marcus westbury

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Crowdsourcing: ways government help artists without spending a cent?

July 7th, 2009 by marcus

I’m crowdsourcing ideas for my column in The Age next week. I’m after all the non cash/funding related things that governments could do to help artists. Or even just areas where they should get out of the way?

I’ve got a few in mind from my own experiences.

Obviously the experience of the Renew Newcastle project is an example of where setting up a scheme to activate a dormant resource costs very little and can achieve a hell of a lot. Governments should certainly be thinking in this kind of way more.

What about all the dormant government resources out there? Unused land, government sites, etc? There’s a lot wasted resources that could be activated with little cost if there was the right mindset.

On top of that i’ve got regulatory reform in areas like tax, OH+S, copyright, etc etc.  Not about making these things free but about making them easier. I have a long held theory that because artists earn or expect to earn much less from their works then higher costs effect them much more than they do businesses who make a large profit.

What elso have you got? Rules that could be changed to simplify things? Suggestions please!

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mez breeze Jul 7, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    hi m + all,

    how bout using synthetic platforms? i know they’re not strictly “free” but they do offer enormous potential eg the “/hug” project i’m currently involved in []. It’s a mixed reality show based primarily in the World of Warcraft gamespace. It’s subversive + [best of all] an example of utilizing + subverting a “dormant resource”?


  • 2 fee Jul 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    sorry, it’s an essay. and i haven’t even started. these are just some of my regularly rolled out rants…

    • financial clarity
    o the time that artists ‘donate’ in unpaid labour is not recorded anywhere and yet corporates get (in some cases) to label their donations as tax incentives. artists should be able to state the value of their in-kind time in a way that actually helps them. if the argument is ‘well you could say you spent a week on an arts project when actually you spent a week sat in the pub’ i’d have three answers:
    1. (the flippant one) most people do their best networking/brainstorming/ideas generation in pubs.
    2. (the bitter one) i’ve known MANY ‘sponsorship’ deals where they have claimed providing $25,000 worth of sponsorship but actually had a work experience kid sitting in a back room using a piece of software that cost $20 to fulfil their promised ‘support’. everything is relative.
    3. (the pragmatic one) sure, some people will try to screw the system but that’s just going to happen regardless, so you may as well start out with a trust system and then see what happens. after all, even enron got caught out… eventually…
    o there’s also something else in here about tax credits. for example if you and your partner run arts projects together that don’t fund themselves or you, but one has a day job to keep you both and the other just doesn’t earn a salary (or much of one), the one with the paid job should not be paying as much tax on their income because it’s one income for two people. or something.

    • support the things that are already happening
    o broader support for & facilitation of p2p activities – not (so much) file sharing but skills (or facilities, or equipment, or manual labour, or…) sharing. no more didactic ‘one clever person at the front of the room with all the sexy new kit and every other person shut up&listen’. no more ‘expensive equipment hire service where you can take it but we’ll charge extra to show you how to use it’. so many people need to actually get their hands on new technologies or get access to people who can help them work through a particular problem.
    o has a broad place in an education models. i used to call it bittorrent learning, everyone brings something to the table. media artists / open source etc have been doing this forever, it’s just time it started being recognised and extolled in mainstream culture – because it works!

    • square pegs and round holes
    o artists are (often) not business people and should (often) not try to be. people who happen to have the sort of head capable of writing business plans and project proposals shouldn’t get to have more fun than those who can’t. some actually want to learn that stuff but never get the chance (or, worse, have to go to staid corporate business training seminars to learn about old-school models of product manufacturing and export markets when actually they produce digital content).
    o so either:
     pro bono legal and financial advice drop-in service where legal/financial individuals offer a few hours a month/whatever to people who need it but don’t have $xxxph or 4 years to go learn it (and are unlikely to be making any $ out of it anyway). In return the ‘expert’ gets, what… the rosie cheeked joy of supporting the arts? um a free ticket to the eventual event/whatever ends up coming out? (which, let’s be honest, is likely to be free anyway!). ok then, sigh. what about some kind of tax incentive?
     business education for artists. let me re-phrase that: arts-focused business training that actually listens to what the artist needs/wants to achieve rather than feeds the same old monumental old-school ‘business works like this’ nonsense.
     or, wtf, business hubs where you as an artist can go and team up with business people where they ‘invest’ their skills (market research, cashflow forecasts, business planning) and you invest yours (ideas, passion, kudos, ‘the cool’. if anything has profitable outcomes you share accordingly. i.e. if you just want to outline your idea and then want to leave but share in some kind of profit then fair enough but you don’t get as much as the person doing the leg work.

    • a marketing campaign run to inform clients that artists are different, not stupid, not robots, so stop expecting them to work for free/less than anyone else.
    and at the same time….
    • a marketing campaign run to inform artists that they’re their own worst enemies. stop accepting unpaid/badly paid work, and have some balls in negotiating the right price for your experience.

  • 3 David Jul 7, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Like you say there: changing the rules to simplify things (application procedures, etc) or become more flexible (being willing to talk to people about things that aren’t their “current exciting initiative”).

    But Sarah pointed out to me that this would mean more applications, thus more staff and manhours, which would cost them money.

    Pretty much any change to a bureaucratic org costs some money.

    Personally I’d like to see more “matchmaking” type things between people with wonderful TV/film ideas (like, say, me) and people/organisations/companies with investment capital.

  • 4 kate Jul 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    The government should let projects under a certain budget film for free in public space, even if they don’t fall under ‘personal photography’. I understand governments and various trusts wanting a peice of big budget commercial films, but the average filmmaker shouldn’t have to worry about a ranger catching them film a short film or video project.

