Posted by Jim on May 2, 2010
The launch of this policy is designed to get the ball rolling on a discussion about arts in the regions, which is no longer constrained by metropolitan perspectives and metropolitan solutions.
A discussion that is about the need for serious money in the regions to support the arts in the regions.
When I looked at the Arts policies for the 2007 Federal election, and Peter Garrett’s arts policy was the only other policy out there apart from the Greens’ the first thing that struck me was that it was about funding established companies and organisations to visit the regions on tours with mostly one night performances and travelling exhibitions.
When, just before the election date, the Liberals came out with an Arts policy, it was more of the same.
My opponent’s party, which claims to have special relevance for the regions, doesn’t have an arts policy at all, let alone a regional arts policy. In fact, their platform doesn’t even contain the word “Art” except as part of the word, “part”.
When we talk about the Arts, we mean, as the Queensland Regional Arts and Culture Strategy 2010–2014 defines it, the visual arts, music, dance, writing, craft, theatre, media art, design, public art, events, festivals, exhibitions, community cultural development and preservation of knowledge, stories, heritage and collections
The current situation for the Arts in the regions is this. At the Federal Government level, the focus is primarily on touring. A visit to the Federal Government Regional and touring arts website produces the following list of activities:
A Contemporary Music Touring Program; “Playing Australia”, which is a national performing arts touring program; “Visions of Australia”, which provides funding to eligible organisations to develop and tour exhibitions of Australian cultural material; the “Contemporary Touring Initiative”, which assists with the costs of developing and touring major exhibitions of contemporary Australian visual arts and craft; and “Festivals Australia” a program funds Australian regional and community festivals to present quality cultural projects.
Each of these programs is about taking companies and exhibitions into our region and taking them out again. That is admirable by itself, but it does not constitute a regional arts policy. The last of those where funding is made available for festivals provide the regions with some assistance to mounting regular festivals such as the Noosa LongWeekend.
These festivals typically bring artists and acts in and they go off again.
So there it is – the Visiting Arts Regional Program!
The Queensland government funds the arts in the regions through a number of programs, but our focus is on Federal initiatives, or the lack of them.
There are a number of principles driving the Greens’ approach that are probably self-evident to most artists.
The Australian Greens believe that creative artistic expression and cultural experience is a fundamental aspect of social well-being and that creative artists play an essential role in Australian social life and should be fostered and supported.
That is a matter of ensuring access for all Australians to diverse, innovative artistic and cultural experiences.
We believe that Australian artistic expression and culture should be protected and promoted.
At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and artistic work express unique cultures and heritage which must be supported, respected and appropriately protected through legislation, policy and funding priorities.
The Greens believe that national libraries and collecting institutions must be funded, maintained and developed as the repositories of our cultural heritage.
It is also a matter of ensuring that specialist artistic education and training programs provide a unique learning environment for aspiring artists.
The question then is what should we be aiming for in the arts?
The Green’s policy approach is
- to maintain the unique character and diverse nature of Australia’s arts and culture
- to support and promote local content and the development of local projects for all forms of art and culture.
- to promote arts and cultural events and access to those events with appropriate funding and support.
- to increase access to arts and cultural experiences in rural and regional areas.
- to reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian population.
- to protect artists’ intellectual property rights.
The Australian Greens will therefore work to:
- promote a national approach to policies and programs.
- prioritise and safeguard public funding for our national artistic and cultural institutions.
- support and adequately resource the Australia Council as the principal independent body for policy development and administration of arts grants programs.
There are a number of other specific strategies such as ensuring that any Trade Agreement or other international instrument does not adversely affect Australian artists and cultural expression.
Another strategy will include measures to enable emerging artists to access small business start-up grants and schemes.
Furthermore, it is essential for the digital arts that the broadband initiative be rolled out and that the Government drops its unworkable plans to censor the net.
The major thrust in the arts policies of the other parties – when they think about arts outside the cities – is to fund metropolitan companies and organisations to tour the regions. And this is reflected in the Federal Government’s approach. The Greens’ policy calls for increased support and access to arts and cultural experiences in rural and regional areas.
There is no sound reason why Australians in Wide Bay and the Sunshine Coast should not have access to funding that is equal to what is available in the cities.
The metropolitan bias where the bulk of the funding goes to established companies does nothing for arts in our region. We have to get rid of this “Sydney or the Bush” mindset that pervades Federal Art funding.
One of our local theatre companies – Jally Productions – went through the demands of the Long Paddock funding process. They were short-listed for funding, but the funds were not proportionately allocated with one of the largest theatre companies in the country getting funding to the exclusion of some of the other projects.
Jally, despite this setback, are the first home grown theatre company in the region who are nevertheless touring a production on a fully professional basis in 28 venues and 45 performances over 12 weeks in the Eastern states. I think they are to be congratulated for their persistence and their vision. They are doing it without a cent of government money.
Now, I am not going to reflect on the relative merits of the different projects, but the Jally case shows us the best and the worst of Federal support for the Arts in the Regions.
The best is that a regional company can mix it with the experienced touring companies and succeed in that they survived all of the selection processes.
And the worst – only to be dumped as far as the funding is concerned. The project had enough merit to attract the support of the 28 venues with whom Jally was able to negotiate contracts.
The Federal Government can do more to support, develop and promote the arts and culture within regional Australia. This means getting rid of these inbuilt metropolitan biases.
Community Art Organisations
Assistance to community arts organisations should be seen as an objective in itself and not as an alternative to – for want of a better word – “professional” artists and artistic organisations. Community involvement has intrinsic value to the community and escalating costs make it increasingly difficult for volunteer art workers.
Touring, of course, provides regional arts lovers with an opportunity to see shows they would otherwise have to travel to Brisbane or other capitals to enjoy. So, the Greens support increased funding incentives for artists and arts events to tour.
But not at the expense of developing and supporting the Arts in regional communities.
Funding on an even playing field
But greater funding should be made available for artists and companies to establish in rural and regional areas and to enable existing artists and organisations already in the regions to compete for funding on an even playing field.
The Greens’ policy as far as venues is concerned is to provide federal funding to local and state governments to purchase venues for permanent community arts and cultural groups and organisations.
This needs to go further in funding assistance to local governments to manage and maintain existing venues so that single artists and community arts organisations can afford access to stable centres. Many community organisations are locked out of council-run venues because costs are prohibitive.
Such funding should ensure that the venues have high quality equipment, fittings and support systems.
Few artists in any field make a living wage from their work, so it is important that venues for all artists are accessible for exhibitions and studios where they rely on cooperative venues. The Federal Government should therefore supplement local and state government funding.
High Quality Regional Art
There is no reason why the key regional centres should not receive sufficient funding and incentives to enable regional Australia to support home-grown, high quality art activities in all fields and if elected I will certainly be pushing for proper Federal support for the growth of the Arts in regional Australia, the Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay.
Statement, 2 May 2010