You have probably heard there’s been a bit of a hoo-hah around the arts sector in Australia because some rich old white man in a suit (who used to be a lawyer) decided that he was personally better equipped to decide where $104.7million of Australia’s national arts funding budget should be spent. This money was previously managed (at arm’s-length from the government) by our national funding body, the Australia Council for the Arts, through a tried and tested system of peer review. Now, call me crazy but I’m pretty sure that the best people to decide what would make good art are other people who have spent their lives working in and around the arts, not some old white lawyer dude who’s lobbyist mates run a few elite ‘high arts’ organisations, but hey that’s just my opinion.
Last night a few of us (artists, arts workers and arts organisation reps) gathered at cia studios to discuss the issue (which goes way beyond the peer review thing), read other people’s submissions and draft our own. There are some notes from that meeting at the bottom of this post (also on Facebook).
A Numbers Game
Apparently there are 44,000 self-declared artists in Australia. I have no idea how many more are undeclared, or how many arts-workers there are, or people who answered ‘creative educator’ or something that didn’t sit neatly in the survey box, but I’d imagine there are significantly more than 44k artist-types here.
Apparently 1 in 5 of the general public attend the arts in some way. Again this kind of statistic can be pretty fuzzy in real terms, but even in a country with 22million people that still amounts to a fair number of audiences.
Over 12,000 people signed the MEAA online petition against these changes, with more still coming in daily.
And yet there are currently only 93 submissions (that we can see). We know more have been submitted but haven’t shown up online yet, and we know that artists are always ones for that last-minute rush to the deadline.
But numbers are important. Your voice is important. Our collective voice is important.
The Senate deadline is tomorrow, July 17th. Artists, arts-workers, sponsors, partners, audiences from all over the world all are welcome to submit their thoughts on Australia’s artistic and cultural future.
This isn’t just an attack against Brandis because he’s giving back-handers to his elitist mates (although he is), this is a chance for us all to step up and speak out about something which fundamentally drives who we are, what we believe in, and how we communicate and debate those values with each other, nationally and around the world: our arts and cultural sector.
Please do make a submission, please do read and share all the links below, and add more for all our benefit. Just like crowdfunding, every little helps.
But before you go there I wanted to share a thought that’s been kicking around my world for a while now.
I have a friend who is a bit of an old hippy. He also loves crosswords. He used to say that if you struggled with a crossword clue in the morning you should put it down and wait for the collective consciousness to answer it. By the end of the day he would pick up his paper, look at the clue again and the answer would come to him in a flash. “Thanks collective consciousness”, he would say.
There is a great deal to be angry, hurt and scared about right now. I’m sure for a lot of people some shift in management of arts funding is the least of their worries. But this is more than just a few artists getting their funding cut. This is about how our current government feels about free speech, criticism, independence and otherness.
The changes to funding need to be viewed in-line with the rest of our austerity cuts. As Alex Kelly writes,
We need to talk about the destructive worldview driving these policies, we need our commentators and artists to be naming what is happening, we need to understand this, we need to build solidarity between all the sectors who are feeling the pain of this slash and burn agenda and then we need to fight, together, to build something different.
Artists cost this country very little in the grand scheme of things. In our unpaid-social-worker/educator/entertainer roles we act as a mirror to society, reflecting both the good and the bad things about that society. Brandis got very annoyed when some artists chose to ‘bite the hand that feeds’ by boycotting the Sydney Biennial. Those artists weren’t fighting for better pay, they were standing up against the festival’s core sponsor, Transfield Services, a company that profits from locking up and torturing innocent people who have come here seeking help.
Understandably, given this country’s current human rights abuse tally, there’s a lot that artists – and all of us – can hold that mirror on which won’t look good for the government, and they’re not very keen for us to do that. So, while you’re writing your submission and nudging your friends/family/office colleagues to write theirs, just think about that old hippy friend of mine and imagine the potential energy from our collective consciousness buzzing around this country today.
You feel that? That’s the gentle murmur of hundreds of creative minds focusing their pain and anger into a set of beautifully crafted words and images (and hey, maybe even music or sculpture) that say “No. No More. We won’t accept your attempt to silence us”.
OK, so now imagine what we could really achieve if we harnessed that collective consciousness energy around ALL calls to arms. The #keepitintheground and #climatechange movements; the #stopstolengenerations and Stop Forced Closure of First Nations Communities movements; the anti-Nuclear and clean energy movements; the refugee, #wewontbesilenced and anti-racism movements; the stop-TPP/TTIP and net-neutrality movements; … the list is sadly endless right now. And it’s a list which connects us all in some way.
We are all activists now. We might not feel like it, we might not be on the street every weekend holding yet another banner. We might not be an old hippy sharing messages of collective consciousness energies. But we all care in some way about the damage which is being wrought across every level of society. It’s not even about political party alignment any more; without electoral reform that removes money and religion from politics there can be no such thing as democracy. This is about our basic human rights and our cultural values, individually and collectively. We have to re-write the book of lore, collectively.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We all have a voice. All our voices count. So please, use yours and help our arts and culture remain free, open, multi-cultural, safe from political silencing and self-determined by the peers who know and love it so much better than any rich old white lawyer dude ever could.
Some notes for the Senate Commission against cuts/changes to arts funding. Plus (as a secondary document/approach) feedback on the NPEA guidelines which were recently released.
DID YOU KNOW? – You don’t have to be an artist or even employed in the arts to submit. you can be audience or sponsor or project partner or venue or even international… so please do.
PLACES TO SUBMIT YOUR THOUGHTS [please do both]:
1. THE SENATE COMMISSION: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Arts_Funding (deadline July 17th)
2. THE NPEA GUIDELINES FEEDBACK:
http://arts.gov.au/nationalexcellenceprogram (deadline July 31st)
* Other people’s submissions http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Arts_Funding/Submissions (or google/look at #freethearts to find ones that have been emailed in and then personally shared)
* Wesley Enoch’s gorgeous open letter: https://www.facebook.com/wesley.enoch/posts/706509836144950?fref=nf
* Marcus Westbury’s rants on his fb feed (because after all he’s spent a large part of his career critiquing Australia Council for the Arts so who better to know the figures when defending it?!):
– and his rant on ArtsHub: http://www.artshub.com.au/festival/news-article/opinions-and-analysis/festivals/marcus-westbury/fundedlikeamajor-who-is-really-subsidising-the-arts-australians-love-248545
* The Arts Charter: [NB if you made suggestions to that you’ll probably find them useful here too!]
* #freethearts sector channel
* the cuts to ABS made last year which prevent us from fighting back under their numbers-focused criteria:
http://freethearts.com.au/slacksubmission is a cheeky slack way to get the job done and increase numbers even if you’re too distraught to submit your in-depth thoughts.
And if you have already submitted but it hasn’t come up in the Senate’s database yet, feel free to add a link to your own submission/blog/rant below.
Happy writing x