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Arts and artists and what political parties really think of them

What are the most pressing issues facing the cultural sector in Victoria today – and as the state heads towards election day on 24 November? It’s a timely question as the state’s three major parties gather at the National Gallery of Victoria this afternoon for a forum where they’ll be challenged by industry leaders to put their visions and commitments on the table. It’s also timely given the massive shake-up in arts policy happening all across the country – in most cases, changes against no written policy at all. 

Victoria was Australia’s first state to adopt a creative industries framework, and to date its implementation is incomplete and has yet to be assessed. The Victorian Government has, however, taken the lead on developing a nationally consistent approach to measuring the economic value of the creative industries, including identifying state and territory differences, data gaps, and refining the scope to encompass the expanding field of contemporary practice. Increasingly, practices beyond the previously supported artforms are being incorporated into Creative Victoria’s scope, and while games and screen media for example now have targeted funding programs, the truly interesting cross-industry development work is yet to be conceived. 

A key outcome of the state-wide consultations that led to the Creative Industries Strategy was the need to invest substantially in keynote initiatives. The Creative State Commissions shortlist looks amazing, with a strong focus on First Nations work, in which the Creative Victoria is investing strongly. The overdue Regional Centre of Culture program, which had been a 2014 election commitment, has not been committed to as an an ongoing program, while regional arts collaborations have been strengthened by the opportunities it has opened. All of these issues will be top of mind at Artlands this week as Regional Arts Victoria leads an important set of national conversations.

Shadow minister for the arts Heidi Victoria has never embraced the creative industries mantra, insisting on the use of the term “arts” in her title. One thing the framework may succeed in is stimulating discussions between the arts minister and their fellow front-benchers, translating the arts into economic terms. And yet, while talking creative industries might unlock a few more conversational doors, it hasn’t succeeded in unlocking any new ongoing funding. Compounding this is Victoria’s refusal to annually index the operating grants of organisations who not only develop and present new work, but also, foster unexpected partnerships between artforms, organisations, social enterprise, the commercial sector and the public. This is the potential and the promise of creative industries – one we will only realise by investing with confidence. 

So how do these priorities compare with the rest of the nation? South Australia is headed in the opposite direction. The latest SA State Budget has cut millions from arts institutions and programs, and over the next year, the SA Government will dismantle Arts South Australia altogether, dividing its responsibilities among existing portfolios such as education, industries and skills. While it remains to be seen whether this approach will expand future investment and possibilities for the arts, it’s the antithesis to an embrace of creative industries as a cultural and economic driver, and the Arts Industry Council of SA have been a strong and united voice on the changes. 

In Queensland, a new configuration of state-wide partnerships will devolve government sector development responsibilities. Access Community Services (Ipswich and Logan), Central Queensland University (Central Queensland), Creative Arts Alliance (South-East Queensland North), Empire Theatre Projects (South-West Queensland) and Red Ridge (Western Queensland) will each service specific regions, with Arts Queensland focusing on Far North Queensland, and Queensland Music Festival servicing North Queensland as well as coordinating the entire effort. At the same time, Flying Arts Alliance has recently joined the regional arts organisations to deliver the Regional Arts Fund and build regional arts capacity.

NSW’s next arts strategy, Arts 2025, has no announcement date, but given the recent restructure and new leadership, this may take a little longer than expected. Especially given the state of the local arts politics. In a most scandalous manifestation of Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, the gambling lobby have bullied NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian into forcing the Sydney Opera House to advertise a new horse race through logos and images projected onto its sails. This pre Melbourne Cup one-upmanship trashes the state’s cultural values at a time where artists and industry bodies continue to contemplate next steps following revelations of ministerial interference in Create NSW funding decisions.

Victorians who have been watching the news from Sydney and thinking ‘That could never happen here!’ will also be reminding themselves that Melbourne’s most iconic landmark has already been sold off to the highest bidder behind closed doors: the cultural value built by artists and communities at FedSq will soon belong to Apple. This is a hot election issue on which I’m on the record defending public space. 

