It was an absolute privilege to go to Canberra representing the part of regional Queensland that I live and work in earlier this month. 3 full days of learning, sharing and developing ideas to shake up systems and position regional arts in a sustainable future.
I have honestly never felt like I have walked into a more safe and inclusive space. The team at Regional Arts Australia did an exemplary job in addressing needs and opening dialogue in a respectful way. Many industries could learn from the way this event was delivered.
The guest speakers and facilitators were also fantastic. But is wasn't all about presenting to the audience. We were there to work towards the final day where, in an emotionally filled room, we shared ideas to shake up the narrative around regional arts in front of "keynote listeners" from a range of funders and influential organisations.
What did I learn?
That our industry is so traumatised. Cultural dispossession, vicarious trauma from working in recovery-oriented roles without training, the burdens of holding communities up during COVID and "keeping on swimming", the continued expectation of giving more than we are getting paid for, growing up being told not to have children because of global warming - so many things. We need to get better at caring for ourselves; but systems need to change before we can be supported effectively and sustainably in arts practice.
We rarely create work for the sake of making art anymore. Funding and political forces have channeled us into take up social and environmental causes as part of our work. Some of us willingly - including me. Others are still holding on for dear life to their practices as these forces invest less in development of new work without a community outcome whilst saying that Australia needs arts and culture. Proof will be in the pudding when it comes to the positive vibes coming out of Revive, the new national cultural policy.
I learned a lot about different systems impacting on our industry and different ways of thinking.
What beliefs were reinforced?
Regional arts is still the birthplace of arts innovation. So many new models and ideas emerging - all the time.
That the next generations of artists and arts workers are truly inspirational. So switched on and not afraid to step up.
Living and working regionally in the arts opens up more collaboration and an opportunity to have your work stand out in the crowd than in large urban settings.
That we as a sector place too much expectation our ourselves, perpetuating some of the struggles we have with systems.
What needs to shift?
The expectation that we can do more with less in the regions.
We need to adopt tried and tested models from other industries and other nations like transportable long service leave, base salaries for artists and artsworkers and funding models with reduced burden and expectation.
Government at all levels understanding that they need to pay real wages comparable to their own to artists and artsworkers who constantly push above their weight in regional communities. Stop expecting in-kind!
I also soon realised I am now in the senior age bracket of practitioners in a room like this now. With 29 years behind me and sitting with colleagues with similar longevity, my dear colleague Katie Edimiston asked the table, "Who has ever had the opportunity to take long service leave?" Not one of us could say we had. Operating under short term contracts or having positions cut short by funding changes, none of us have had the chance to take a long break before. "No wonder we are tired" was the general consensus!
This is the tip of the iceberg of all I am still processing from the many conversations had in Canberra. All I can say is GIVE US MORE! The opportunity to come together and feel like we have a voice in our future as an industry is rejuvenating. Thank you Regional Arts Australia and congratulations on being 80 years strong!
My hope, that in the future we won't have to spend our energy constantly battling systems, and instead are embraced for the creativity we bring to our communities whilst in stable and