Arts, Culture, Politics and Grief

my sign at the rally against the proposed $8.5million cuts to South Australian arts funding "Fund Fresh Arts, Not Old Farts! Art That Thumps, Not Toxic Dumps!"

my sign at the rally against the proposed $8.5million cuts to South Australian arts funding

And so it begins. The bad news rolls in for some, while others breathe a sigh of guarded relief. We all know how fragile things are, for everyone. Fuck.

Arts organisations across the country are finding out this week if they got their four-year funding or not. The next funding round won’t be until 2019, so for (far too) many, that means closure. This is the outcome of last year’s $104.7million Australia Council for the Arts heist by Senator Brandis (a year to the day, pretty much). The entire arts sector has been on tenterhooks ever since — like we needed any additional anxiety to cope with. Hopefully we’ll oust this fuckwit of a government in a couple of months, but even if we did (and even if we got more money for the sector because of it), for many it would be too little, too late. For South Australia, where we have the threat of a further $8.5million cuts looming, this could mark the end of the Festival State… but it’s OK, because we will be saved by Toxic Waste, right? Ugh. No.

Before the trolls come out with “I don’t want my tax dollars wasted on you artist dole bludgers”, let me say this. The problem with these cuts is not that a few plays or exhibitions won’t be happening; it’s about the bigger picture, the long term perspective, the ecosystem. These cuts will leave a big gaping hole where less genuine meaning comes into our lives, even if just on the periphery. Everyone who has ever read a book, listened to music, been to the movies, watched a play or attended a Festival… all those stars you admire, who make you laugh or cry, who you follow on social media to feel a deeper connection to their lives because they MEAN something to you… they all had to start somewhere. Even the ‘high arts’, the swanky “Major Performing Arts” companies (who have mostly remained deathly silent over the last year), even they will notice when their orchestras, ballets, operas and stages fall silent.

Think about the sporting ecosystem. If there were no youth teams today there could be no World Cups of the future. It’s that simple. It’s the kids who won’t get to be part of a youth theatre group, the experimenters who won’t have anywhere to go to find out if their insanity might not actually be golden. We’re suffocating our future for the sake of an offensive drop in the budgetary ocean. And we’re doing it while storing planes we don’t fly and building subs we won’t use, while tax sits rotting in offshore havens. We have the money. We can afford to give ourselves a reasonable, human, existence. And art is a vital part of that existence. Art’s value is long term and meaningful, not short term and economic. We’re killing our souls, just like we’re killing our planet.

Some say that artists have it easy by comparison to, say, those affected by the end of the car manufacturing industry, or the gaping hole of transition required once the mining industry goes down (which it will). We certainly have it easier than the hundreds of asylum seekers locked up in our concentration camps or the Indigenous communities still living in asbestos-ridden homes. And yet our failure to identify arts and culture as a core element of life is one of the reasons we have ended up so commodified and dehumanised in contemporary society. We have lost touch with nature, beauty, pause and reflection. Isn’t it time we recognised that and put the needs of our souls on the same priority level as feeding our bodies and advancing our minds in these upcoming elections? Conversations about art are so often made about money in these times, but that misses the point. Life is about so much more than how much we earn, what car we drive, where we live.

Some say that yes, this is harsh, but it will be good for us in the long term. Necessity is the mother of invention, limit the artist and you lend them wings, yes, all of that for sure. We will rebuild, again, and we will be stronger because of it, again. But this is gonna hurt before it gets better.

So to my friends and colleagues across the country struggling with the rollout of news, please do something for me. Please give yourselves a big fucking hug. You’re all brilliant, strong, resilient motherfuckers, even if you don’t feel that way right now. I have the utmost admiration for all of you and what you do and I am proud to have so many of you in my personal corner of this vast ecosystem. This is shitty, really really really shitty. But you’re cunning little buggers, the lot of you. You’ll either find another way to keep going, or you’ll reinvent. After all, making the beautiful from the blank is what you do. And wow do you do it well.

After you’ve give yourselves (and each other) a hug, regardless of outcome or even your proximity to these announcements, please allow yourselves time to grieve. You may not feel you deserve to, you may feel more sorry for others than you do for yourselves, but we are all in this together — what hurts one, hurts all. Recognise the need to grieve for yourself, for your colleagues, for youth arts and for audiences of the future.

And then get angry, but turn that anger’s focus outward, toward the election. All that creative energy you have exploding within you is perfectly designed to become direct action, small or large. Organise Flash Mobs. Participate in rallies. Lie down on the streets in tutus. Read — and reply to — the comments. Door knock in Tory districts. Get out on the streets and talk to strangers. Ask if their kids enjoy dancing, playing an instrument, art class, circus school, etc etc etc… then remind them that none of that will exist if we allow this neoliberal onslaught to continue. My hope is that even Conservatives might, maybe, possibly, have souls too. Let’s use our creative passion to help them relocate theirs. We don’t need to argue in economic terms, we need to connect in emotional ones.

We can do this. We have to do this.

My deepest love to all of you. Be good to yourselves, we need you. x