Live music also fuels passionate Melbourne-Sydney rivalries, with action on regulatory frameworks and artist development sparking healthy competition between the two cities and states. It may soon be time to remedy the damage caused by the Sydney lockout laws, as the Parliamentary Inquiry reaches its final pre-election stages. Spaces that are conducive for live music support the full breath of contemporary and performing arts practice; arts and cultural strategies are as much about community and place as they are about creative innovation. 

Ensuring that artists’ rights are championed and upheld will also be crucial to the success to Victoria’s creative industries framework. Making the fair payment of artists a condition of funding is a good start.

Space for the contemporary arts in Melbourne is about to get a phenomenal boost with the announcement that NGV Contemporary will transform Southbank. However, when we add up the billions that are about to be spend across Australia on such spaces, we begin to foresee a concerning future that shuns investment in artists. Only by investing courageously in practitioners whose work we cannot yet begin to imagine will we begin to see what’s possible. The arts should invigorate and astound us; arts policy should at the very outset trust in artists and arts leaders. 

The industry development work that’s done by organisations whose primary role is the creation and presentation of new work is woefully underestimated by arts policy and funding – and it’s here that Victoria’s rejection of annual indexation wreaks the most destruction. Understanding the work that artist, service and industry organisations do to nurture their ecology should be the basis of arts policy across the nation, but is so frequently overlooked. And while NSW has a specific funding category for service organisations, Victoria expects them to compete with creative organisations for funding – on criteria that are addressed to the latter.

An effective creative industries framework must balance those two elements constructively, especially as non-creative industries increasingly co-opt the language of flexibility and social enterprise to entrench ever-more precarious working conditions. Conceiving of the future of work must start now, with careful consideration of the self-exploitative practices that underfunding perpetuates. Beyond this, the location and facilitation models for co-working spaces and co-location sites need high-level planning across government portfolio areas, while funding programs must start preparing for future organisational models. 

Ensuring that artists’ rights are championed and upheld will also be crucial to the success of today’s forum and to Victoria’s creative industries framework. Making the fair payment of artists a condition of funding is a good start. The NAVA Code of Practice sits alongside industry standards in other fields as the benchmark. And on protecting artists’ rights to their work, NSW is the only state refusing to pay copyright licensing fees to the Copyright Agency, while Victoria leads the way on compliance. 

As the politics of arts decision-making become muddier, it’s important we put it in context. As disempowered as the sector feels after the funding cuts of recent years, political appropriation of the arts affirms the power of the artist – perversely, perhaps, and certainly, with misplaced conviction. At today’s election forum, we look to Victoria’s political leaders for courageous vision and clear commitments towards an arts sector that’s ambitious and fair. 

Disclosures: Esther Anatolitis is Executive Director of NAVA. She is a former member of the Victorian Government Creative Industries Strategy Expert Reference Group; Deputy Chair of Contemporary Arts Precincts, a private company developing a creative precinct in partnership with the Victorian Government; a former board member, staffer and consultant to various companies based at FedSq; and a former chair of the Arts Industry Council of Victoria, who has organised today’s forum. 

One response to “Arts and artists and what political parties really think of them

  1. IT IS SO TRUE…
    I know what its like to go underfunded into a State Gallery solo exhibition whilst the Director and the Gallery spend all the money on overseas contemporary art. This was at the Qld Art Gallery. Its very soul destroying and I am sure many, many artists understand how we are totally ignored whilst Governments decide on what priorities are.

    Qld is actually a disaster for individual artists, its fine to fund community engagement BUT this is an electoral decision, buying votes. Meanwhile so many artists in Qld and Australia are just ignored and YET we do vote. So many individual Australian artists are caught between supposed community art, as well meaning as such support may be, AND the lure of overseas big names to bolster Cultural Tourism.

    ULTIMATELY artists need to just vote informal to maybe…maybe…get their plight across to the politicians.

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