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  • Shelley Pisani

My hopes for the future of the arts

Earlier this week I finally got to watch last weeks's ABC Q+A episode "A Kick in the Arts" with panellists Darren Hayes, Katie Noonan, Adam Liaw, current Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister fo the Arts Tony Bourke and former Minister Paul Fletcher.


Whilst I absolutely applaud that this conversation took place, the arguments are not new. Let's hope a new government was listening. Key issues raised included:

  • the economic and mental health impact on the arts and the misdirected funding that did not support artists and artsworkers on the ground during the pandemic

  • the lack of access to quality arts education for our children

  • underpayment and undervaluing of artists

  • the value of the arts in society in general

  • lack of Australian content on television and radio

If you are reading this as a follower of the content I write, you are likely already in the converted crowd and don't need convincing on some or all of the above points of view expressed on Q+A.

Image: A group of young performers involved in "Circa Crush" a partnership between Circa Contemporary Circus and Creative Regions for the Crush Festival that saw professional circus performers and trainers work with these kids over the school holidays throughout the year, culminating in a performance that shared local stories, the development of new performances skills and the gaining of immeasurable confidence in a team environment. (Circa Trainers Bree Snow and Pitisi Hatcher featured with the participants in 2017)


Based on that conversation, it really made me think about the things I have observed over the last two years. The first is a mass exodus of highly skilled artists and artsworkers from the arts sector. Passion for what we do in the arts can only carry you so far. The realities of mortgages and cost of living increases - or in the case of the pandemic, a complete close down of work opportunities - has meant that people have had to look at what is sustainable. Funding has been reducing in the arts for quite some time. Pay in many cases has also gone backwards as a result. What some get paid in an equivalent role in the arts to that of another industry is drastically different and often comes with a completely different set of workload expectations. Some who I have spoken to who have made that leap feel like they can breathe again - financially and mentally. They are often still practicing an art form in their leisure time and still in the audience, but no longer actively working in the arts.


The second is the severe underpayment of independent artists and artsworkers in our sector and those in small to medium organisations - and the fact that it seems to be normalising. You would have seen lots of social media commentary and blogs from me about valuing yourself of late having experienced this directly myself. A plumber gets paid $80 to $135 per hour in Australia as they have are trained, have a great set of skills, have overheads to pay and a profit to make. So do independent artists and artsworkers!


I have also observed situations where there were limited or no trained and qualified arts teachers in schools. Some teachers are being retrained on the job to help fill the void. The devaluing of tertiary study in the arts since COVID and the reduction of government funding/ increased costs for arts courses makes it less viable as a study and therefore a career option. So secondary students are turning away from the arts in droves and therefore, demand for arts teachers is going to continue to decline.


Whilst all of this paints a negative picture, I am hopeful that:

  • We can get a national arts policy for the first time since 2013

  • We can get some industrial awards to support independent artists and artsworkers and those in small to medium organisations that acknowledge the value of their work and the tremendous amount of study and experience required to get to the quality our industry can provide

  • That there is a review of the funding of tertiary arts programs to incentivise people getting back into arts studies that inform creative practice and thinking across our whole economy

  • That arts education in primary schools is reinvigorated in all art form areas to build access to education for those who are not academic, to build self-confidence and self-expression and encourage the sharing of authentic and diverse stories

  • That minimum levels of Australian-made content are set for streaming services and new technologies that ensure Australian artists are being paid to develop work that shares our stories and builds our economy

  • That government genuinely involves the arts sector in the co-design and delivery of government funding and programs

I am hopeful. Let's all keep having these conversations.

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