Our response to the changes to the Federal Government arts budget 2015-2016
Letter to Senator Hon. George Brandis QC, Minister for the Arts on June 18th 2015:
We write in regard to the support and allocation of government funds for the arts in Australia.
Contributing to more than just the economy of the country, the arts have an abundantly positive impact on the lives of this nation and the image of Australia that is presented to the rest of the world. Health and wellbeing, inclusivity, shared identity, culture and pride are improved through access and participation in the arts. The arts encourage community sharing and help to invigorate spaces making places desirable for living in. Ultimately, the arts encourage understanding, respect and interconnection within society.
The proposed National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) announced in the release of the Federal Budget for 2015-16 proposes to "make funding available to a wider range of arts companies and arts practitioners, while at the same time respecting the preferences and tastes of Australia's audiences". The idea of greater access to funding is one we support, however, we urgently seek clarity about the NPEA given that very little detail has been provided regarding its operations or protocols. The state of limbo of the NPEA in conjunction with the suspension and cancellation of some of Australia Council's grants presently impedes the important work of independent artists as well as many arts organisations and companies throughout Australia.
The NPEA currently stands as an incomplete program with no implementation date; a program seemingly in the infancy of planning. The action of drawing funds from the Australia Council for the Arts for a program still in progress has significant impact on the viability of independent artists, arts companies and organisations. The depletion of funds from Australia Council has resulted in the cancellation of their June grants round, the suspension of six year funding for organisations, and the end of ArtStart, Creative Communities Partnerships Initiative and Artists in Residence programs. The Australia Council now has $23 million less than expected to support their grants model, current key organisations, national and international development activities, capacity building, research and operations. Whilst it is purported that this funding will be available through the NPEA, how and when such funding will be available, and specifically who will be eligible for it, remains unknown. This results in a significant gap in funding and support and therefore in arts productivity.
The effect of this lapse in funding impacts the timeframes for completing quality performing arts productions and experiences. In the independent sector, these productions and experiences require careful and complex planning to coordinate and ensure the availability of key creative personnel, venues, and equipment hire as well as to align with appropriate programming. To make sure that these projects remain cost effective, accessible to audiences and/or participants, and of the highest level of "excellence" every detail gets meticulously planned. Without being able to deliver these projects effectively (if at all), business sustainability suffers. As well as their own projects, independent artists are constantly contracted by other sectors of the industry for performances, choreography, teaching, professional development, administrative and creative support, mentorship, and strategic planning. Without independent artists all of these areas will suffer and there will be a negative knock on effect on the rest of the arts ecology. Furthermore, independent artists, such as ourselves, contribute considerably to innovation within the arts industry. We are the artists who take the artistic and financial risks so that exciting new processes, products and practices can be formed. These advancements enhance the work of other sectors, including the major companies, and ensure the evolution of best arts practice and product throughout Australia.
The productions of the small to medium companies and individual artists are internationally sought after. In fact, both internationally and nationally they are increasingly in demand as the costs of touring rise, and more of "the new" is wanted. These productions whilst often of a smaller size are not of inferior "excellence" to the major companies and offer the flexibility that the major companies cannot.
Prying Eye, like many of our independent colleagues have the diverse skills, mobility, adaptability, and cost efficiency that distinguish us in the industry. The work that we do is different and necessary; our functionality and focus complements the rest of the industry. Contrary to antiquated belief such as the thinking that "major performing arts companies are the heart and soul of the performing arts sector in this country", the truth is that the arts do not exist as a trickle down system where the major companies provide for the rest of the sector. Independents as well as the small to medium companies and organisations comprise a very large group of artists who unlike the stereotypical portrayal are not all "emerging" or "aspiring" but rather "excellent" and "established". In order to see a vibrant, diverse, accessible, internationally acclaimed arts industry of true "excellence" the whole arts ecology needs to be nurtured.
To cultivate Australian art of impeccable standard that is remarkable, engaging, relevant and affective we request increased investment from government; greater funds for the Australia Council to develop its processes to facilitate improved support for the creation of art for all Australians and new funds for the sound establishment of a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts. We urge that the NPEA be formed through extensive industry consultation incorporating the widely respected principles of peer assessment and arms length decision making. Principles that ensure informed decisions are made which encourage a culturally diverse society through a multiplicity of aesthetics, approaches and viewpoints. Principles that enable the rotation of management perspectives so that no authoritative culture is imposed, making room for future vision and facilitating innovation. And finally, principles that maintain independence from oscillating election politics. In addition we also request that the major performing arts companies be subject to regular independent review to guarantee the quality of their contribution to Australian arts.
Essentially we ask that the government recognise the value of the entire arts ecology in Australia so as to build a more cohesive Australian society, to ensure quality of life for all Australians, and to shape a nation that we can all be proud of.
Elizabeth and Zaimon Vilmanis
Co-Directors of Prying Eye