Dear Culture: Please Make Up Your Fucking Mind About What You Want Art to Be

No government ever lost an election by attacking the arts. It is, after all, the part of our culture where most people assume there is some combination of high levels of entitlement and low levels of actual work. This is the legacy of centuries of magical thinking when it comes to the art, associating the creation of artworks with genius or the muse.

No-one cares when the arts get less. In Australia, in particular, it’s right up there with attacking refugees, young people, and the unemployed as a safe tactic for the right and the left alike.

The last few years have been bad for the Australian arts sector. Not just in terms of the visible stuff: cuts to funding, attacks on the nature of copyright, a general hostility from the sitting government towards all things creative and its creation of a discretionary slush fund that is poorly managed and generally there to buy votes; no, the invisible stuff has been even worse.

When you cut funding, without notice, the way the government did last year, there are knock-on effects. The cuts happened, and the Australia Council responded, just as everyone was putting in four-year funding applications for funds that were no longer there. Hundreds and hundreds of organisational hours lost, then work that needed to be redone under the new model.

More work, because the increased competition means more competitive applications, which means the hundreds of organisational hours that were just spent now need to be re-spent getting a new application together.

The disruption is immense.

So, yeah, it’s a bad time to be an artist in Australia.

Today, ArtsHub released a list of organisations that had been de-funded in the latest round. 62 arts organisations in total. Approximately one-third of the applicants, and I doubt this is anywhere near the full list.

None of these organisations are 100% reliant on funding to operate, but the lack of funding will definitely mean that a bunch of them are going to close. Particularly those on the smaller end.

But the names are an abstraction. It’s easy to overlook the actual cost.

It’s easy to look at some of the literary journals on that list – Meanjin; Express Media; Griffith Review – and think, well, who cares? No-one reads that shit. Two of those three are big, literary magazines. Express Media, too, except it deals exclusively with writers under 25.

It’s easy to look at the small theatres and dance companies and think, well, if you can’t find an audience…

It’s easy to look at the bigger things – Brisbane Writers Festival, State Galleries – and think, well, they’ll find funding elsewhere, ’cause the audience is there…

But, honestly, all that is bullshit. New artists need spaces to explore their work, so they can develop and find their audience. Big events and institutions need funding so they can take a chance on newer works and artists, which may not get a look in when keeping the lights on is the main priority and established artists are a bigger draw.

This is not going to get better. I don’t expect this election to be fought on arts policy, although it would be nice if people did actually give enough of a shit to realise it’s a thing worth fighting.

This is a sideline, to the main problem.

If you want the arts to be treated like a business, you have to FIX THE GODDAMN SOCIETAL PERCEPTION THAT IT ISN’T.

You have to stop treating artists like creative weirdos, inspired by genius and the muse.

You have to build in facilities that help artists build their businesses like a business, and support them the same way you support other businesses like manufacturing, mining, or sport..

You have to stop telling artists that the creation of work is a gift, and they should not feel like they out to get paid, and you have to tell the culture around them the same thing.

You have to stop attacking copyright and suggesting shit like fifteen years of copyright, then you’re done, even as the entire system of how artist make money shifts to make life+seventy-five years an increasingly valuable thing.

You have to fix the cultural entitlement around the arts, which says, this exists, therefore I can have it for free. You have to make it clear that creators deliver value, and deserve to be compensated, even if it isn’t under the models that have been around for the last few years.

Stop telling artists this thing you’ve created has value, but we do not want to compensate you for it. If you want us to embrace arts as capitalism, treat us like any other fucking capitalist and pay us for our services. 

Basically, motherfuckers, you cannot have it both ways. The arts can be a cultural gift, or they can be fucking commerce.

Honestly, I do not care which. I just want you to make up your fucking minds.

  1 comment for “Dear Culture: Please Make Up Your Fucking Mind About What You Want Art to Be

Leave a Reply