There’s often an arts worker.
Much has been written lately about the high-handed and, frankly, insupportable decision by the Federal Arts Minister, Senator George Brandis, to remove a massive slice of funding from the Australia Council for the Arts in order to establish a National Program for Excellence in the Arts. If you already know and care about this issue, then you’ll have a good handle on debate—not that you could really call it a debate, when it was undertaken with absolutely zero consultation with anyone in the arts sector, and is clearly another example of a Captain’s call from this most arrogant of governments. Many of us in the arts believe that this is a big old chunk of payback for those artists who protested Transfield’s sponsorship of last year’s Biennale. Whatever the motivation, though, there’s no question this is a devastating blow to the OzCo and to the notion of arms-length, independent and peer-assessed funding in this country.
Briefly, some of the key issues include:
No-one has any idea what the parameters of eligibility for this funding will be, beyond what we already know about Brandis’s tastes in The Yarts.
Major arts companies who have had their funding assured have been gagged from criticising the decision.
The Australia Council has suspended the current round of applications for 6 year funding for key arts organisations (and disclaimer: I am on the board of one of those affected) and the June funding round has been cancelled altogether.
The ArtsStart and Creative Communities Partnerships Initiative will no longer be offered.
Many people have written with great passion and eloquence about what this will mean for small independent artists—this one from Kill Your Darlings is especially on point. As is this one, by the redoubtable Alison Croggan. And of course, Kill Your Darlings is one of the small journals in very real danger of becoming unviable without Australia Council support. The Sydney Review of Books is another, as founder Ivor Indyk reports.
But this blog post isn’t merely to rehash the discussion, or simply to post links, as useful, perhaps, as I hope that will be.
It’s to remind everyone that it’s not just artists who will be affected by these cuts.
It’s also arts workers.
Because let us not forget in all of this that when we are talking about small-to-medium arts organisations losing funding, we’re not just talking about lost opportunities for artists—new, emerging and independent artists who, as you’ll know if you’ve read some of the articles linked above, so often end up being the beating heart of mainstream and major arts companies. We’re also talking about lost opportunities, lost jobs and maybe even lost careers for arts workers.
So, what’s an arts worker? And who cares? Aren’t they just slightly glorified paper-pushers, useful maybe for writing grant applications and reports to boards, necessary to keep databases and mailing lists and newsletters up to date, but more or less interchangeable with any other arts grad out there?
Well, maybe, in some instances, but I’d argue that even the lowliest arts intern isn’t worth much if they’re not passionately and powerfully invested in the art form they have specialised in, and deeply committed to the company they work for—often for barely, if at all, minimum wage. And those young turks need to have a career path ahead of them—and that’s potentially, if not actually, been taken away from them by these funding cuts.
But beyond the freshly minted grad who is willing and able to get their opshop-shoe-shod foot in the door for whatever coin is tossed their way, there are also the career arts workers. Those of us—and yes, this is where it gets personal, even though I am no longer actually employed in this capacity—who have, early-, mid- or late- career, sacrificed job security and a decent salary and regular working hours and even, in some cases, the limelight, to create and run and support and develop artists and arts companies and programs and small organisations…
So that, on a practical level, flights can be booked and venues and accommodation organised and events promoted and audiences secured and media contacted and materials purchased and lunches ordered and photo permission forms signed and money taken and invoices corrected and processed so that they can be paid in timely fashion…
So that artists can be employed. So that communities can be represented. So that work can be developed and nurtured and shared across place and time and geography and cultures and ages. So that (here come the buzz words) capacity can be built so that non-specialists can take up ideas and programs and run with them, so that (for example) poetry slams can happen in places with no poets, so that aspiring actors in reviled western suburbs can see themselves on stages, so that writers from unrecognised classes and cultures can have their voices heard.
Because arts workers are not just administrators or form-fillers or even wannabes. Arts workers—artistic directors, program managers, education officers, admin officers, interns and volunteers—are the lifeblood of the arts in this small nation of ours. And they are often genuinely creative people themselves, even if they are not technically practising artists. (Although Lord knows there’s an art to writing a successful grant application—am I wrong?!)
Arts workers create artistic programs that give time and space and income to artists. Arts workers identify, nurture and sometimes even create opportunities and audiences.
And arts workers have mortgages and families and bills and pets and aspirations and careers and when arts funding is cut, people lose their jobs. And that ain’t nothing.
I’ve spent most of my career, one way or another, as a public servant and an arts worker. And when cuts are made to (so-called) bureaucracies and the arts—soft targets all—it’s easy to overlook the fact that those cuts mean less jobs for actual people with actual careers and commitments and creative lives and practical needs along the lines of, you know, earning an income.
(It’s not like we were rolling it in in the first place—I recently realised if I’d stuck with my teaching career, I’d have been earning around 30k a year more than I was as an arts worker. And I’m in my 50s. I don’t have a lot of superannuation accumulating years to waste.)
So while we rightly worry about the impact of Brandis’s newly devised personal artistic playpen on artists and artistic practise and development, please let’s remember that the demise of funding programs for small-to-medium arts organisations means unemployment and heartache for many more folk behind the scenes.
And that ain’t nothing.