Was Cate Blanchett seriously asking for $30 million for the performing arts last week? The big splash is a common provocation but not necessarily one to always be taken literally.
To be fair, Blanchett did more than just ask for money. She made a passionate speech defending the social and economic role of the arts in Australia. I suspect it went down well – to an audience of dedicated Australian performing arts professionals needing a little validation. While Blanchett was widely accused of Hollywood elitism and out-of-touch luvvyism, it was the type of “rallying the troops” message that we should expect from a co-artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. I’ve seen similar validation at virtually every industry event, from council planning days to business conferences, but most of them don’t make the newspapers.
But $30 million? In the lead-up to the 2020 Summit, one delegate enthusiastically suggested a billion-dollar theatre fund, an idea so ridiculous that the $30 million floated last week seems modest. Blanchett’s proposal for $10 million a year over three years may be meant to be taken literally or as an ambit claim, a gentle reminder that many theatre companies are run on the smell of an oily rag. If there is new money on the table, let’s start by looking at what we’re not funding and ways we’re not resourcing artists before we single out a claim for any particular sector.
The reality is that the arts are evolving rapidly and that as a nation we aren’t engaging with it. Today, the Australia Council will release its Arts Participation Survey, which shows how Australians participate in the arts.
It is likely to show that the culture makers who “process experience and make experience available and understandable”, as Blanchett puts it, are no longer to be found exclusively or even largely in the performing arts. They are just as likely to be DIY video makers, or games designers, or animators, or digital media makers. They are likely to be contemporary musicians, bloggers, or architects or designers. At present we don’t resource or even support these people.
The whole basis for supporting the arts is stuck in a 19th century understanding of how artists actually work and operate. There are few structures to support the reality of artists as independent professionals mixing commercial and non-profit work. Much smaller amounts of money, invested wisely in this area, would reap enormous returns both creatively and economically, yet there is little understanding that the arts are made up of anything other than single art form organisations staffed by more bureaucrats and administrators than artists.
The question should not be how we resource a particular sector but what should we be resourcing. How can we nurture the niche and the nimble, the new and insurgent, the creative and consequential outside strict historical art form boundaries?
We desperately need to deal with questions that have nothing to do with funding but may cost money to solve. As real estate prices have soared and rules governing use of space have become more onerous, the problems of accessible work spaces for artists of all genres have become acute. Some practical investment in this area would go a long way. Picking out any sector in isolation is the enemy of good policy. The past decade has seen the Nugent Report on the major performing arts and the Myer Report on the visual arts leading to scores of millions of increased funding for the targeted sectors. After all, it’s easy to make the case for any particular art form in isolation – as long as you don’t admit you’re comparing them by stealth with everyone else – but that is not the reality.
In this context an extra $30 million for the performing arts is a tough case to make. The reason is not that performing artists couldn’t use the money – they could. But you simply can’t take theatre or performing arts in isolation. With a limited arts dollar to go around, the costs of big-headline, big-ticket initiatives are almost always borne at the expense of many smaller – and often more effective – ones. We rarely like to admit it but artists and art forms are competing with each other for scarce resources. Unfortunately, the much overdue What the hell should we actually be prioritising spending limited resources on? report is yet to be commissioned.
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Tags: $30m · 19th century artforms · art v bureacracy · Arts Funding · bureacracy · bureacratic arts culture · Cate Blanchett · funding priorities · performing arts funding · Sydney Theatre Company · What the hell should we actually be prioritising spending limited resources on?5 Comments