  • 5 Warren Veljanovski Jul 7, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Governments need better and broader metrics for measuring the outcomes of artistic projects and activities. The benefits of a strong arts community are not purely financial.

    When the Govt cut funding to and closed many indigenous art centres a few years back, the concerns of many of the people involved with those centres was not just the loss in income to the artists (many of those closed weren’t making much money anyway), but what the young people who came to those centres to make art would now do instead, most likely drugs and destructive activities.

    The govt does not need to spend anything to reassess how it values the arts – beyond immediate financial gain or a contemporary cultural history for the ages. The arts needn’t just make money for an impoverished community, but can also allow people the opportunity to spend their time in a productive and meaningful way, rather then resorting to destructive and/or anti-social activities. The skills and critical engagement engendered by the production and consumption of art has flow on effects beyond the purely financial. It costs the govt nothing to realise the true value of what they already have.

  • 6 kt Jul 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Best wishes and good question MW. Reminds me as far as “law” is concerned and the question of …who actually “owns” the land? and makes me thik of “crown land” and that that meansetc. i reckon that if the Indigenous people of this country had controll of such decisions – art – culture – would get the spaces around this land that are waisting away under Wire fences.

  • 7 Daniel Mounsey Jul 7, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    In NZ they have an ‘artists wage’ which works very well.Initiated in Dunedin.

    I do what i consider, cutting edge , innovative art, of huge benefit to the local and international arts community.
    Handicapped with a speech impediment job hunting is hard.
    The Job network system has a narrow view on ‘the artist’ , no matter what you do, your ‘unemployed’ and need spend 90% of your time job hunting even if theres no chance.
    I started University this year just to escape the constant hounding and degregating ‘interviews’ and insane pressure.

    i admit, Post modern new media isn’t a money earner, but its important for the arts (try telling that to the ‘job club’ supervisor!)

    And grants? how to compete with a system where most now pay someone to write your application professionally? (also, theres a vague suspicion of ‘its not what you, know its who you know)

    I would like to see a system where you could at least have access to ‘the dole’, giving sufficient proof and reference to a body of work and practice.
    New Zealand and many country’s in Europe do it, for the benefit of everyone.

    Oh and while im here..Dont let Senator Stephen Conroy destroy
    the thriving virtual arts community with archaic censorship laws!!

  • 8 pete Jul 8, 2009 at 11:25 am

    If Melbourne is serious about retaining its positioning as Australia’s creative capital (whatever that means), one of the areas that is in most dire need of reform is planning regulation. There are currently no incentives/concessioins for developers to incorporate creative spaces in new developments. Relaxing density and/or zoning restrictions is a conversation that must be placed on the table if we have any hope of encouraging entrepreneurial partnerships with the private sector and inch away from our reliance on the teat of government as primary investors.

  • 9 Peter Anderson Jul 9, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Daniel’s comment regarding the artists wage in NZ is a very appropriate point to pick up on. Before the last election Labor promised to introduce ArtStart, which was a NAVA proposal modelled on the NZ policy. This got a thrashing from Costello as an “art for the dole scheme” (it was pretty much the only arts policy issue to get any significant coverage, and the response tended to be negative for Labor … Crikey picked up on the way the policy seemed to disappear after the trashing it got).

    In May 2009 the Minister, Peter Garrett, announced that the ArtStart progam would happen – but it had turned into a grant program for emerging artists with no mention of key elements in the original proposal – like a ‘harmonisation’ of way artists are dealt with by the Aus Co, the ATO and Centrelink, and an artists and welfare policy. Basically, the progam as announced is a political cop out. What ArtStart now offers is 200 $10,000 grants per year for the next 4 years to artists under 30 … and these are supposed to allow artist to stop cross-subsidising their art practice with part time jobs. This is a bit of a joke as the 2003 Throsby report (Don’t Give Up Your Day Job) indicated that around 60% of all artists worked extra jobs to subsidise their practice. It really is very unclear that this relatively small grant will work to give emerging artists enough of a leg-up to get their practice operating on a self-sufficent basis. If the government wants to assist artsist to get their practice operating as a viable business (which I think is the point of ArtStart), thene they could simply have worked to modify the NEIS scheme … perhaps with a longer time frame to viability. The idea that most artists get their practice up and running in 12 months is a joke … it is more like establishing a small winery … a few years for the vines to grow, then time for the first wine to mature. Of course, you could try to speed it up … but then all you’d get is crap wine.

  • 10 Ben Eltham Jul 9, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Marcus, I would like to see more artists and arts workers consulted about government policies.

    One simple example is appointing more artists to government agencies and boards.

    Creativity and innovation is now at the heart of much of the modern economy, and artists are amongst are societies most innovative people – not just in their own art practice, but in their everyday creativity in terms of getting projects to audiences. But how many artists are actually on the boards of cultural institutions? Not many. Even fewer are on represented on non-artistic cultural areas like innovation bodies and the like. Why shouldn’t artists be on the boards of bodies like Fair Work Australia, Tourism Australia, the Productivity Commission? Businessmen and economists are constantly being placed into areas they know little about, yet some of the most liateral-thinking and creative people in our society are ignored when it comes to the big policy debates of our times.

  • 11 Ben Eltham Jul 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Apologies for my garbled comment. Written quickly. You get the idea.

  • […] Westbury, has recently begun writing a regular culture and cultural policy column for The Age. In a post on his blog this week, Marcus calls for crowdsourced ideas on: non cash/funding related things that governments could do […]

  • […] Several of the ideas crowdsourced via this thread. […]