What do arts cuts mean for graduates?

May 21, 2015
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Arts students and academics fear the reshuffling of federal funding within the arts sector, and new involvement in the administration of arts by the government, are “gutting” the local industry.

Joe Hockey’s delivery of the government’s 2015-2016 Federal Budget on May 12 revealed the removal of almost $105 million from national arts funding and advisory body Australia Council for the Arts. This amount will be redirected into the creation of a new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts – yep, our government spells “programme” ye ole fashioned way – to be administered by George Brandis’ Arts Ministry.

The University of Melbourne’s Union House Theatre Artistic Director, Petra Kalive, sees the government’s increased participation in deciding which arts projects are funded as problematic.

“The great thing about the Australia Council is that there’s [been] that arm’s length from the government, so the arts exists outside of the world of politics, and by bringing that funding into the political realm, you immediately begin to politicise art,” Kalive tells Hijacked.

With “Excellence” in its name, the new program places priority on the funding of “high quality” arts and culture – a focus Ms Kalive sees as misguided.

“Excellence is one of those words and those concepts that everyone is striving for, but to only fund ‘excellence’ means people on their way to achieving excellence may not be recognised, or have the opportunity to develop into the excellence that they have the potential to.”

Graduate students may find it harder to find paid work in arts industry if funding is only directed towards established companies and artists who have track records. It seems smaller companies and independent artists in the early stages of developing their practice would miss out under the new scheme.

Meanwhile it was announced that the Australia Council will also lose more than $7 million through “efficiencies” over four years, and the annual budget for national film and television funding body Screen Australia will be cut by more than $3.5 million over the same period.

“Excellence is one of those words and those concepts that everyone is striving for, but to only fund ‘excellence’ means people on their way to achieving excellence may not be recognised, or have the opportunity to develop into the excellence that they have the potential to.”

Although Screen Australia provides very little funding directly to entry-level practitioners, RMIT University’s Deputy Dean at the School of Media and Communication, Lisa French, says cuts would ultimately have an impact on students wanting to enter the film industry.

“The more you erode the industry, the tighter and harder it gets,” French says.

Swinburne University Diploma of Film and Television student Maddi McKenna agrees less funding of film bodies means greater obstacles for graduates.

“It’s already a difficult industry to get into, let alone with the cuts,” she tells Hijacked.

But Minister Brandis’ office told Fairfax Media that the shifted funding would actually increase Australian artistic output.

“The purpose of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts is to expand funding to artists and arts organisations who presently are unable to secure funding through the Australia Council.

“As a result of this programme, more Australian arts practitioners and organisations will be able to pursue their creative endeavours.”

Students see the reduction and reshuffling of funding in Australia’s arts industries as insidiously affecting the perceived value of the arts in Australia.

“Australia, in general, has this idea that Australian films and TV shows are bad … because there’s not enough money invested in them,” McKenna says.

“The more you erode the industry, the tighter and harder it gets."

The solution seems obvious to those entrenched in creative industries. Kalive thinks the government should “invest, invest, invest” in small-to-medium sized companies and independent artists: “Because they’re the ones that are going to be producing excellence.”

French suggests an important area in need of funding is diversity in the arts, citing indigenous filmmakers as being equipped to provide “uniquely Australian” stories to both local and global audiences.

“We’re not making the best of our human capital, because we’re not giving a voice to everyone.”

The passion is evident in the voices of those in, and on the periphery of, the arts industries. Kalive hopes decreasing funding doesn’t dampen the spirits of the Australian artists of the future.

“How can we define ourselves as a culture, and how can we be proud of who we are as a people if we don’t have a national voice?”

Hope rests with graduating students, who will need to take a creative approach to managing the early stages of a career in the arts. Be brave, go forth.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: martinak15, Flickr Creative Commons license

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