Thursday, August 13, 2015

Changes to Australia's Arts Funding

The recent inquiry into the changes to arts funding that has seen millions pulled from the Australia Council for the Arts and the proposed establishment of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), attracted more than 2 600 submissions from across the country. It was a fantastic response...this was mine, and to view others click here.
At the recent public hearing held in Melbourne, accomplished contemporary artist, David Pledger very eloquently outlined the problem with the newly proposed NPEA. Well, worth watching this Video of David Pledger 
David Pledger speaking at the Melbourne public inquiry
I am writing this submission in response to the funding changes to the Australia Council for the Arts and the proposal to establish a National Program for Excellence in the Arts.

My response is based on more than 20 years working with community, the arts, government and business in Tasmania. It stems from my first hand experience as a producer, arts manager, writer and coach; having worked with Big hART Inc, Tasmanian Regional Arts, Tasmanian Writers Centre, Tasmanian International Arts Festival (Ten Days on the Island), Screen Tasmania, the University of Tasmania and currently curate the Tasmanian Portraiture Prize among other projects. I have worked with artists and companies to deliver art projects, build organizational capacity and also explored alternative models, such as social enterprise. This research has identified the importance of supporting the creative development of art content in the state and that in fact arts sector investment reaps much greater return than most other industries.

The impact of the recent announcement to reduce funding to the Australia Council for the Arts and the development of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts is incredibly disappointing for a sector that is already stretched. Tasmania continues to have the highest number of artists per capita in Australia and we had seen an increase in arts activity over the last 10 years, however, the continued reduction of the pool of funds available to support small to medium arts organisations and individual artists in the state has heightened an already highly competitive environment and I believe will leave no alternative but for some to discontinue activities.

To change systems and processes to improve outcomes and opportunities for artists and audiences is understandable, but I believe it is a missed opportunity to not take the time to assess what is working and what isn't; to restructure according to this, and the needs of the arts sector and broader community. Unfortunately the approach that has been taken appears to be more based on the whim of individual creative taste, than a strategic well-considered vision. One of the fundamental principles of good governance is genuine consultation and I find it disappointing that the Arts Minister has not consulted with the arts sector about the proposed changes. A genuine discussion may well have resulted in modifications, and perhaps greater outcomes for everyone. It is disappointing that there hasn’t been adequate warning for those arts organisations being effected by the immediate half of the 6 year funding. This and the cut of successful programs including ArtStart and the Artist in Residence Program, is incredibly disappointing. Both were deemed successful and helped emerging young artists and those more established to work within a non-arts environment.

The impact that funding changes will have on the small to medium organisations are considerable and Tasmania will potentially be hit harder than any other state. Mimicking our business community, the Tasmanian arts sector is predominantly small to medium. Like many small regional Australian communities, the majority of Tasmania’s art content comes from these small to medium organisations and individual artists.  It is this art content that feeds into the many festivals within and outside of the state; that is presented to schools, contributes to events and these organisations often are the training ground for young and emerging writers, performers and artists. They are also the testing ground for new, innovative and risky art product, which I fear under the proposed changes, will be lost.

With funding already at a minimum and many organisations relying on the goodwill of artists delivering voluntary or pro bono services to communities, this further reduction will see many arts organisations discontinue or reduce their activities. These creative activities are not just about events, entertainment and tourism; they are often the vehicle for individuals and communities to explore and express a range of social issues. Art organisations such as Interweave Arts in Launceston, Salamanca Arts Centre, Big hART Inc on the North West Coast or Kickstart Arts in Southern Tasmania use art as the engagement tool to connect with and share the stories of those who are vulnerable, disenfranchised or voiceless.

The changes to funding and processes isn't just about the artists, performers, writers, musicians who contribute architecture, design, clothing, art, soundtracks, dance, performance and is about the audiences who crave this, who consume it, who pay for it and absorb it as part of their day to day life. How will this new model accommodate the appetite of young people, of different cultures and those seeking to be challenged and informed? The programs of the small to medium art companies are full of content that connects to these groups and others who are not patrons to the conservative or traditional art forms. Whether it is a film, a play, book or song; people love to relate to what they experience and we need to provide a fertile environment that encourages our own story telling, culture and life.

If the idea is to reduce government funding as a means to encourage revenue raising by arts companies and individuals, thereby making them more sustainable; this too is fraught. Unlike the USA we do not have a major philanthropic movement. There is also a limit to how much sponsorship and crowd-funding money is available within and even outside Tasmania, and neither should be seen as a permanent and complete replacement to ongoing government support for the arts.

