Changing the Conversation: Why Arts Advocates in Australia Need a New Approach | Culture


When announced in August last year, the parliamentary inquiry into the arts sparked almost unprecedented interest.

Four months of verbal evidence was bolstered by more than 350 written submissions, with 4,871 additional responses received in a corresponding online survey – the second highest response ever to a standing committee poll, beaten only by one survey recent study on family, household and sexuality. violence.

The intention of survey of Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions is to examine “the benefits the arts bring to Australia and the significant impacts Covid-19 has had on the industry.” But many submissions widen the net, asking how a $ 15 billion a year industry ravaged by the pandemic could protect itself within a decade.

Two of these roadmaps have been published in recent months: Imagine 2030: prepare a national plan for the arts, culture and creativity, from the relatively new independent cultural think tank A New Approach; and a report by former Grattan Institute CEO John Daley titled Advocacy for the performing arts in Australia.

Although prepared independently, the two articles overlap on a number of recommendations, including breaking the silos occupied by individual art forms; criticize the economic argument for the arts which is favored by many politicians; and the establishment of a new leading body to lobby Canberra.

The arts sector has received a steady stream of beatings since March 2020, with the latest alarm sounding Hobart Dark Mofo Wednesday.

And with the draft investigation report due to be filed in Canberra in a few weeks, the industry is watching.

The economic argument that no one buys

John Daley resigned from the Grattan Institute in the eye of the Covid-19 storm in July 2020. He spent the next eight months researching and writing his advocacy report – a sort of literary swansong for the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (Ampag), which was dissolved after more than two decades at the end of last year.

When it comes to lobbying governments, Ampag’s 28 member organizations have now returned to cutting-edge bodies representing their distinct genres – dance, theater, music, circus, etc. has stagnated for 30 years.

Despite radical changes in art forms, community tastes and Australia’s cultural makeup, there have been few substantial changes in art policy and institutions. And more of the same advocacy is likely to lead to more of the same results: As federal and state governments determine how to slice the cultural funding pie, there is a dearth of informed voices pushing for a bigger pie, a recipe put. up to date, and a more appealing plate for 21st century appetites.

“There’s this mismatch between our official culture – which is basically that the Prime Minister goes to football – and what Australians actually do in their private lives,” Daley said.

“In fact, Australians attend arts events much more often than they go to football or any other sport.”

Daley’s report brings together statistics from several sources, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Council, Treasury, Austadiums and Destination NSW.

He found that there are nearly 23 million paid art events in large venues per year, and that figure more than doubles if small concert halls, all local council venues and all events across the country. festival are included. In comparison, around 19 million tickets are sold each year for sporting events.

John Daley during his tenure as CEO of the Grattan Institute. Photograph: Alan Porritt / AAP

Daley believes advocacy for the arts fails because it operates under the mistaken belief that it has to speak Canberra lingo: For many audiences, the economic impact of the arts is a major bad argument.

“It’s an argument put forward by people who don’t believe in people who don’t believe it,” he says.

“How many artists know someone who does what he does because it contributes to the national economy?

“Yet advocates continue to lead with economic arguments that few industry participants really believe.”

Daley says it’s a myth that governments – whether left or right – only care about economic growth: a big chunk of the health budget and a big chunk of the welfare budget. , for example, are spent on people who are unlikely to return to work.

“[Those policies] reflect widely shared public beliefs that improving health and preventing poverty are valuable ends in themselves… rather than growing the economy, ”he says.

Cultural advocacy should also focus primarily on national welfare, with economic considerations a secondary factor – an approach according to Daley is hardly radical.

“It’s an approach that almost all industries take with government. “

The need for a new cutting edge body

Earlier this year, thinktank A New Approach (ANA) emerged from its three-year incubation with the Australian Academy of Humanities and Humanities and became an independent entity which is now supported by ten philanthropic organizations.

The ANA has testified twice during the parliamentary inquiry and released its analysis paper last month. Imagine 2030, which advocates for a coordinated strategy across all art forms and at all skill levels over the next decade. The document, submitted to the government, proposes a National Plan for the Arts, Culture and Creativity (NACC Plan) which is inspired by the 2030 plans already put in place by the sectors of agriculture, sport, tourism and defense technologies.

A piano on stage inside an empty concert hall
A New Approach argues that a new cutting edge body should be formed, so that the different sectors of the visual arts, film, music and theater begin to work together. Photograph: Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

For example, the Sport 2030 plan encompasses all levels of the industry, from elite athletes and the local soccer team to fun community races, to “keep everyone from worrying about their own patch, their own patch. own sport, “according to former Sport Australia president John Wylie,” to help create more opportunities for everyone. “

Instead of the various sectors of the visual arts, film, music, dance and theater all independently lobbying decision-makers, a new NACC plan could, according to A New Approach, bring together groups of consumers and consumers. investors, all three levels of government, corporations, philanthropists, industry representatives, existing leading organizations and the general public.

The organization’s program director Kate Fielding said that in the wake of the pandemic, the need for coordinated action has never been more urgent.

“By looking at how other industries have defined a common vision for the future… we can look at the real practicalities of what this means for different types of investments,” she says. “And what that means for participation in these industries, both producers and consumers.”

Daley, who sits on an ANA advisory committee, advocates a similar strategy, using the National Farmers’ Federation approach.

“A small beekeeper doesn’t have much in common with Gina Rinehart and her cattle interests in the Northern Territory,” he says. “But in practice, their interests are ultimately both represented by the National Farmers Federation.”

Beyond “the kindness of strangers”

At least since the 1970s, the defense of the arts in Australia has always been reduced to the personal tastes of individual politicians, from Gough Whitlam to George Brandis.

“The performing arts have always relied on the kindness of strangers,” said Daley, echoing the words of former Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, former shadow minister of the arts.

And it has always benefited the great traditional institutions, since Robert Menzies established the Australian Elizabethan Theater Trust in the 1950s, laying the foundations for Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet and several state orchestras. and theater companies.

Because arts policy has tended to reflect self-interest rather than public interest, funding for the arts has taken on the appearance of benevolence rather than necessity and has never become a broader political priority, said Daley.

“The arts are generally a bauble around a minister’s neck rather than a major political prize,” he notes in his report.

“The received political wisdom is that the arts can best influence the public perception of political leaders, but commitment to the arts does not change the votes.”

The Kindness of Foreigners poured over $ 300 million to the arts sector in the 2021-2022 federal budget – $ 68 million more than what was allocated to sport – in a budget speech that first mentioned the arts. times in the 21st century.

But in one of the most complete analyzes of this financing, Associate Professor Jo Caust of the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne noted that many of the initiatives captured in that $ 300 million were re-announcements of funding already committed, including $ 125 million to complement the program. rescue of Covid-19 Rise, announced two months earlier.

If the industry is to overcome its Blanche Dubois complex in a post-Covid world, there is a growing argument that a new global cutting edge body will be needed. Only then will industry be able to successfully convince decision-makers of the intrinsic value of the arts – a value measured not only by the economy, but by national well-being.

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