional alder-folk are fantasizing about becoming arts ambassadors for Hobart.

Part of the L’Aquila project is the export of a recent exhibition held at the Carnegie Gallery during the Ten Days Festival.

“Surfaces”, a show of ceramics and other hand-made objects was curated by Jill Freeman, co-owner of Freeman3 Gallery in North Hobart incidentally specializing in exhibiting and selling ceramics and decorative objects. She is married to Alderman John Freeman.

Just why the Carnegie’s exhibition committee agreed to give Mrs Freeman’s “Surfaces” the nod ahead of other proposals for the prestigious Ten Days slot in the first place is a mystery to art world insiders.

Unsurprisingly, HCC’s international cultural export mission has shocked many Tasmanian arts professionals.

One asked how a commercial gallery’s year-round exhibition and sales program could actually translate into a curatorial vision. Does the Freeman3 Gallery also sell work by the artists included in Surfaces?

Will HCC be supporting the city’s other commercial galleries’ export programs henceforth? Another senior Contemporary Art Services of Tasmania staff member noted “It would be highly unusual for a show organized by a commercial entity to pass the scrutiny of CAST’s exhibition review committee. It’s never happened before, and I suspect we’d take a very dim view of it.”

Apparently, inherent conflicts in Dr John Freeman’s membership of the HCC Visual Arts Committee – responsible for approving the Carnegie’s program – were scrupulously averted. He left the room while voting on “Surfaces” took place.

Perceptions of “sphere of influence” are equally important in cultural politics elsewhere in the world. Commercial gallery owners and their spouses are ineligible for trusteeships in US, UK and European museums and galleries let alone independent art spaces. Many make clear stipulations that committee members can’t even collect art during their tenure, lest they influence the art market unduly in any way.

Here, it’s different and enthusiasm for the arts is all too often mistaken for a depth of professionalism and abilities in critical judgment.

HCC’s legacy of bad bronzes crammed onto our precious waterfront is the clearest case in point. The Carnegie’s program has been wracked with problems for some time now, which does little for the gallery’s integrity. Surely HCC can do better than this?

This column by cultural commentator Jane Rankin-Reid first ran in The Sunday Tasmanian on Sunday, May 1.