This new model will see a reduction in funding to individual artists. For the past seven years I have worked as a coach; supporting musicians, composers, painters, designers and jewelers who all want to develop their practice, fund future projects and improve their financial situation. Most artists already invest huge amount of personal resources, time and money into their work; and generally look to small amounts of grant money to bolster large projects that they cannot self fund. There is virtually no practical support for individual artists outside any grant program, even though many artists I work with convey the need for practical assistance, in addition to or rather than money. The proposed changes will see a drastically reduced pot of money for individual artists to apply for, and an increase in competition to fund art projects. It should be noted, that the majority of artists do not just produce individual artwork to sell. They often engage in community art projects, provide teaching opportunities, present art via festivals, support arts events, partner with not for profits and local government to deliver art projects and volunteer on community-based organisations that support creative and vibrant communities.

The Tasmanian art market is not just about goodwill and cultural development. This is a prosperous industry that business and politicians have benefited from. Campaigns have been run against the backdrop of a museum, orchestra, festival or painting. Yet there still seems to be a disconnect from government, about where art comes from? Biennale venues or Archibald Prize winners do not just appear; they are years in the making.

The idea of moving away from a peer review process that was provided via the Australian Council for the Arts (OzCo), to a process where one individual can make unilateral decisions is problematic. At a time when changes had been made to the OzCo processes to improve the peer review process, I find it very strange the Arts Minister had not approached OzCo to discuss other options; rather than to completely axe the process and waste money to set up completely new administrative departments. Aside from the bureaucracy required to do this, there is the major issue of maintaining an arms-length approach to assessing funding applications. This is vital and positive for government departments, the funding agency and the applying artist. It creates a level of transparency that can only benefit the process.

In regard to the economic impact of the decision by the Arts Minister, I am not going to repeat the figures and arguments that have already so eloquently been conveyed by others in their submissions. I will however expand on the discussion around the small amount of funding that is provided by the Federal Government and what that translates to for communities and artists. It has long been recognised that the arts community can squeeze extraordinary outcomes from meager budgets. This cannot be justification for the proposed changes, as it is recognised that over the last few years we have already seen radical cuts to arts funding from the Federal and State Governments.  We have seen the de-funding of three major creative networks with the demise of the Regional Arts National Network, the closing down of Writing Australia and the announcement of Screen Australia defunding the national film network; leaving Tasmania’s Wide Angle without funding. There is a tipping point at which the resourcefulness and optimism of an arts community is in danger of being trampled. And I believe we have reached this point. Lack of willingness to provide at least reasonable funding to the arts sector has economic, cultural, social and health implications on the participants and the communities they work and live amongst.

Government reducing or removing funding to large sections of the arts community does not build confidence in the industry. It does not entice business to plug the hole that is left open but instead it tells business investors that the arts are risky and immeasurable. The arts are measurable and time again studies both within and outside of Australia have indicated the major bang for buck that a government can expect from investing in the arts.

Minister Brandis wants to use arts to bolster Australia’s international reputation. I am guessing international festivals, biennales and collections do not want mainstream; they want diversity and difference. They want a depiction of the Australian culture with all it’s bumps and bruises. This doesn’t necessarily come from conservative traditional arts. Each international major city has plenty of companies that can deliver those opportunities. The type of art that attracts international attention comes from risk taking individuals and organisations; Terrapin Puppet Theatre, Tasmanian playwright, Finegan Kruckemeyer and Stompin Youth Dance in Launceston, for example.

If we want Australian society to be compassionate, inquisitive and engaged, then we need to invest in the development stage of creative endeavour. That development happens in the early years, the experimental and the risk taking years. A few years volunteering and then working with a community based arts organisation as part of the production team and then performer may well provide enough experience and skill to be accepted into a major company. Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) didn’t just appear on screen, but, like many others, she walked a path of experimental and independent theatre and film before ‘hitting it big’.

And for audiences, those transformative moments often come from the smallest and sweetest of experiences that are raw and real. More often than not, these are found in the experimental or early iterations of a first draft play, a film or concert that pushes the envelope, delves into the uncomfortable and presents us all with issues, ideas and experiences that are familiar, uncomfortable, enlightening or breathtaking. Art is risky. It inspires, excites, challenges and terrifies – that’s part of its job. Will this new model provide room for this?

The beauty of art is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and there is room for a range of mediums, genres, approaches and art forms. The opportunity for the government is to see that before them is a passionate, experienced and entrepreneurial arts community that is willing to talk, to negotiate, to trouble shoot and look at alternatives. I hope that members of the Senate will look at the whole picture before agreeing to major changes that impact on the life of artists, arts workers, audiences and communities.

Thank you for allowing me to provide this submission.
Yours sincerely

Kylie Eastley
Arts Consultant, Manager and Writer
M: 0439 262 344

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