In previous years the First Night celebrations drew large crowds. Photo: Scott Brown

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There is growing discontent within the arts and culture community regarding the absence of the traditional opening day of free events that once kicked off the Sydney Festival.

NSW Government funding cuts have forced the end of Festival Night and Day One, which attracted huge crowds in previous years.

Mimi Kelly, the visual arts co-ordinator for the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2007, believes an opening day of free events is about more than tradition.

“It operates on a bigger level, to actually introduce people who may not know much about the arts or engage much with it and helps them engage with it in the future,” she said.

“It would be very sad if we saw the Sydney Festival becoming something that is elitist”

Andreas Wansborough, an art academic and commentator, feels the cuts are indicative of how the arts are viewed in the public sphere.

“We still have a view that the arts deserve a helping hand. Unfortunately, artists, councils and governments have responded by trying to make art ‘accessible’, forgetting what art actually allows us to access, namely experiences that are not quantifiable,” he said.

“In many cases, art no longer caters for higher truths beyond marketability and what people can ‘get’.”

Jonathan McBurnie, a Sydney artist who has attracted a cult following, feels artists are in a catch-22 situation and will be at the short end of the stick no matter what they do.

“If artists choose to make political work, they are branded radical, anarchic, queer and dangerous. If artists make work for the elite, they are branded sellouts. If they retreat from all of this and make personal work they are branded antisocial, selfish failures,” he said.

“Art is therefore positioned as a pursuit that cannot have social merit. This is problematic for our cultural legacy.”