The last day to make a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts.
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
16 July, 2015
I am a Research Fellow (DECRA) at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. For the past two years I have been researching artist-run initiatives in Australia. I am also an independent artist.
In Australia artist-run initiatives (ARIs) play a vibrant and significant role in the overall arts ecology. Artist-run spaces are an international phenomenon, nevertheless the Australian ARI is unique with its specific 40 year history and ongoing presence which creates space, both literal and imaginary, for Australian artists to engage with themes, ideas, issues, and feelings important to them, right here and now, rather than receiving ‘culture’ from elsewhere. This is a very important and well-recognized aspect of grass roots organizations, which create a rich and diverse culture, that eventually has wave-like effects – where more and more people from diverse backgrounds can be engaged in the creation and enjoyment of art and art-making, and ultimately the creation of a unique national culture. These small arts organizations are like a rich loamy soil, absolutely essential for a strong, energetic and lively cultural landscape. It would seem more appropriate and logical, if you want to grow a sector, to support small and medium organizations.
Currently there are well over 100 artist-run spaces across Australia. They are small, independent spaces and organizations, which actually don’t get a lot of direct funding from the Australia Council, nevertheless any diminishing of the Australia Council’s capacity to fund individual artists and small organizations will inevitably have adverse effects on this sector, as funding can be indirect. For instance, the Australia Council funds individual artists who may show in ARIs; and there has also been specific project funding for ARIs; Artstart was a very important source of funding for emerging artists and/or recent arts graduates and is now no longer offered, a direct result of these Budget cuts. These are terrible blows to a sector already badly in need of more support, rather than less.
In my research over the last two years I’ve spoken to many artists and visited many artist-run spaces. One of the most oft repeated answers to my question: “what are the main issues for ARIs today?” was “the lack of time and money”. Most artists that I spoke with have two or even three part-time jobs, often menial, to support them while at the same time continuing to work at their own practice as well as volunteering in the running of an artist-run space. This triple workload is unusual in the Australian labor market. And it indicates not only how hard-working Australian artists are, but also how passionate and committed they are to their work. It is not easy being an artist in Australia, which means many artists have to leave in order to continue their arts practice. This is an enormous loss for the whole community. And this seems so unnecessary, when we are a rich country and we could afford to acknowledge the enormous contribution the arts, and artists, make to the vibrancy of Australian culture.
I would like to express my strong opposition to the proposals to cut funding to the Australia Council and the proposed establishment of a National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) under the control of the Arts Minister. The latter will surely duplicate administration that is already in place, and will not add anything of substance, rather it will create an asymetrical two-tier system, with no serious guidelines for good decision-making, and open to favouritism and cronyism. This proposal seems counter to what I would understand as a sense of fairness in a robust democracy. The Australia Council was created more than forty years ago – in fact it was a Liberal Party initiative. It is now an important Australian institution that has accrued many years of experience, knowledge and expertise, gained from an ongoing and committed engagement with the arts community – an engagement that Senator George Brandis has not bothered to do – which again, seems undemocratic and very strange.
The Australia Council has helped support not only many successful artists and arts organizations – but crucially it is a public institution in the best sense of the word, independent and at an arm’s length from political intervention. The budget cuts and proposal for a separate body, the NPEA, undermines the Australia Council’s mission, creates uncertainty for all involved in the arts, takes away much needed funding from small organisations already starved of funding. One of the unique and successful decision-making procedures developed, over many years, by the Australia Council and applauded by many of my colleagues overseas is the peer review system created through dialogue and negotiation. Surely this is what a democratic process should be all about. This is what we pay our taxes for.
The arts in Australia, across all sectors, have grown massively over the last 40 years. A lot of that energy, growth and nurturing can be attributed directly to the support, both financial and structural, of the Australia Council for the Arts.
Rather than diminishing funding to the Australia Council, it would be more appropriate to increase funding, especially for small and independent artist’s spaces, where many artists, both young and old, do an enormous amount of unpaid work.
I’d like to finish with a quote from Senator George Brandis from an earlier perhaps happier time, 2007, in his introduction to the publication “Making Space: artist-run initiatives in Victoria.”
Message from the Federal Minister for the Arts
Artist-run initiatives (ARIs) occupy a crucial role in the Australian visual arts sector. They are a grass-roots network which is particularly important for young and emerging artists. Through ARIs, artists can hone their professional skills in a supportive environment with other artists; share knowledge, skills and equipment; take advantage of networking opportunities; and display their art in affordable and professional exhibition spaces. The Australian Government is proud to support ARIs through its Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (vacs).
I urge that you reconsider these budget cuts, they are undemocratic, unfair and ill considered and they will have a detrimental impact on artists and smaller arts organizations.
I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to address the enquiry.
Dr Maria Miranda